There has been a great deal of hype recently around cloud computing, which promises to transform traditional contact centres into nimble, flexible and affordable systems geared to cope with a fragmented multimedia communication environment.

Thus far, however, South African companies have been slow to shift to the cloud, with bandwidth constraints a key issue, writes Karl Reed, sales and marketing director at Elingo.
Bandwidth is an important factor in utilising cloud services effectively. In South Africa bandwidth is very expensive, but new cables are increasingly coming online and the context is changing pretty fast. Most decision makers are, as a result, weighing up the benefits of cloud-based services.
Flexible and affordable
Of the three primary types of cloud services – public, private and hybrid – the most common current implementation model is the hybrid, where the company's infrastructure dovetails with cloud infrastructure and services. The hybrid approach allows an organisation to test the cloud out while retaining key data, transaction and customer privacy security elements.
One of the first benefits to emerge from the cloud is flexible costing, thanks to the pay-as-you-go cloud model. Because the solution is hosted by a provider it is considerably more cost effective than purchasing and owning infrastructure. In addition, companies can use the technology without bothering about the functioning and maintenance of systems, or installation costs and upgrades.
Crucially, cloud services can be up and running in a matter of days. Looking beyond standard "off-the-shelf" solutions, sector specialists are also able to tailor solutions that suit very specific business needs.
For direct-to-market brands facing a blizzard of new communication mediums, for example, specialist contact centre providers offer cloud based IVR services, multi-channel routing and recording, outbound / blended dialling, quality monitoring, workforce management, desktop call control, unified messaging and presence management – collectively the key elements in managing the multimedia context.
Security
While security is a commonly expressed cloud concern, in reality employees in most organisations are already using cloud applications such as Gmail, Facebook and LinkedIn from their desktops without any major problems. Ironically, security is often better in the cloud than in managed environments, thanks to the ongoing focus on the issue.
Another common concern is the idea of relinquishing control over ICT architecture. While ceding full control obviously comes with the cloud territory, the upside is that on-demand services facilitate scalability in any direction, and over very short time frames. This appeals a great deal to decision makers seeking to manage nimble organisations.
It's also important to note that while application development, maintenance, data storage and IT infrastructure are in the hands of the third party service provider, the organisation utilising the hosted contact centre still controls the people and the processes; and these are the two business components where flexibility and speed of implementation influence competitive advantage the most.
Considering our bandwidth limitations, the future of cloud computing in South Africa is bright.
A new 14 000km fibre optic WACS submarine cable system will raise South Africa’s broadband capacity by more than 500Gbps and will be available in 2012. This bandwidth burst, combined with the increasing delivery of on-demand services by industry specialists, mean that cloud options will soon be very viable for local companies, especially in sectors where there are high levels of competition.
There is therefore little doubt that cloud computing in South Africa has a silver lining – one that is growing quite fast.