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Top 3 Trends Include a Hybrid Approach to Unified Communications

Enterprises find the holy grail of UC by accelerating hybrid approach.

Most large, highly distributed enterprises continue to struggle to fully deploy an enterprise-wide unified communications (UC) platform. The challenge-- and it is a huge one -- is moving these deployments out of the pilot phase into full-scale production to optimize the full UC.

For many large enterprises, the answer lies in a hybrid approach that blends the traditional options of on-premises Microsoft Lync deployment with the enhanced optimization provided through a hosted deployment. This allows the core infrastructure and applications to remain in the enterprise under the management of the enterprise IT staff; meanwhile, the media, edge and federation portions of the environment are hosted in the cloud through globally distributed data centers.

Although the hybrid approach is capturing attention within the enterprise right now, it is not the only trend affecting the move to a fully UC environment.

#1: Faster On-Ramps to the Cloud
It used to be that enterprise IT organizations that had a remote office with 50 people in it could get by with T1 lines. Those days are over. With more cloud adoption and greater use of the multitude of UC services, enterprise organizations are looking for faster on-ramps to their cloud networks to get closer, quicker responses not just for remote offices with large staffs but for telecommuters as well.

WorldatWork estimates that about 44 million people work at home at least once a year. Research from IDC shows that by 2013, there will be 10 million telecommuters in the U.S. Aside from monitoring productivity, managers also have to deal with issues for remote workers such as network security, data transmission glitches, remote support, and variances in local broadband services.

For instance, although more enterprises are turning to the cloud to host critical applications, they are finding their networks aren't designed optimally for the data transmission involved with accessing those applications.

The increasing demands of remote workers -- whether at satellite offices, at home, or at a public WiFi hotspot -- means companies will be relying on larger multi-megabit connections and fatter WAN pipes to more effectively manage the increased demand for broadband access from outside corporate headquarters.

#2: IT Migrates to Softphones Everywhere
The advent of collaboration tools that rely on UC has led to a greater use of softphone technology, as early adopters look to leverage multimedia (primarily voice and video). Increasingly, this collaboration is taking place on a laptop/PC, a tablet, or a mobile device, not the traditional hard phone on the desktop.

As IT departments look to optimize their enterprise voice networks, the urge to jettison the hard phones and go with soft phones everywhere can be alluring. What many enterprise IT organizations fail to take into account is that there is a big cultural shift that has to happen within their user communities in order for that migration to soft phones to occur. Those in the mainstream aren't doing that quite yet. They still want that safety blanket.

Make no mistake, the migration to softphones will continue in 2013. Companies will continue to look to transform and shape their use of communications technology with a suite of cloud-based, on-demand services including full PBX functionality, advanced enterprise, and personal call management tools, not to mention UC features that enhance accessibility, mobility, and productivity. That means companies will continue to replace TDM infrastructure with UC solutions using IP. The legacy hard phones will still be hanging around on corporate desktops to some extent until the industry-wide migration to UC is complete a couple of years from now.

#3: UC Reaches an Inflection Point
This year promises to provide an inflection point for the communications capabilities of enterprise organizations. The world is getting smaller, so as companies expand geographically there will be a strong demand for a global network reach, including unified dialing plans and singular infrastructures across all regions.

In addition, enterprises are looking to reduce their capital expenditures while more effectively managing their networks and enhancing the user experience through UC. The focus in 2013 will shift from purely saving money to increasing productivity, which means applications must work together as one. As companies look to more optimally monitor and manage critical business applications, their enterprise IT organizations will want detailed views into the traffic tagging, bandwidth and performance data associated with every aspect of the network connectivity.

Final Thoughts
Depending on each organization's unique needs in today's global economy, a move to a hybrid UC model, greater adoption of softphones, and/or infrastructure consolidation will help them remain competitive not only in 2013 but also in the years ahead.

About the Author

Jeff Wellemeyer is executive vice president of West IP Communications, a provider of cloud-based communications for enterprises.

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