A 2015 survey found that 86% of Australian businesses are using Software as a Service (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015). In the more traditional premise-based solutions like the business phone system (PBX) are truly seeing a shift to the cloud. This additional demand for “Cloud PBX” or “Hosted PBX” and Unified Communications is driving providers to look for solutions to fill this gap.
In the flurry to meet the demand, some organisations have made building a cloud platform more of a marketing slogan rather than a reality. For a long time, business phone systems were typically large, physical, and complex systems that organisations owned over a long period of time. The reality is that for a lot of these telephony platforms, cloud delivery was not a design consideration and hence the migration to cloud services is not as smooth as customers were hoping.
It pays to dive into the detail with Hosted PBX offerings to understand whether or not they deliver on the cloud proposition or they are just existing technology that has been packaged as cloud PBX. Here are some things to consider when choosing a cloud voice provider.
“Hosted PBX” system
Does the provider need to provide any incremental equipment or services to be able to provide your IP telephony service?
A number of services are marketed as hosted PBX; however, these services can be no more than a provider buying the equipment and hosting it in their data centre. This can be financed on a per-user basis and sold as a cloud service. Often the clue here is in long provisioning times, fixed scope and limited growth. These can be more expensive as the customer needs to cover the incremental cost of the additional equipment, and it can often cost more than just putting the equipment in your own office.
Growth and contraction
Most hosted or cloud voice solutions come from a telecoms mindset of fixed scope for periods of time and often for good reason. The provider is required to build a solution in the case of multi-instance or buy equipment in the case of hosted and finance it. This means considerable upfront costs for a provider and they need longer contracts to recoup costs. Questions to test for this are: “How quickly and how many users can I scale without any additional upfront costs?” “If I need to contract my workforce can I easily turn off users and reduce my costs by the per-user amount?”
Built for the cloud or retrofitted
Look for providers that have built operational support systems and processes that are designed for the speed of cloud. Does your solutions provider have the end to end automation and can you self-serve for what you need, or do you need to ask the provider to make changes? Making normal processes look like cloud means that there are often people on the back end doing the work manually. This can lead to delays and errors and often means higher support costs for the providers that are passed on to the customer.
When it comes to Hosted PBX, it pays to dig deeper into the offers that are being provided to you to understand what it is that you are getting and whether you are comfortable with the characteristics of it. The promise of the cloud is that you can deploy in real time, scale without limitation on a PAYG model and if a needed contract to meet your requirements.
Generally, the best solution is a Multi-Tenanted solution that has been designed for the Cloud with self-serve and automated provisioning systems. This means that you can respond to whatever market conditions present themselves without being limited by a system that doesn’t live up to the hype.
Multi-tenancy vs. Multi-instance
How quickly can the provider you are reviewing provide services to you?
In a multi-tenancy environment, your organisation’s service is provided within an existing computing platform meaning they are faster to provision and simpler to support. A multi-instance platform is used when the platform typically hasn’t been designed to offer the security needed in cloud deployments. This often requires the provider to “spin up” another virtual computing instance and load a copy of the software that provides the service.
Opt for a true multi-tenanted solution where possible as these are more often born or [at least designed] for the cloud. They offer a lower cost to serve (per customer) for the provider saving you money and making upgrading and patching simpler.