A phased approach to virtual hosted communications - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

A phased approach to virtual hosted communications

As the model matures and organisations reach the point where IT assets and infrastructure require a technology refresh, Cloud-based solutions, including Hosted, Private, Public and Hybrid Models,
become an increasingly attractive proposition for replacing aging on-premise hardware. One area where this is a growing trend is in the space of business communication.

When considering Cloud-based solutions for voice communication, it is important to note, given the real-time sensitive nature of voice communications, that a hosted solution is better suited. The difference between hosted and Cloud, at a very basic level, simply means that hosted solutions are customised solutions with dedicated access where Cloud solutions are standard type solutions that can be accessed via the Internet over a public connection.

Security is another very important consideration that must always be top of mind. Security aspects of Cloud, a hot topic in previous discussions, is slowly becoming less of a concern as the Cloud market matures and perceptions are changing in line with reality. It is still important to be mindful of security though. As such, hosted solutions are a better fit for voice communication purposes.

The benefits of the Cloud, and specifically hosted solutions for voice, are well known by now. These benefits include, but are not limited to, reduced capital outlay, predictable monthly expenditure, scalable solutions, access to enhanced functionality at reduced costs, flexible IT investment and others. In addition, from a communications perspective, the hosted Cloud proposition offers enhanced mobility and collaboration capabilities. This gives businesses the ability to seamlessly incorporate a variety of different devices across locations into the overall solution. Smartphones and tablets can be incorporated into the communications landscape, whether these are used at home, on the road, at the head office or any other branch within the network.

As a result, the discussion is no longer about whether or not to implement Cloud solutions. Instead, the focal point of the discussion is how to best go about the actual implementation to ensure that maximum benefit is realised. When it comes to an element as critical as business communications, organisations cannot afford downtime. As such, the key focus for such an implementation is to minimise business disruptions. A phased approach to migrating to the Cloud may be the most pragmatic approach. The net result should be to protect your existing investment, ease the transition into the hosted Cloud setup and ensure that your organisation can develop full confidence in their hosted solutions.

While the benefits of hosted solutions are numerous and differ slightly depending on the application to be migrated, communications is one area where the hosted proposition can offer significant advantages. When talking about communications specifically, the main benefit is the ability to scale up and down with ease, accommodating peaks and troughs in demand. Amongst other challenges, dealing with peaks and troughs in call volumes is not easy for contact centres to manage efficiently. With a proper flexible, hosted solution, there is no need to invest in costly premise-based systems, which require a significant Capex (Capital Expenditure) investment with additional monthly license, maintenance and support costs to accommodate for peaks and troughs. If a new calling campaign is planned or required for the business, additional seats, licenses and hardware (if needed) can be dynamically deployed as required. When the campaign is complete or the demand drops, those seats, licenses and hardware can be de-commissioned and business may continue as per usual without being left with the challenge of paying for licences that will no longer be used. This flexibility allows for organisations to take advantage of significant cost benefits. It also allows an organisation to more easily plan for peaks in demand.

The second main benefit is the centralised delivery model. Should an organisation move offices, phones can simply be plugged in at the new location, if the connectivity already exists, and the entire service will resume with minimal need for re-configuration. New locations can easily be added to the system as well, without the need for additional investment in equipment. New capabilities can be deployed rapidly without capital investment. Hosted communications is usually a fully managed service, meaning access to software that is always up to date without having to deal with the challenges that accompany asset ownership. It is always best to check with your Service Provider that the software is upgraded to the second latest version, i.e. N-1. This means that the software is one version behind from the latest release to ensure that the software is debugged, tried and tested.

However, despite these benefits, many organisations have a significant investment in existing legacy equipment, making a ‘rip and replace’ approach an unattractive option for many businesses. A phased approach to communications in the Cloud can help organisations to maximise on costs already incurred. For example, moving seats to a hosted solution only when a system is nearing end of life, has come up for an upgrade event or is close to the end of a maintenance contract are ideal scenarios to migrate your communications solutions. A phased approach will also help when it comes to transitioning agents, supervisors and administrators over to the new system.

Phasing the transition means that only part of the business communications solution or contact centre is migrated. This may include certain teams or groups, or be categorised by certain functionality, such as using a hosted or Cloud based Workforce Management (WFM) solution whilst keeping the other contact centre components on-premise. These are ideal approaches if organisations have invested in a premise-based communications system and have not yet fully depreciated the asset. When the asset is nearing end of life, or needs a costly overhaul, enterprises can then consider migrating those licences or seats to a hosted Cloud environment rather than investing in another premise-based system.

When looking to leverage a phased approach, it is important to partner with the right provider and system integrator to ensure a smooth transition. It is recommended to use a provider who has an excellent track record in communications services and offers a month-to-month option, to give organisations peace of mind during the transition period. Organisations should also ensure their provider supports a phased approach and can integrate their offering with the existing premise based communications system. If this cannot be done, the premise and Cloud systems will need to run independently.

Ultimately the ability to leverage the benefits of a phased approach relies on the right partner and a strategy tailored to your individual business needs. Partnering with the right provider with relevant experience and a modular hosted communications solution will enable you to move only the teams or features you want and then grow as needed.

Sadiq Munshi is the Jasco Enterprise, Manager: Product Development for Cloud Solutions.


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