Enterprise Connect Highlights Growth of Multichannel Communications Models

Cindy Whelan
Cindy Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • Cloud-based UC and mobility go hand in hand; full integration of mobile devices with business applications and collaboration services will come to be expected over time.
  • Video is taking on a more prominent role in the UC continuum as telepresence vendors and service providers add support for simple user interfaces and improved interoperability.

I recently attended the Enterprise Connect show, held March 18-21 in Orlando at the Gaylord Palms Hotel, a venue referred to as “the terrarium” by one of my colleagues due to the hotel atrium’s clear roof and ponds filled with crocodiles.  In addition to enjoying the wildlife, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of companies at the show.  As one would expect, cloud-based UC was a popular topic of discussion, and video is acquiring a more integrated role in the UC arena; there were at least nine sessions relating to video conferencing, more than any other service area.  Here are some highlights from the conference: Continue reading “Enterprise Connect Highlights Growth of Multichannel Communications Models”

What’s in a (Cloud, Hosted) Name?

Cindy Whelan
Cindy Whelan

Summary Bullets

  • The last couple of years have brought increased visibility to “the cloud,” driven in part by the economic environment.
  • Cloud and hosted models have some similar elements; some marketers use the terms interchangeably, adding confusion to the market.

Over the last several years, the communications marketplace has been inundated with news of “cloud” services, offering businesses the promise of cost savings in a challenging economic environment.  It has been difficult to find a news article or press release from a service provider touting its latest unified communications offer without the word “cloud” in the headline, or at least in the body of the release.  Some services previously referred to as hosted are being rebranded as cloud-based; marketing collateral sometimes uses the terms interchangeably, further muddying the waters. Continue reading “What’s in a (Cloud, Hosted) Name?”

Premise, Hosted or Both? What UC Model Will Prevail in the Future?

Cindy Whelan
Cindy Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • As the unified communications (UC) market develops, enterprises have access to a wide range of solutions from equipment vendors and service providers that offer hosted and on-premise UC solutions.
  • Enterprises that want to deploy hosted and managed UC solutions must consider which entire service wrap has the best model for their needs.

Carriers have long supported premises-based managed IP PBX solutions, typically based on platforms from Avaya, Cisco and Siemens.  In 2011, as interest in unified communications services began to grow, major service providers added hosted UC offers based on the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) platform.  In 2012, service providers continued to build out their UC solutions, adding support for Microsoft Lync.  BT launched a pilot program for a dedicated hosted Microsoft Lync solution in February 2012, followed by its October 2012 commercial launch of hosted Lync in the U.S.  In November 2012, Verizon opted for a different approach with the launch of a managed customer premise-based Microsoft Lync solution that can be offered alongside a professional services practice specifically designed for Lync implementations. Orange Business Services has had a dedicated hosted Microsoft Lync offer for some time, and plans a Microsoft Lync ‘as a service’ shared hosted platform in 2013.  Many more carriers have certified their SIP trunking solutions with Microsoft Lync, even if they don’t yet provide a fully managed UC solution for the platform. Continue reading “Premise, Hosted or Both? What UC Model Will Prevail in the Future?”

Superstorm Sandy Reinforces the Need for Business Continuity Planning

Cindy Whelan
Cindy Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • The arrival of yet another devastating storm reinforces the need for business continuity features.
  • Business customers need to have a clear understanding of their carrier’s internal architecture for redundancy; they should also take secondary steps for further assurance of continuity.

In my August 28 blog, “UCaaS Can Be a Lifesaver in a Disaster,” I discussed the need for customers to have a clear understanding of their service providers’ business continuity features.  When I wrote that article, nobody had any idea that a storm on the scale of Sandy, which ravaged the Mid-Atlantic seaboard, was on the horizon.  Of course, the first and most important thing in these situations is the protection of family and loved ones.  This was a storm like nothing else in recent history in the region, leaving devastation in its wake. Continue reading “Superstorm Sandy Reinforces the Need for Business Continuity Planning”

UCaaS Can Be a Lifesaver in a Disaster

C. Whelan
C. Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • Marketing for cloud-based communications solutions often emphasizes cost savings and features more than business continuity and disaster recovery.
  • Customers need to understand how carriers will ensure their services remain functional when a disaster strikes.

2012 is not even close to finished, but it has already been a tough year so far for the U.S. in terms of natural disasters.  Violent storms in the Eastern U.S. left thousands of people without power for weeks, even taking out 911 services in some locations.  Wildfires have raged in the West, and just in time for hurricane season, Isaac now threatens the Southern U.S.  These events highlight the need for businesses to have a business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place to ensure that in the event of a natural disaster, they can come back up to speed as quickly as possible. Continue reading “UCaaS Can Be a Lifesaver in a Disaster”

Carriers Make Their Moves in Cloud-based Contact Centers

C. Whelan
C. Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • Hosted contact center features are gaining a more prominent role in carriers’ business-class telephony solutions.
  • Hosted contact center solutions fit well with carriers’ hosted voice solutions from the enterprise to the mid-market.

As business IP telephony services continue to evolve, hosted contact center features are playing an important role in carriers’ cloud-based voice solutions.  Business is increasingly conducted online, and the contact center function is a critical element in business communications with customers.  Hosted solutions being marketed by contact center specialists today include fundamentals such as automatic call distribution (ACD), intelligent call routing (ICR), and interactive voice response (IVR).  However, these services can also include integration with customer relationship management (CRM) tools, chat, click to call, reporting and call analytics, and mobile customer engagement.  Social media such as Twitter and Facebook also play an important role: Businesses need to be able to monitor and respond to customer complaints that may be posted in the social media universe.  Some of these hosted contact center specialists have teamed up with carriers, letting carriers sell services that include these new features.  For example, in late 2011, Verizon announced that it was partnering with inContact for its new Virtual Contact Center offer; the partnership lets Verizon offer a more sophisticated, comprehensive suite of services to its customers.  Similarly, AT&T’s Hosted Integrated Contact Services, based on the Genesys platform, include multichannel capabilities for e-mail, chat, and social networking.  Continue reading “Carriers Make Their Moves in Cloud-based Contact Centers”

Customer Experience Is King for the “New” Level 3

C. Whelan
C. Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • Level 3s integration of Global Crossing includes fundamental changes to the way it interacts with customers.
  • Level 3 is placing increased emphasis and investment on processes and tools to improve the customer experience.

Last week, Level 3 Communications held its annual Industry Analyst Roundtable, and the company provided a view into its integration of Global Crossing as well as future plans.  A recurring theme throughout the conference was improving the customer experience.  Use of the termcustomer experience’ can be just about as nebulous as ‘cloudthese days, but the way a company works with its customers is a critical element of customer perception.  Level 3 has been working to minimize missteps during the integration process, and to establish best practices that will set it apart from competitors going forward.  The carriersVoice of the Customerprogram includes ongoing customer surveys, customer service call recording, and other tools to monitor customer satisfaction.  Level 3 is also giving customers access to more information about its network and customers’ services, and it is giving employees tools to work with customers more efficiently.  Continue reading “Customer Experience Is King for the “New” Level 3”

Moving Beyond UC Features to Business Integration

C. Whelan
C. Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • Although vendors are ramping up messaging around unified communications/collaboration, some enterprises are not seeing the business case that justifies the investment.
  • Business process enablement is a key area where enterprises can leverage vendor expertise to gain more from their UC investment.

In media articles and discussions with vendors, the message is clear that enterprise uptake of unified communications features is increasing; Web/desktop video conferencing, instant messaging, and unified messaging are leading features being considered to join voice services for initial deployment.  However, a recent survey sponsored by InformationWeek revealed that while most respondents were deploying or planned to deploy a UC solution within the next 24 months, 33% had no plans to deploy UC.  Of those not deploying UC, 32% indicated that they saw no definitive business value, with most of the remaining respondents simply putting UC at a lower priority behind other projects.  Despite being inundated with messages of increased employee productivity and efficiency and reduced operating expenses, some executives and IT managers may not see the business case to justify the investment and transition to a more cohesive collaboration environment.  Vendors have the pieces in place to support a more compelling business case, but could strengthen this case through some changes in messaging around UC benefits. Continue reading “Moving Beyond UC Features to Business Integration”

Will Recent Telecom Mergers be a Boon to Enterprises?

C. Whelan
C. Whelan

Summary Bullets:

  • Service provider consolidation should be good for business customers as providers compete to develop compelling services.
  • Businesses should proceed with caution if their providers are moving into new service areas.

2011 was a merger-heavy year that also included Windstream’s acquisition of PAETEC, CenturyLink’s purchase of Qwest and Savvis, EarthLink’s purchase of One Communications and Time Warner Cable’s purchase of NaviSite.  While each carrier had its own reasons for making its acquisition – increasing size and footprint, and improving financial conditions were two big drivers – these carriers are all interested in moving upmarket, whether to win mid-size businesses or larger enterprises.  Enhancing business services and building up the customer base to support this transition were key elements behind these transactions.  In many cases, the acquirers were strong in mass market (i.e., residential and very small business) services, a tough market that can have high levels of churn and pricing pressure. Carriers are looking at increased use of mobile devices in the workplace and interest in cloud-based service models as the way to move away from commodity offers to business services, creating a revenue stream with strong growth potential.  Windstream and CenturyLink are both moving from their rural local exchange carrier (LEC) roots to be national communications providers. Their respective acquisitions add business customers and services, including hosting, managed services and cloud service options. Similarly, Time Warner Cable’s NaviSite purchase added advanced services that are in demand from larger businesses. EarthLink acquired New Edge Networks in 2006: In 2010-2011 the carrier “took it up a notch”, making a string of purchases (One Communications, Deltacom and STS Telecom) to expand the reach and depth of its network footprint, and to develop managed IT services for multi-site businesses and distributed enterprises. Continue reading “Will Recent Telecom Mergers be a Boon to Enterprises?”

Successful UC&C Implementation is More Than Just Service Deployment

C. Whelan
C. Whelan

Summary Bullets

  • Deployment of a UC&C solution does not automatically increase employee productivity, training is key to a successful implementation.
  • Changing communications practices and processes will be more challenging for some employees than others.  Enterprises and their service provider partners need to identify these groups and work together to ensure that users and the enterprise are getting the most from their UC implementation.

Two of the main value propositions driving the unified communications bandwagon are the cost savings and increased productivity promised by purveyors of these solutions.  Carriers are promising enterprises cost savings through reduced communications equipment needs and reduced operational expenses through on-demand applications and features.  Employee productivity is increased by enhanced collaboration tools such as document sharing, video and Web conferencing, enterprise-wide instant messaging and presence, integrated wireless and wireline voice services.  Sounds simple, right?  Deploy a UC solution and you’ll save money and your employees will be more effective. Continue reading “Successful UC&C Implementation is More Than Just Service Deployment”