Hosted and managed unified communications services are seen as the way around massive capital investments, the need to hire additional personnel, their training and other expenditures. These needs, if the company is doing it all by itself, are likely to be long term as they gradually add advanced equipment and, ultimately, the UC fabric to knit everything together.
While hosted and managed options can cut costs significantly, they don't eliminate the organization's need to closely track what those outsiders are doing. The idea that vital communications functionality is outsourced-that the very lifeblood of the organization is being entrusted to an independent firm-makes it incumbent on managers to keep abreast of the intricacies of the technologies in play as a hedge against bad performance by the outsiders. This knowledge should extend to three areas:
This Express Computer Online feature makes a series of good points about the value of UC in general, and the move to a hosted environment in particular. It makes the case for managed services in particular. The writer quotes Lavanya Palani Batcha, a Senior Research Analyst in the ICT Practice at Frost and Sullivan, South Asia & Middle East:
[T]here are instances in which after the deployment of UC solutions, the enterprise end users may feel that the education provided by the UC vendors is insufficient or that the service of their in-house IT staff is not of the highest quality in order to support and maintain the complex UC solution sets. Therefore, an easier way out is to outsource these services to a reliable systems integrator, that can maintain stringent Service Level Agreements (SLA). Not only does this arrangement allow the enterprise to focus on its core competencies, in the long run it is likely to reduce TCO.
A scenario in which outsiders managed client-owned infrastructure is but one way that UC will be implemented, of course. The point is universal, however: Organizations must do whatever is necessary to ensure that the system is running smoothly, even if that means bringing in outsiders. Unsaid is the reality that a certain level of internal knowledge is necessary to make sure that, indeed, the outsiders are doing what they promise.
It's a complex process. Info-Tech Research Group has posted a white paper at IT Business Edge entitled Who Deserves to Be Your Hosted VoIP Service Provider? As the name suggests, the paper deals with the VoIP subcategory of UC. The suggestions that the paper raises are relevant beyond UC, however. The firm makes suggestions on questions to ask and topics to delve into. The paper concludes with two recommendations: The organization should run a comprehensive evaluation and be willing to switch providers if at some point it becomes necessary.
There certainly is interest in hosted UC, as recent announcements by BroadSoft and Broadcore attest. Companies choosing paths that send tasks out the door must recognize that they are offloading none of the responsibility to their clients, stockholders and employees. They must develop and maintain enough technical insight to ensure that the outsiders are doing their jobs properly.