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Turning pandemic cloud investments into a full UCaaS migration

As companies face the prospect of a hybrid work model, making a full UCaaS migration might make sense. But it's important to think about what you'll need, rather than what you have.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to find new ways to support home-based workers. Many companies embraced the cloud -- ready or not. Some were already on that path, but most needed to accelerate their adoption plans to adapt to this new reality. Because legacy premises-based infrastructure isn't built for distributed organizations, cloud is the only way forward to support real-time communications.

Businesses saw how well the cloud passed every test and how effectively unified communications as a service (UCaaS) supported remote work across a variety of settings. Initially, many enterprises believed deploying UCaaS would be temporary. As a result, cloud migration only went so far as needed to support this group of workers.

Today, businesses are recognizing that the UCaaS migration is not temporary. Indeed, hybrid work appears to be the new normal. This means employees need a consistent UC UX, regardless of where they work. The best way to provide that is through a standardized platform, and if UCaaS sets the bar for home-based collaboration, the same needs to hold true for the office. Doing so will require a more -- if not total -- complete cloud migration for UC. That's a big decision for IT. Here are three factors to keep in mind.

1. All in one versus standalone

This is a recurring theme for IT leaders, and UCaaS is just the latest example. The UCaaS market has become crowded, and while this can be confusing for buyers, it also means healthy choice. There is no shortage of both types of offerings, and the choice mainly rests on two things.

The first is based on how hands-on IT wants to be. If UCaaS presents challenges that are outside IT's comfort zone, then all in one is likely the better path. Conversely, IT may not want to become overly dependent on one vendor, in which case they should go with a standalone vendor.

The second factor is determining other factors at play, such as how easily the proposed platform integrates with existing systems unaffected by the UCaaS migration. This also depends on the extent to which IT believes an all-in-one approach can truly deliver across all UC apps, as well as all workplace settings. For example, all-in-one vendors' video offerings tend to be optimized for high-capacity enterprise networks, but that capability may not translate well for home workers using Wi-Fi or budget broadband plans. Regulated verticals face their own particular challenges. An all-in-one provider may lack the required specs for security or privacy within certain applications, such as messaging.

2. Think about what you're going to need, not what you have

Most businesses have on-premises equipment, and they have a long way to go for a full migration to all things UC. There are many reasons why these moves can be hard to make, especially when legacy systems continue to perform well. That said, all of these network components will eventually reach end of life, and vendors have shifted support resources to their cloud-based offerings.

The basics of UCaaS are well understood, but they are based largely on the traditional ways people work. Today's workplace is evolving, as are the ways people collaborate.

This consideration is further complicated by the reality that some IT leaders want to stay in their comfort zone. As a result, they aren't yet ready to embrace cloud -- especially a UCaaS migration. Some of this reluctance could be generational, and some could be pegged to IT leaders' ignorance about the capabilities that underpin today's UCaaS offerings.

That type of thinking may serve IT's current needs quite well, but it does not take into account the best interests of what the business will ultimately need.

Furthermore, that mindset may reflect legacy thinking about UC's value. The basics of UCaaS are well understood, but they are based largely on the traditional ways people work. Today's workplace is evolving, as are the ways people collaborate. AI is going to play a growing role in shaping the future of work, and UCaaS will evolve to support that. Again, the longer IT stays with premises-based UC components, the more difficult it will be to support these shifts.

3. Financial flexibility

One of the compelling technical benefits of UCaaS is its ability to scale as needs dictate. That same flexibility applies to spending. UCaaS' costs adjust to meet your needs, and being cloud-based means UCaaS doesn't require overspending on or overprovisioning your network. UCaaS' Opex orientation means IT needs to stop thinking about ROI when measuring the value of collaboration. Because UCaaS has no hardware to amortize, its consumption-based model makes the business side of cloud migration easier to justify.

To that end, the more fully an enterprise migrates UC to the cloud, the greater the benefits. When demands change, IT no longer needs to build a business case for capital budget; all that's needed is to add more licenses. In fact, as cloud adoption grows, the financial benefits around owning infrastructure diminish. Technology simply changes too quickly now for IT to make long-term investments in premises-based infrastructure.

For businesses embracing the SaaS model, the way forward with UCaaS should be clear. Its merits are compelling, especially the ease of scaling. This is especially relevant as businesses adapt to hybrid work on the fly. Regardless of how the mix of home-based and in-office work sorts itself out, UCaaS supports all scenarios.

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