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Reaching for the Clouds

December 30, 2011

In the 3-4 years that UC systems have been available, they have been mainly restricted to enterprise customers by the cost and complexity of deployment, as well as (in some cases) their close association with enterprise-grade PBX systems.  In some ways, the business case for UC is better suited to large organizations which are more likely to have large, geographically diverse project teams working on large and complex projects.

There is another UC ROI model for small and medium businesses (SMB) that suggests that, although teams within smaller companies are more likely to be able to meet face to face, nevertheless they are often involved in large projects that span the company’s boundaries.  Indeed, the probability of any given interaction being with an external business partner is inversely proportional to the size of the company.  The ‘value chain’ scenario that is depicted in an earlier blog (‘Thousands of parts flying in close formation’) is dependent on inter-company federation.

The size and complexity challenge presented by UC deployment has not gone away; a UC system does a lot more than a PBX: not only voice but also multi-party multi-modal conferencing, HD video, instant messaging and presence, email, single directory/single-sign-on, data collaboration, etc.  However, the advent of the cloud computing era has presented an opportunity for smaller companies to gain access to ‘big company’ UC capabilities by buying capacity on multi-tenant hosted systems.  Nevertheless, as described above, the main SMB UC business case is dependent on being able to collaborate with business associates outside the company.

The interdependence in the business case between federation and cloud-based UC for the small to medium business segment means that a UC cloud service that doesn’t offer, at the very least, inter-company communications among the cloud customers will have limited utility.  The best UC cloud services will also have federation capabilities with enterprise UC deployments, providing a collaboration fabric among value chain members of all sizes, as well as between clouds of different vendors.

As described in ‘Inter-company Federation – the Bad News’ the UC systems that currently offer federation do not interoperate.  Therefore, the next service that UC customers, both large and small, will be seeking is one that offers federation between cloud-based systems and enterprise hosted systems from a variety of vendors.  Anyone who is seeking such a service should remember one word: NextPlane.

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