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UC making its way to the cloud

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Unified communications is a game changer, enabling businesses of all sizes to adopt next-generation collaboration tools without driving expenses through the roof. As the corporate and consumer landscape evolve in the coming years, unified communications will likely make its way to the cloud, following a number of other telephony services.

Cloud-based unified communications, often called Unified Communications-as-a-Service, or UCaaS, is rapidly gaining momentum as enterprises and small businesses alike see the potential of leveraging the hosted solutions. A recent TechTarget report highlighted the growing use of cloud- and premise-based unified communications, noting that the former often provides the same benefits as on-site tools but is more readily available and accessible.

"The service provider is entrusted to make technology decisions and can be held to a strict business service-level agreement - not just uptime or network delay, but real availability, call completions or user-experience measures," said Henry Dewing, principal analyst at Forrester Research, according to TechTarget.

Why should organizations use cloud-based offerings?

When a company migrates operations to the cloud, its internal IT department can eliminate much of the work associated with maintaining those solutions, TechTarget said. In the past, nearly everything was managed on-site, including telephone services. As the cloud emerged within the private sector several years ago, executives recognized the benefits of outsourcing maintenance tasks without jeopardizing the availability of mission-critical resources.

Cloud-based unified communications can also improve an organization's flexibility and productivity by providing employees anytime, anywhere access to high-quality collaboration applications like video conferencing and instant messaging.

"The key benefits [of using UCaaS] include flexibility to add or subtract users as needed, minimal up-front capital investment and the outsourcing of system administration - no training needed," said Irwin Lazar, vice president and services director at Nemertes Research, according to TechTarget. "This frees up IT groups to focus on more strategic projects."

A separate report by Frost & Sullivan noted that the migration to cloud-based unified communications is not solely taking place in the United States, as many European companies are also beginning to leverage UCaaS to enhance productivity in a more efficient manner.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), for example, often have few exhaustible resources and IT professionals capable of managing sophisticated collaboration suites like unified communications, Frost & Sullivan reported. For this reason, among others, many SMB decision-makers are embracing the cloud because it relieves some of the internal burdens of leveraging next-generation solutions.

While there are many skeptics of the ongoing cloud computing movement, these individuals will likely be drowned out by the overwhelming benefits the cloud truly provides companies.

"Eventually, the cost-effective approach of cloud services in terms of 'pay-as-you-go' functionality should dominate the argument, especially in the small and medium-size business sector," said Dorota Oviedo, research analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

As cloud and unified communications technologies continue to mature and evolve, businesses of all sizes will feel the increasing pressure to adopt the solutions if they want to remain competitive. Although delaying investments will probably not be too detrimental in the short term, long-term resistance will impair a firm's overall ability to survive.