There’s been much talk about cloud computing in the last few years and consumers – through iCloud, Dropbox and the like – have rushed to embrace the technology.
So too have large enterprises. In fact according to research from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) released this summer, some 80 per cent of UK large enterprises have adopted at least one cloud-based service. When it comes to the mid-market, cloud uptake has been a bit patchier. While it is strong for some services, communication-related applications still largely remain on-premise.
This is surprising because the benefits of cloud computing apply to business communication services in just the same way they do to the most popular cloud applications, like web hosting, CRM and disaster recovery.
Thanks to advancements in technology, the office environment has evolved over the past decade. The workplace is no longer confined to four walls, and we’ve moved far beyond being chained to a desktop computer. Just look at the technology we use for work purposes on a daily basis – from smartphones to laptops and instant messaging to video calls, the list is seemingly endless. The flexibility of cloud computing enables businesses of all sizes, including smaller mid-market companies, to offer these technologies to employees in an increasingly elastic and cost-effective way.
Traditionally many business applications, like unified communication or video conferencing, have been part of the large enterprise armoury, out of reach for the mid-market business with smaller budgets. However thanks to tailored mid-market services and flexible cloud delivery methods, this is now changing.
The cloud delivery model really is a playing-field-leveller as it makes previously out-of-reach software more affordable. Its on-demand model requires almost no setup or capital expense. Most mid-market organisations are growing fast. By utilising cloud infrastructure, they don’t have to make a big capital leap with hardware upgrades as they expand. Not only do cloud services grow with you, the subscription is often much cheaper than traditional licenses. They also require less IT management and can be deployed very quickly, all of which enable mid-sized businesses to compete more effectively with larger companies.
Traditional communication infrastructures serve a key purpose, but usually require budget up front, and may not be flexible enough to support seasonal spikes or changes in the focus of the business. Transitioning to cloud-friendly options can allow mid-market businesses to address these challenges too.
However moving to the cloud is not necessarily such a straightforward decision. An organisation may have made significant capital investments in both existing solutions and the skilled IT professionals necessary to manage and maintain them. Additionally the data involved might need extra security levels or legislative compliance that rule out public cloud options (where infrastructure can be located anywhere in the world and is shared by many companies, who do not know each other).
While public cloud models offer the greatest level of efficiency in shared resources, it is true that they are also more vulnerable than private clouds. The cost savings and other benefits of a public cloud strategy may sound appealing but some mid-sized businesses remain concerned about a perceived loss of control over such vital assets.
Private or hybrid cloud can be a good stepping stone for many companies, enabling them to experience some of the benefits of cloud computing without the potential risks.
Private cloud offers high levels of security and control, and is similar to an outsourced or fully managed service with dedicated infrastructure. As such cost savings can be reduced. A hybrid cloud solution involves a range of public and private cloud services and each service is hosted in the most appropriate and efficient environment possible. However, keeping track of multiple different platforms and ensuring that they are all integrated with each other can sometimes impact the IT resource savings that smaller companies want to make. On the other hand, both private and hybrid cloud models also allow a high degree of customisation – for example if you want to use video conferencing via the cloud, with a private or hybrid service you could add extra functionality or even integrate it into other software you use for additional collaboration benefits.
There is of course no right approach to cloud, every business is different and needs to find what suits its needs. Mid-sized businesses in particular, who often don’t have large in-house IT departments or professionals CIOs at board-level, can really benefit from expert guidance in defining the best way to achieve their cloud strategic initiatives. Working with consultants can provide business and technology leadership for all the design, implementation and solution integration within your technology environment.
Cloud computing is already helping many mid-market companies reduce cost and complexity in their IT departments while gaining the business flexibility and agility needed to grow and offer services that deepen their engagement with their customers. Business communication promises to be the next wave of apps that these businesses consume via the cloud, offering functionality that allows deeper employee engagement, feeding into business flexibility and agility.
Ioan MacRae is head of mid-market for Avaya Europe.
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