The 2018 cloud market is expected to see a significant shift, with larger enterprises moving their unified communications (UC) and contact center (CC) services to various cloud models.  Your manager may have latched onto this growing trend and asked you to set the ball in motion. Before jumping in with both feet, it’s important to understand the factors that should be considered when evaluating whether a move to the cloud is right for your business.

Cloud-based models have been around for quite some time, so why is 2018 suddenly the year many companies will explore their options and make the switch? There are, in fact, several reasons. First, enterprises are becoming comfortable with the reliability and security of cloud solutions, and are embracing the superior economics, scalability, and ease of operation they bring.

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In addition, UCaaS solutions have grown significantly in functionality compared to their premises-based counterparts. In the Gartner’s 2017 UCaaS Magic Quadrant report, the research firm notes, “UCaaS capabilities now exceed those available from premises-based UC. The pace of UCaaS innovation is accelerating as vendors focus R&D resources on cloud delivery.”

Finally, on the CCaaS front, the shift away from premises-based systems will continue, with enterprises leveraging the agility of the cloud to deliver an omnichannel customer engagement model with rock solid security.

Getting Started

When evaluating any cloud migration project, it’s important to understand the key business drivers and success criteria for undertaking such a project. Some questions to consider include:

  • Does the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) have to be lower with a cloud solution than a premises-based one? If so, how will TCO be measured?
  • Does feature parity need to be a one-to-one match? What features are most important to users, and how will you gather that information?
  • How important is speed to deploy?
  • How important is change control and/or the ability to opt out of patches?
  • How important is flexibility in the licensing model to account for factors such as seasonal businesses or M&A activities?
  • Does the business plan to expand internationally? What type of geographic coverage is required from the UC and CC solutions?

Let’s dig a little deeper into some of these questions. TCO is probably the biggest one—what is the true cost of migrating to the cloud? Many public cloud providers have hidden fees or charge extra for items that are included in most premises-based PBXs. Additional charges may be incurred for multiple auto attendants and line appearances, automatic call distributor (ACD) groups, virtual or phantom extensions, virtual auto attendants, busy lit field (BLF) keys and other features that may be included in an existing premises-based solution.

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In addition, there may be billing and service-related fees, which can be significant and are not considered taxes. For example, a Regulatory Recovery Fee (RRF) or Cost Recovery Fee (CRF) is a fee-based item created by the FCC as a vehicle by which cloud providers may recover their cost of billing from their end users.  It is not a tax and can be as high as 30% of a license cost. E911 fees can be charged by the provider to offset the costs of delivering 911 services in a cloud model. In addition to these fees, a state or local county may add additional fees. Common non-tax fees are Local Universal Service Fund and E911 fees.

Another big area for exploration is feature parity—out of existing features, which will also be available in a cloud-based model? Complete feature parity is difficult. Public cloud providers will not have 100% of the feature set that is available in premises-based solutions. Common features that are either missing or have limited functionality include bridged appearances, call park, multiple call appearances, coverage groups, local survivability, auto attendant and exchange integration. IT managers should poll their users to determine exactly what they still use today vs. what has been programmed to determine “real” requirements.

A third area to explore is the flexibility in contract terms and payment models. How flexible is the license? Are adjustments available for seasonal use? What are the minimums? How does the cloud provider measure concurrency? What are the terms surrounding contract termination? When does the billing start?

Keep in mind that UCaaS contracts typically need to be three years or more to get best pricing, and termination clauses can be rigid. If there is a specific project start date already determined, it’s best to begin any termination discussions early. In addition, many providers begin billing when you sign the contract. Understanding the provider’s policy early, particularly if project has contact center components that will extend the completion date, is crucial.

A final key component is security and reliability, and it’s here that the devil truly is in the details. Some basic point to consider:

  • Will your cloud infrastructure be located in geographically separated data centers? Is the architecture active/active?
  • What is the carrier redundancy? If so, is it outbound only, or will direct inward dial (DID) operate if the provider’s cluster fails?
  • Does the provider comply with required security mandates of your company?
  • What are the supported connectivity types? Are there additional costs to support MPLS connectivity? Is it supported at all? Is G729 supported or is it G711 only? Opus? Do internal calls shuffle, or must they go up to the cloud and back down? All these things impact connectivity costs.

The opportunities the cloud brings to the UC and CC spaces are tremendous. Enterprises, however, must do their due diligence in not only determining if a move to the cloud is right for their business, but if it is, which provider will best meet their requirements.