Top Considerations When Evaluating Cloud Communications Solutions

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1 Top Considerations When Evaluating Cloud Communications Solutions A step by step guide to beginning a cloud voice, video and data communications project

2 Executive Summary Hosted Internet protocol (IP) telephony and unified communications and collaboration (UCC) provide businesses with specialized services that reduce costs and successfully mitigate the risks that accompany communications investments. Small businesses, as well as remote branches of larger businesses, reap the greatest benefit from hosted communications by gaining access to vast technology expertise and flexible pricing structures that have been typically available only to larger entities. Cloud-based VoIP and unified communications solutions provide valuable alternatives to meeting the evolving needs of the modern business. Not only are these solutions more cost effective than traditional, onpremise solutions, they are also more flexible, quick and simple to deploy, offer the ability to integrate mobile workers via mobile integration. These solutions scale to meet the changing needs of the business as they grow, and they offer specialized functionality that is designed for specific businesses or vertical markets. Large businesses can similarly gain a competitive advantage through consolidation of their onpremise or cloud communications infrastructure. By consolidating all voice, video and data communications, businesses reduce costs of management, disintegrated administration and licensing. Consolidated cloud communications solution offer predictable monthly charges, streamlined vendor relationships, and the flexibility to design communications and collaboration solutions that meet specific user needs. The move to cloud communications solutions hinges on a variety of factors and considerations. Businesses should preemptively assess the needs of their end-user and select functionality accordingly. They must also take inventory of current communications strengths and weaknesses, identify specific quality of service (QoS) requirements, and address unique industry constraints such as security and compliance requirements. Businesses should compare the administration requirements of a hosted solution against the capabilities of their internal IT staff and dependencies on premise-based legacy infrastructure. The most successful cloud communications projects balance the need for new technologies such as integrated collaboration functionality or BYOD mobile device integration. Advanced cloud-based communications solutions deliver rich functionality while reducing the burden placed on internal IT by outsourcing specialized services and allowing on-site experts to focus on integration and customization of communications tools. Based on their findings, businesses should build a strategic plan for long-term communications needs that transcends short-term factors of price and features. They must look to the potential of competitive advantage gained through hosted communications and measure their needs against plans for company growth and financial projections. From this vantage point, businesses can then conduct a due diligence investigation of potential communications solutions and providers, considering network options and evaluating vendors not only on current capabilities, but also on projected direction. Upgrading to cloud communications is a decision prompted by the intersection of unmet needs and appropriate timing. This paper provides a guide outlining the factors and considerations necessary for a successful deployment of hosted IP telephony and unified communications and

3 collaboration services. It supplies necessary questions for businesses to consider and highlights the potential for the maximization return on communications investment.

4 Introduction to Top Cloud Communications Factors and Considerations Businesses leverage communications and information technologies (IT) as a nimble response to a dynamic marketplace. They can meet increasing needs for productivity through collaboration while maintaining the flexibility users require as they work from the office, from the home, on the road or from client sites. Rapidly evolving cloud technology and volatile economic factors compel businesses to approach communications and IT investments cautiously, seeking to reduce risks and upfront costs while still accessing advanced functionality. Cloud communications solutions, whereby voice, collaboration, applications and devices are delivered as a managed service, is a viable option because it provides the flexibility and functionality that enterprises need without locking them into long-term capital expenditures and infrastructure. This paper, which leverages 2014 research from Frost & Sullivan, identifies the top ten considerations for businesses when determining if a move to hosted communications is right from them. It highlights potential benefits and identifies causal factors within the organization and proposes a methodology for selecting service providers for hosted IP telephony and UCC solutions.

5 1. Evaluate your business profile and recognize the best fit benefits While hosted IP telephony and UCC services cultivate significant benefits for businesses and organizations of any size, small businesses gain the biggest advantage. These smaller organizations realize maximum gain because even incremental improvements in communication can trigger exponential benefits. Independent small businesses and remote branches of larger entities often face the challenges of limited budgets and off-site IT staff. As a result, premisesbased communications solutions are often too costly to implement. While their need for connectivity and real-time communication is the same as a larger organization, their small capacity requirements eliminate the possibility of costsavings through volume. As a result, they pay a premium for services and maintenance. By taking advantage of hosted solutions, small businesses can gain a competitive edge through the available pool of technical expertise as well as advanced functionality that would otherwise be inaccessible. Organizations with multiple branches and locations, or who have employees that work remotely, can also benefit from hosted communications. By transferring their entire communications infrastructure to the cloud, they can control and streamline their many communication methods. Maintaining a unified and synchronized system organizationwide, they can also support and deliver capabilities to individual users based on unique needs, unrestricted by the limitations of underlying technology. NetFortris POV NetFortris offers superior value and ROI through secure, cloud-based VoIP, unified communications, MPLS networking and purpose built applications. Cloud-based communications products meet present requirements with the ability to add new functionality in the future as needed. Our cloud-based offering combines a single circuit with MPLS, voice and data, lowering the cost and complexity of circuitry. For small businesses or small sites within large organizations (e.g. bank branches, retail franchises) with less than 50 users, hosted solutions can provide a greater return on investment than premises-based alternatives. (Frost & Sullivan)

6 2. Consider end-user needs to meet specific requirements and functionality. Choosing the right communications solution hinges on a clear understanding of the end goal. Consider actual end-user needs vs. functionality offered within solutions. For most businesses cloud solutions are more cost effective and easier to configure. Cloud communications solutions offer the ability to design purpose-built solutions that comprise only specific functionality that is needed. Factors to consider when evaluating and prioritizing the needs of your users might include; job function, work style and location, compliance issues, security, applications needed, age, experience, expectations, and business role. The requirement to securely support mobile workers is also a driving force when selecting cloud communications solutions. The realities of the modern workplace, such as rotating days at various work sites, desk sharing, teleworking, hot-desking, and longdistance business travel, and BYOD intensify the need for integrated, secure mobility solutions from service providers. Overall, businesses must weigh the capabilities and costs of legacy premise-based solutions against the flexibility and cost advantages of hosted solutions. When evaluating user needs, the availability of pre-integrated applications and customization capabilities presents a compelling case for moving to cloud-based communications infrastructure. Businesses compete through people, strategy, and technology. End-user needs should determine the final set of communications features and capabilities to be deployed, as well the deployment strategy. (Frost & Sullivan) NetFortris POV NetFortris offers smart solutions that grow as businesses grow. Because predicting the future is impossible, our products allow organizations to start with a minimal investment of phone systems and grow to a complete UC environment over time. Capabilities can be added as needed without the fear of hitting a cap. Our VoIP server team shoulders the complexity of change, helping you right-size the right way. To give a phone user the ability for mobile and UC, we simply add a profile and user name & password. In contrast, the old way of accomplishing the same task included installing servers and configuring them for users. NetFortris allows businesses to approach change as an expected evolution instead of an overhaul revolution.

7 3. Take inventory of current communications infrastructure strengths and weaknesses. Businesses operate in a rapidly evolving world of technological advancement and accelerated technology refresh cycles. Paired with fiscal uncertainty, the significant risks associated with technology investments cause many businesses to choose to move to hosted communication solutions as on-premise solutions become obsolete or need upgrade. The balance of Capital Expenditure vs. Operational Expense is a key consideration when evaluating moving to cloud-based infrastructure. This balance can actually affect the company s bottom line. On-premise solutions are generally considered Capital Expenses (CapEx), which are amortized over time. These systems also require the oversight of highly-skilled technical staff and are often inflexible and hard to customize requiring even more expense. By contrast, cloud-based solutions are delivered for a predictable monthly service fee. These fees are generally considered Operational Expenses (OpEx). The cloud service provider is responsible for equipment including installation, maintenance and depreciation. Software licenses and software upgrades are also managed and paid for by the service provider. System customization and special functionality is usually delivered by the service provider, and may require payment of a fee. One of the most convincing potential benefits of this model is the predictability of monthly charges. These charges are both adjustable for actual usage and flexible for changing capacity requirements. Understanding how to balance capital expenditures (CapEx) and operational expenses (OpEX) in an attempt to capture the savings and add efficiency will help enterprises select the right that cloud-based voice and data communications solutions for their business. Frequent economic downturns have limited access to lines of credit and other external funding for many businesses, especially small ones, and have encouraged demand for flexible solutions that allow fast and cost-effective capacity adjustments. (Frost & Sullivan) NetFortris POV With NetFortris, quality of service increases and operational expenses decrease. Our network experts are on call 24/7, eliminating the burden of on-site IT departments and providing continuous support and security. Highly skilled engineers and account managers proactively monitor and anticipate problems to inform customers before any issues might arise that affect business operations. Our dedicated NetFortris service team members also make intelligent recommendations to ensure that customers take advantage of optimal solutions for their unique business needs. NetFortris offers predictable monthly statements. All solution elements are combined as a single charge, consolidating the traditional ten individual bills into one. The expense is as efficient as the services provided.

8 4. Measure the administration requirements of a hosted solution against the capabilities of an internal IT staff. Hosted communications solutions reduce the burden placed on an in-house IT staff, but do not eliminate the need for these on-premises administrators. Outsourcing communication services and management can ultimately enable internal IT staff to focus on the integration and customization of various applications, tasks they are better qualified to handle. They can also assume responsibility for simple tasks such as user/device provisioning, feature and service settings, moves, adds, and changes that would be prohibitive to outsource to third parties because of the associated time and costs. Businesses must be savvy when choosing communications solutions. Interfaces that are complex and place unnecessary responsibility on end-users and administrators can increase, instead of reduce, stress and workloads. Oppositely, overly simple solutions can preclude customization and be too inflexible to provide meaningful solutions for businesses looking for specialized services. Coordination and cooperation between hosted and onpremises IT administrators significantly impact the return on investment for a business. Hosted solutions offer intuitive, automated management tools that increase the efficiency of an internal IT staff and reduce costs by eliminating productivity gaps during implementation, training, and transition. By outsourcing the deployment and management of the ever-expanding set of IP-based communication tools, businesses can avoid overwhelming their internal IT staff. Finding skilled IT staff and ensuring that in-house personnel has the necessary expertise to cope with evolving technology requirements represents a growing challenge and cost burden for most organizations. Outsourced solutions provide access to a larger pool of technology expertise and enable businesses to reduce the costs associated with hiring, training, and retraining skilled IT staff. (Frost & Sullivan) NetFortris POV NetFortris offers flexible solutions for dynamic businesses. We offer a variety of options ranging from fully managed solutions to offerings where users maintain administrative rights. Customer comfort is a priority and as a result, customization is a necessity. With NetFortris, our administrative components are as flexible as our technology offerings, from turnover planning, easy password resets, and add moves and changes (AMC or MACs), end users are given as much or as little control as they desire.

9 5. Assess your service requirements and determine your business's quality of service (QoS) requirement. Recent innovations in voice over IP (VoIP) and cloud technologies have improved customer confidence and make hosted Internet protocol (IP) telephony and unified communications and collaboration (UCC) services an important option for businesses of all sizes to consider. Take a realistic look at your service requirements and look for possible deficiencies in QoS that could be remedied through the adoption of cloud based communications and infrastructure services. In the past decade, developers and service providers have addressed previous challenges in an attempt to increase network usefulness to support new applications that match the increasingly strict service demands of modern businesses. Quality and reliability are paramount concerns as real-time communications are delivered over IP networks with an ever-increasing need for effectiveness and efficiency. These advancements are possible through improved QoS management, advanced security tools, and a greater availability of high-bandwidth access networks. Favorable market conditions will drive a gradual, but steady shift to hosted communications over the next decade. In some world regions, such as North America, over 25 percent of business telephony users are likely to migrate to hosted IP telephony and UCC services by (Frost & Sullivan) NetFortris POV The NetFortris LiveView network monitoring and analytics solution allows customers to manage network bandwidth usage and capacity. The VoIP network quality management functionality monitors and prioritizes traffic types on the network and across VoIP gateway and channels. Real-time network utilization and quality information allow users to proactively deliver reliable service for voice, video, and data. Intelligent alerts notify customers when they exceed specific VoIP or network performance thresholds, allowing them to meet service level agreements and QoS requirements for their network. With NetFortris, calls are always clear, even when utilizing high-traffic networks.

10 6. Identify and address industry-specific constraints for your business. Specific compliance needs such as HIPAA in the medical field, Dodd-Frank in the financial services arena, and PCI for any enterprise that has access to sensitive consumer data, dictates security requirements. Specific compliance requirements and security needs are paramount when considering cloud-based communications solution providers. In the past, many security-conscious businesses opted to keep communications infrastructure on site, behind secure corporate firewalls. However recent improvements and continual advancements among hosted communications providers allow for security guarantees that provide the assurance that heavily regulated industries require to shift their communication strategies from on-premise to the cloud. In addition to offering security guarantees, many hosted communications providers specialize in particular vertical industries. When selecting a hosted communications provider, consider their track record for providers can handle industry-specific requirements including call recording and archiving. They can also provide customizable services with the ability to integrate with various vertical applications. Understanding the underlying architecture allows security-conscious customers to make a final decision about their hosted solution and provider. Businesses must also request evidence that their prospective service provider can address the most stringent regulatory requirements in their respective industry. (Frost & Sullivan) NetFortris POV: The NetFortris MPLS network is a carrier-grade 10G network that is PCI certified. It undergoes an annual series of assessments to ensure continual adherence to PCI requirements. In addition to the NetFortris network, we have also developed a series of products (Call Recording Analytics, Contact Center, UC) that meet many of these same compliance demands. Our privately managed network enables us to constantly optimize for performance and ensure complete security and compliance.

11 7. Consider your network options. With hosted communications, businesses can choose one of two delivery options. Delivery over private networks, i.e. managed hosted communication, allows service providers to ensure greater quality of service (QoS). It also provides a one-stop shop for businesses that can result in a more costeffective solution. Businesses can also opt for hosted communications delivery over public broadband connections, otherwise referred to as over-the-top or BYOB solutions. These options, while variable in quality and reliability, offer greater flexibility than the managed solutions. Businesses choice of a managed or BYOB hosted solution must be based on the required balance of cost, flexibility, and reliability. Providers that offer both options can make the best long-term partners. (Frost & Sullivan) NetFortris POV: NetFortris solutions are built on the NetFortris carrier-grade private network. Through our advanced security infrastructure, enterprises are able to leverage our private network and the Internet as infrastructure without compromising security or compliance. This flexibility allows our customers to mix and match their network topography, customizing a solution that is tailored specifically to their unique needs and budget.

12 8. Build a strategic plan for long-term communications needs. Just as businesses must look at the needs of the end-user when choosing a communications solution, they must also utilize a long-term view of their company strategy. Simply selecting services and providers based on price eclipses the imperative to plan for future goals. Ignoring the distracting short-term factors of price, features, and functionality, businesses must ask questions about company growth plans, economic and financial projections, and a vision for the role of communications infrastructure as a competitive advantage. Predicted company growth can include plans for global expansion, the opening of remote work sites, and the need to support mobile work solutions for employees. A combination of variable capacity and specific capability requirements will drive the ultimate decision when selecting hosted communications solutions. External economic conditions, as well as internal financial constraints, will influence the type of applications and services that businesses utilize. Many businesses outsource their communications and shift to hosted solutions for cost savings gained through flexibility and predictability in pricing. The ability to adjust capacity and add or discontinue features with ease enables businesses to nimbly respond in a dynamic financial environment. Predictable billing and off-site services allow businesses to have access to necessary functionality without the sunk-costs that could anchor them to ineffective services and providers. An effective communications infrastructure provides the necessary architecture for future success and competitive advantage. By aligning short-term and long-term business priorities, businesses can harness the advanced communications advantages of reduced costs, enhanced user productivity, streamlined decision-making, and improved customer service. Human error is also reduced, creating more efficient and effective organizations. While premises-based communications can enable valuable functionality and allow for more customized integration with other platforms and on-premises applications, they often require limiting commitments to certain vendors that inhibit mobility and flexibility. Hosted communications offer integration with useful cloud applications including customer relationship management (CRM) and productivity applications. When choosing a service provider for hosted communications, businesses must have a clear understanding of their specific needs and challenges. Providers often propose drastic changes that may not serve the best needs of their potential clients, or offer unnecessary services that increase costs but not productivity. Well-informed clients are best equipped to choose appropriate communications solutions. Short-term goals typically compel businesses to select their communications solutions based on price, features/functionality, and the convenience of existing relationships. A holistic perspective on the company s longterm objectives and evolving market conditions can help decision makers employ a more sustainable approach to communications investments. (Frost & Sullivan)

13 NetFortris POV: NetFortris s cloud solution eliminates the need to predict future growth requirements. Customers can right size their network for current needs and grow accordingly, matching investment as needed instead of demanding excessive upfront costs. In the short term, this prevents unnecessary expense related to future growth. In the long term, the cloud model guarantees that users will receive the most current technology offerings instead of being anchored to outdated products from an initial investment. NetFortris can also push all current updates to their existing customer base, providing a level of obsolescence protection unavailable from onpremises providers.

14 9. Look at your business s long-term needs and evaluate vendors based on their current technology and future technology roadmap. Most vendors and service providers offer similar packages that include a standard menu of telephony, voice mail and unified messaging, presence and IM, conferencing, mobility, contact center, and other features. Differentiation among vendors begins with specialized capabilities that can include video, integration with CRM solutions, and advanced mobility solutions. When choosing a provider it is important to look not only at what the provider can offer, but also to look beyond the unnecessary offerings that your business does not need. In addition to their current products and services, ask where the vendor intends to go in the future. Review their plans for new capabilities and scrutinize them against your business s longterm goals. Businesses must evaluate providers based on both their current capabilities (breadth and depth of the portfolio) and their long-term technology roadmap. A holistic, long-term alignment of customer and service provider vision and objectives is likely to deliver the greatest customer value. (Frost & Sullivan) NetFortris POV: We are your partner in designing a sustainable cloud voice services and unified communications solution. Each customer engagement is designed with your current and future needs mind. Because we are able to dedicate account managers, systems engineers and specialized technologies to your business infrastructure, we are able to design and deploy solutions quickly, or change business infrastructure as your needs evolve and your business grows. Our unique Cloud Communication Platform (CCP) allows our users to manage their specific cloud infrastructure through a single, simple to use administrative console. New solutions can be simply added to the console as appropriate. New services are added they become available, continuously broadening our spectrum of services.

15 10. Ask, Why now? NetFortris POV: The shift to hosted communications hinges on a variety of factors. As businesses think about the right time to address new communications solutions, they must consider the following: Aging premises-based infrastructure that is becoming obsolete. These systems are no longer cost-effective to maintain or repair. They are unreliable, have limited parts, and no longer support user needs. Evolving user needs and organizational shifts. As businesses become increasingly mobile and more employees utilize remote work options, communication tools must evolve similarly to meet the needs of a younger demographic Variable capacity requirements. Hosted communications accommodate the fluctuations in businesses with rapid growth, unpredictable downsizing, and seasonal and project-based changes in workforce size. Competitive advantage. Businesses compete through people, strategy, and technology. Advanced communications solutions provide a strategic technology edge by reducing costs while enhancing productivity, essential ingredients in a dynamic marketplace. Businesses amend their communication infrastructure when improved efficiency becomes necessary to compete in the marketplace. NetFortris cloud communication solutions offer a competitive advantage with increased mobility, flexibility, and scalability. On-premise communications cannot match NetFortris s ability to scale for seasonal variability and business fluctuations. Once a NetFortris user is in the system, we can seamlessly add UC, mobility, conferencing, and collaboration components to their user profile. We make growth simple with our innovative communications solutions. After businesses have acknowledged the need to upgrade their communications capabilities and potentially deploy hosted communications solutions, they need to properly assess their assets and user needs before making their final decision. (Frost & Sullivan)

16 Conclusion Businesses can gain a competitive advantage through hosted IP telephony and UCC services from advanced communications capabilities with low upfront investment costs and predictable monthly charges. Determining factors when considering a move to hosted communications include existing infrastructure, on-site IT skill sets, end-user needs, and required capabilities. Businesses must align their future goals and objectives with a proposed technology roadmap. Choosing the right service provider is essential for gaining maximum benefit from hosted communications. Businesses should evaluate potential vendors critically, looking at current capabilities and long-term projections alike. They should assess available features and functionality, ease of use, reliability and security, total cost of ownership, financial viability, and future technology roadmap. Selecting the right provider is just as important as choosing the right timing for implementation and deployment of a new communications solution. Asking Why now? enables businesses to identify the optimal timing to achieve maximum return on investment. Special thanks to Frost & Sullivan for their initial work on this topic and for providing the necessary research and resources for this article.

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