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The Internet allows billions of people across the world to share data quickly and cost-effectively. Businesses have been fast to adapt to this technology, with many opting for web-based communication to facilitate internal workloads and customer-related inquiries.
Today, many services offer a cloud-based communications platform that encompasses much more than sending emails. These solutions typically provide real-time instant messaging, video calling, and file-sharing. Beyond this, APIs and data-driven tools may offer analytical feedback for tracking trends such as workplace productivity. The beauty of these systems is that they are fast, reliable, secure, and easy to use.
The scale of cloud communications cannot be understated. According to data from Statista, it is projected that the majority of global organizations now run more than 50% of their workloads on the cloud.
Are you still in the dark about cloud computing and communications? Well, this article will explain what cloud communications is and why it is so vital to businesses in the digital age. We will also cover the main considerations for your business to bear in mind to make the cloud transition go as smoothly as possible.
Traditionally, telephony was the preferred method of long-distance communication for businesses. Large companies would invest in a private branch exchange (PBX) to handle their telephone traffic. However, this solution was often expensive and tricky to set up, and consequently most communications remained face-to-face in an office environment.
Nevertheless, the necessity of having a long-distance communication solution became paramount for enterprise-level businesses operating on the global stage. It is no surprise then that so many businesses were quick to jump on the email bandwagon for B2B and B2C communication.
The attractiveness of emailing is that it is cheap, accessible, and relatively simple to use. The result was mass adoption of emails for both personal and business use - but it did not stop there! Soon businesses realized that the web could facilitate communications far beyond the text-limited nature of emails. The first step was the development of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in 1995.
Are you wondering what is hosted VoIP? Essentially it allows for real-time voice communication over the Internet, rather than telephony architecture. The technology paved the way for the expansion of web-based communications by instantly providing a cheaper alternative to telephone calls. These days, many services provide cloud-hosted platforms that offer integrated text, audio, and video-based communications.
We have all heard of the cloud before, but a remarkable number of people are unaware of what the term actually means. Simply put, the cloud refers to software that runs over the Internet, rather than on your local PC. The data associated with these applications may either be stored locally or ‘on the cloud', meaning it's stored in an external data center.
It follows then that cloud services are hosted on the internet by third-party providers. These services typically offer these solutions under a subscription business model. However, some basic solutions are free to use on a personal scale. For example, most email services are cloud-based in that the application and data is stored online.
Cloud communication platforms have been a fantastic tool for businesses during the pandemic and resulting shift to remote working. Instant communication between office and home-based employees means that everyone can stay on the same page regarding workloads. In short, it is an instrumental tool that allows for greater flexibility within the hybrid working model.
These platforms are excellent for productivity for a number of reasons. Perhaps most important is that they are designed with the end user in mind. This means that the tools of a specific cloud comms platform can be tailored to the specific needs of a business. For example, an integrated calendar app may allow administrators to schedule team meetings that come with automatic reminders.
Another advantage is that they are generally very simple to set up and use. The cloud-based nature of the applications means that no installation is required on business computers, and employees may access it from any device (including their phones). Offering this freedom to your employees is certainly a great work perk! Additionally, dedicated customer support is also typically available 24/7 from these providers, should the need ever arise.
Another key advantage of cloud communication solutions is that they are often more cost-efficient than on-premise approaches. Take for example the previously mentioned PBX telephony networks. These PBXs require significant capital expenditure to set up, maintain, and train staff to use effectively.
On the other hand, cloud applications often run a subscription model for use of their service. This means that less capital expenditure is needed to commence operations. Additionally, the lack of any required installations means that the service is ready to go immediately.
Cloud communications service providers (CSPs) often offer their services as a tiered business model, meaning you can pay for the package that is right for the needs of your business. However, you will always have the option of upgrading to a better package should you need it. This process is seamless, and the upgraded benefits will be instantly available to all team members. For example, a rapidly expanding sales management team would find this service very useful to minimize business downtime.
Contrast that to upgrading on-premise comms solutions, such as a PBX telephony network, and you will surely see the value in a cloud-based solution. Upgrading these legacy systems takes significant time and specialist knowledge, and is rife with unexpected costs.
Many CSPs offer tools or APIs that allow you to gain analytical insight into the internal running of your business's communications. For example, you may see when your employees are online, making VoIP calls, or replying to messages. What is a VoIP caller? Essentially, it is the same thing as someone making a traditional phone call, but using Internet architecture instead.
Once this data has been collected it may be used for a wide variety of purposes. For example, you may want to gauge productivity within your team, or may look to integrate it into a UEBA cybersecurity solution.
Research into cloud communications options and you will find many terms used to describe the various ‘models' of these services. Below we will outline the basics of what they mean as well as which is most applicable to your business's needs:
CSPs that offer a public comms service offer the same platform to all their customers. While your data will be encrypted and kept within your slice of the cloud, it does mean that you will be sharing the service with other businesses.
This model is tried, tested, and popular among small to medium sized businesses that are new to the realm of cloud communications. It is often the cheapest option and provides the bare bones of what you will be looking for.
In contrast, private comms services are more popular with larger companies that have the capital to pay for their own cloud-based application. While the upfront and maintenance costs will be higher, these services typically promise a higher grade of security. As such, it may be a more attractive option for businesses that handle sensitive data.
Another advantage of pursuing a private cloud comms model is where you want to build your business's professional brand. Much in the same way that private email hosting is used for brand recognition, you can build a cloud comms service synonymous with your company.
Last on this list is the hybrid cloud comms model. This approach aims to combine the best of both worlds by keeping the flexibility of the publicly available services, but also enjoying the security of the private services.This model is most popular among businesses that are transitioning to cloud communications and don't want to abandon their pre-existing comms architecture.
It is worth mentioning that the three above models can be, and often are, used in conjunction with another at the same time. According to data from RightScale's State of the Cloud Report 2019, 91% of businesses use public cloud communications and 72% use private cloud communications. Not only that, 69% of businesses choose a hybrid cloud communications model, suggesting a significant overlap.
In addition to the public/private/hybrid distinctions, you may also come across the terms UCaaS and CPaaS. We'll talk about those in this next section:
UCaaS stands for Unified Communications as a Service. It is a term used by CSPs that have developed a ready-to-go platform that has all the tools a company could want for communication. These tools are combined into a single interface that is reliable and simple for the end user to make sense of.
The similar CPaaS model stands for Communication Platform as a Service. Under this model, the CSP provides your business with a ‘platform' on which you may build and customize a communications platform. This means that you can seamlessly integrate third-party apps on top of what is already offered.
Under CPaaS, businesses have the freedom to build a tailored comms platform, including everything from AI bots, to specialist language options, to google ads parallel tracking. As such, it is popular among companies whose communication needs are more complex beyond the basic interface of what UCaaS offers.
Choosing the right CSP for your business can be a daunting task if you go in blind. Here are some of the most important considerations to help pick the right cloud comms platform for your business:
The primary consideration that you need to bear in mind is what feature set the comms platform offers. You will find a broad range of features offered by various CSPs, but most common are voice/video calls and file sharing.
Apart from that, technology has also allowed businesses to cater to customer self service with tutorials and access to a knowledge base. Some opt to use a Youtube QR code that can automatically redirect a customer to a helpful video upon scanning.
In addition to these basic features, you may want to look out for integration with calendar and timesheet software. This will help make the transition to hybrid/remote working as seamless as it can possibly be.
The beauty of cloud-based solutions is that their APIs enable integration with third-party software. For instance, you may want to pursue a third-party data analytics solution for assessing workplace productivity.
If that isn't your cup of tea, you can always develop your own program, such as a bot to fetch data or automatically set reminders. Implementing automated processes will increase productivity and lower business costs. The world is really your oyster in this regard; there's no limit to what you could build on a cloud comms platform. An SEO company may want to look at implementing a strategic keyword research for example.
As mentioned earlier, a big concern for businesses switching to cloud-based communications is how secure the whole process is. This is an especially relevant concern where data is stored ‘on the cloud' in an external data center.
Rest assured, most CSPs will boast of their high security standards, such as encrypting all stored data. That being said, you may want to check that they have a backup policy in place for those worst-case scenarios. Reading through quality assurance blogs is good practice in this space.
The other alternative is to look for a ‘private cloud comms' model where the CSP assumes some liability for the protection of the data it is hosting. This is an attractive option for businesses that handle sensitive data, such as those in government-related, financial, or medical industries.
Finally, you will want to pick a CSP that is local to where your business is based. More specifically, you should pick a CSP whose data centers are close to your employees. Then you can be sure that packet loss and connection issues will not be a problem when accessing these cloud-based services.
If you are looking for a global cloud communication service, you will want to look for a CSP that hosts its services from multiple data centers in different regions. That way you can ensure that your employees around the world can access the service reliably.
Cloud communication services are powerful tools for businesses operating in a digital, post-pandemic world. Making the transition from legacy systems to the cloud might seem disheartening, but in truth there really is no better time to make the leap!
This article has covered all the basics that you should consider before pursuing a cloud communication solution. With that in mind, you will find an abundance of information online for your business's specific needs. A good place to start would be reading testimonials from other businesses to learn about the various hurdles and solutions that are offered. 8x8 reviews provide an insight into this space.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Conn - Senior Director, Demand Generation, 8x8
Richard Conn is the Senior Director for Demand Generation at 8x8, a leading inbound call center solution platform with integrated contact center, voice, video, and chat functionality. Richard is an analytical results-driven digital marketing leader with a track record of achieving major ROI improvements in fast-paced, competitive B2B environments. Richard Conn also published articles for domains such as MaxBounty and Krisp. Check out his LinkedIn.