Campbell Williams, Group Strategy & Marketing Director at Six Degrees Group, sees a third phase in the development of communications convergence – The Cloud Challenge. Here Williams explains his reasoning to readers.
We’ve all seen the wide-ranging impact the growth of cloud has had on the technology industry, and its success is well-known. Cloud is driving changes in IT strategy, spending and recruitment, and adoption rates continue to accelerate.
Cloud is a pervasive technology movement and it is beginning to drive a new phase of convergence in the comms sector. Early adopters in the Channel are starting to meet demand from customers who have already gained cloud experience through their core IT infrastructure. However, further and more rapid change is coming, and comms resellers need to stay ahead of demand and develop their cloud skillset.
The Technology Trends
The comms industry is well versed in leading and managing periods of technology convergence. 15 years ago we saw its ‘first’ stage, when the impact of Voice over IP was felt. At the time, many commentators and industry players said that VoIP was a fad, and that it wouldn’t survive long-term. The reality is that we often don’t even know we are using integrated VoIP systems showing just how far its convergence has come.
Next came a phase that saw PBXs being delivered using standard computer platforms, perhaps more effectively described as ‘Voice over IT’. Again, there were commentators at the time who firmly believed that despite the obvious appeal of this level of convergence; ultimately, PBXs would always need turnkey hardware. But today, the integration of voice with existing IT infrastructure is a route many organisations followed.
Today we are entering a new era – the start of the third phase of comms convergence, where the channel will increasingly deliver Unified Communications (UC) software on Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud platforms. If we follow the same pattern as previous years, there will be some within the industry that will no doubt question the level of impact the cloud is likely to have on this market, but the accelerating demand out there firmly suggests otherwise.
Emerging Customer Demand
Customer demand is beginning to drive this third phase of convergence. Frost & Sullivan, for example, has reported that the need to support the growing mobile workforce alongside the ability to gain faster access to advanced features and capabilities are a strong driver for the market. Specialist cloud providers and comms resellers are seeing demand for converged comms/cloud solutions, but the market is by no means well developed. One indication of its relative immaturity is that typically users don’t currently start by looking for hosted telephony, but many move to it as they build their understanding of the cloud options in the market.
What they want is single-instance enterprise grade telephony on familiar cloud IaaS environments, which is very different to IP-centrex or a multi-tenant hosted VoIP platform. The arguments are familiar, in that they can scale-up and scale-down their comms resources and services according to business requirement. This is a reflection of the strong move businesses have made to delivering their broader IT needs via cloud-based virtualised models. Most businesses now wouldn’t buy a server for every IT need, so why would they continue to re-invest in their own hardware for telephony?
Embracing Cloud Convergence
The emergence of cloud technology has brought with it the need for new skillsets in the technology market. For comms resellers experiencing the impact of cloud on their customers, the situation is no different. A consultative approach to how single-instance UC is delivered in a hybrid cloud, for example, will help determine whether the growing opportunities out there turn into sales.
Solutions which deliver on key customer criteria such as security, reliability and price will be the most in demand. Established cloud businesses across the IT space are also understanding the impact of reputation and track record on their ability to win business – it a good example for comms channel businesses to follow.
Resellers need to be looking for cloud and data centre partners who can help run their telephony environments. The options are broad, from working closely with a specialist industry player, to sourcing the cloud infrastructure and then building the solution themselves. Just as in the previous phases of convergence in the comms market, a strong trend is being established and telephony will increasingly go into the cloud mix. For channel resellers, we are at an important point in the convergence story, and their approach will help determine their levels of success as the cloud market continues to grow.