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    February-2013
 
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Cloud Computing Turning Into Low -Cost Technical Leap For Small Businesses

Is cloud computing good or bad for a small business?

Depends on what the firm's needs are and its technical expertise.

Recent initiatives from vendors and service providers to bring enterprise cloud-based or -hosted solutions, such as unified communications (UC), to the SMB community seem to offer more simplified solutions.

These offerings are enabling small businesses to be more agile and competitive and are helping to drive down their IT costs.  This centers on having IT performed outside, avoiding investment in and operation and maintenance of company-owned servers.

But assessing and choosing such solutions takes care. Some companies may claim to offer “cloud” services that really don’t, for example. The industry ran into a similar issue when VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) was first implemented, and again when UC first arrived on the scene. There are as many questions and answers as there are potential cloud users.

Hosted or cloud-based solutions average a 75% reduction in start-up expenses, so while smaller companies are still on tighter budgets, businesses can still afford enterprise-class communications thanks to the power of cloud-based technologies. 

Louis Hayner, chief sales officer at Alteva (www.altevatel.com) sees hosted VoIP as the bridge between voice and messaging in either direction, offering true unified communications to the world, and he identifies some possible pitfalls for SMBs seeking solutions.

“The one disadvantage to a unified communications solution is market awareness, education and confusion around what a true unified communications solution is,” he says. “Many people are looking to buy a UC solution, but instead end up with a collaboration solution that’s not integrated with their PBX (private branch exchange telephone system), or they buy a PBX solution that doesn’t integrate with their desktop.”

When shopping for a unified communications solution, Hayner says companies should look for the best-quality product and not assume anything.  Numerous providers call that simple voicemail-to-e-mail UC, but it’s much more than that, Hayner says. Make sure that whenever evaluating UC, understand how deep that unified layer goes. Does it integrate with the CRM (customer-relationship management) system? Can the company integrate its phone status with its IM (information management) status? When a voicemail is played in e-mail, does it change the status of the email on the phone system as read?  Same thing with deleting an e-mail. Many solutions just pass data off and aren’t really unified, just integrated, Hayner says.

He believes the following are the benefits to the end user:

  • A cloud-based UC solution can cut deployment time by 75%, management time by 90% and TCO (total cost of ownership) by 25-30%.
  • It is beneficial to have an entire company under one comprehensive communications system: toll bypass, free IP-to-IP calling, real-time presence, collaboration, seamless transfer and extension dialing from one office to another—even smaller, satellite offices.
  • A hosted UC solution helps improve employees’ efficiency and customer satisfaction. With hosted UC, salespeople, remote workers and mobile executives can do business from any location and never miss a call or message. Features such as messaging and collaboration, answering office phone from cellphone, have voicemails show up as an e-mails, “find me follow me,” call accounting, etc., drastically improve productivity.
  • A hosted UC solution brings the upfront costs of new systems from $2,000 a user down to $250-$350 per user. Hosted providers can deploy, manage and monitor hosted unified communication applications in less time, for less money.
  • With hosted Voice over IP, companies maintain business continuity with direct access to redirect calls or relocate the entire business in the event of a storm or disaster, eliminate on premise solutions and eliminate a point of failure.
  • Companies will never be behind the technology curve with hosted UC. New features and functionality are made available automatically from the service provider without costly upgrades, to mitigate technology obsolescence. This also eliminates maintenance fees and costly moves, adds and changes.
  • Companies can purchase only the exact number of phone lines and handsets and application licenses they require today.  They can easily add and remove users as the business expands and contracts to fit business needs.
  • Companies can take their phone number with them wherever they move, or test market new areas with local numbers.
  • By consolidating communications, companies only have one vendor to manage and one bill to pay for local, long distance, exchange, OCS (Office Communications Server), SharePoint and Internet.
  • As much as the \company wants, as little as it needs: Companies can have a complete UC solution, or just the products and services the business needs, such as call reporting, exchange, OCS with Live Meeting, call recording, call-center functions, etc., and add other services as they see a need arise.


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