The South African market is fast becoming more attentive and aware of cloud computing and the hosted services and solutions that are associated within them.
This has seen a more open mind-set and a growing trend towards this type of “outsourcing”, writes Chris Hathaway, director at Soarsoft Africa.
This is especially true in the unified communications (UC) space, where instant messaging, e-mail, video and voice communications are already “Internet born” and are a “comfortable” first step on the road to using hosted services.
Considering the challenges and costs associated with deploying and managing the infrastructure required for complex modern UC platforms such as  Microsoft’s Exchange, Lync and SharePoint Servers on site, the option of having these delivered as a service from the “cloud” makes a lot of sense.
Hosted services also removes the need for making provision for growth, backup, disaster recovery (DR) and maximising uptime to meet corporate SLAs, making hosted services a very attractive proposition.
A further hindrance to e-mail services where the hosted model is growing traction is in the e-mail and archiving of communications space. While e-mail has evolved into an integral part of the modern business, for many organisations managing this service is not a core area of expertise.
This, combined with an ever increasing need to store communications transmitted by e-mail for risk and legal purposes, has led to the emergence of hosted e-mail and archiving solutions being delivered simultaneously.
As technology continues to evolve, new communication tools have come to the fore, and in an effort to drive increased productivity and improved efficiency, organisations are now looking beyond e-mail towards document collaboration, instant messaging (IM), audio-, video-, and Web-conferencing.
However implementing each of these technologies separately, on top of existing voice and e-mail systems, can be an expensive practice that also increases the complexity of managing the IT environment.
UC, which unites these various communication tools into a single, simplified interface that delivers a richer user experience, can address the management issues that arise from implementing multiple disparate technologies.
This does not, however, solve the age old problem plaguing IT departments – that of shrinking budgets and increasing pressure to improve productivity while decreasing IT spend.
The cost involved in the physical roll out of the infrastructure required for UC, along with the cost of architects to plan and implement the solution and the scarcity of available skills required to manage and maintain the new technology, can be major inhibiting factors that discourage the implementation and use of UC technology in many enterprises.
These factors, in combination with improvements in connectivity in South Africa, are driving organisations in the country to seek hosted services that bundle the various communication technologies, including e-mail, archiving, PBX and voice communications along with powerful document collaboration tools, into one easy to manage service that reduces capital outlay while still delivering the benefits of cutting edge technology.
In today’s world, where people communicate through various channels on multiple devices, it is vital for organisations to embrace these technologies in order to streamline operations and cater to changing business needs.
A hosted UC suite incorporates the various methods of communication (such as SMS, voice, video conferencing, e-mail and instant messaging) into a single interface that can be deployed as a unified platform and administered through a single management infrastructure.
Interfacing with familiar tools and applications, a hosted UC platform provides a familiar user experience that is consistent across devices, including PCs, smartphones and browsers on other devices such as tablets.
The benefits of UC are plenty and enhance an organisation’s productivity significantly and ultimately its output. For example, a project manager in Cape Town is steering an important property development with a team of resources including the architect, quantity surveyor and electrical engineer to mention a few. He is reviewing the plans and has a query regarding the design.
But he knows the architect is in Johannesburg on a short business trip. This is a problem. Maybe not. He sees the architect is available on instant messaging, and his “status” is also available for a video conference via the UC menu on his notebook. He quickly messages him to find out if he is free for a 10 minute video conference – the project manager prefers a visual interaction.
They discuss the query, pull up plans and view the shared document. Within 10 minutes the query is resolved. Simple, isn’t it?
However, there is a fair amount of complexity involved with setting up a UC infrastructure as the skills required are specialised. The hosted services route negates the need for in-house skills to manage fairly complex UC and collaboration tools, and dramatically reduces the capital outlay required to implement the technology.
Using a hosted service, organisations are charged on a per user, per month basis, which not only means the cost of the solution can become an operational expense, it also offers inherent flexibility and the ability to instantly scale the solution to the changing requirements of the enterprise.
Leveraging the economies of scale of the service provider, enterprises can access these technologies at a far more affordable price than a traditional implementation. This has a two-fold benefit: organisations are reducing capital expenditure and accessing services at reduced cost, and these services in turn are driving greater productivity and efficiency, which will have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Quality of service (QoS) is guaranteed with a hosted provider, so organisations can ensure maximum uptime of their UC suite along with predictable costs, ensuring service delivery levels are met while the total cost of ownership of the solution is significantly lowered.
By adopting a hosted services suite that combines the various aspects of unified communications, organisations can take full advantage of this powerful technology and adapt to changing business environments while maintaining IT budgets and leveraging the skills of service providers.