Can CaaS make your business flow?

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A recent report by IDC says that SME cloud spending will grow by nearly 20 percent by 2019, and it is expected that approximately half of the companies that have a formal Windows Server 2003 migration plan will increase their use of hosting and cloud services as a result.

It’s clear that the popularity and potential of cloud is going up but what is the outlook for telephony and unified communications (UC), and what type of companies are likely to consider hosted Communications as a Service (CaaS)?

With many old PBXs now reaching end of life, the ubiquity of SIP trunking and the demand for truly location-independent communications, the concept of VOIP and UC is firmly entrenched in the minds of modern SMEs, so the lion’s share of those replacing old systems, starting up or expanding will certainly no longer be considering a hardware-based system. However, there still remains a choice between buying and having a solution installed in-house, and one that is subscription-based and delivered virtually via the cloud.

Finding your voice

If you are a traditional telecoms reseller that is still selling premises-based telephony, an outsourced IT provider with customers that are asking you about cloud-based telephony or even an established MSP already providing other cloud-based applications, what is the best strategy to adopt if you want to find a voice in this market?

Some of the broader questions you need to ask are what type of businesses do you currently target or would like to target? Can CaaS offer complimentary services to your existing portfolio, in particular how can you offer value through integration? Will a product help you to differentiate yourself from the competition? Does it have all the sufficient features that your customers need? Is the product already proven in a DC environment (see full checklist below). If you can qualify this criteria upfront it will enable you to find the best fit for your business and maximise the potential.

Cloud is one thing, but it is surprising how many flavours there are, with CaaS ranging from basic vanilla offerings through to more comprehensive feature-sets including rich presence, call recording and APIs for integration with well-known applications such as Salesforce.

Going the extra mile

For VARs and service providers that are focused on cementing long-term client relationships with bespoke consultancy and the delivery of tailored solutions, the importance of integration should not be underestimated. This is a trend identified by Gartner that recently reported that CaaS users expressed a strong interest in integrating their UCaaS solution with other cloud applications through the use of APIs.

For example, tools such as Swyx’s ‘Visual Contacts’, means that sales and accounts departments can fully integrate contacts in their CRM or company databases with their communications, making it possible to have screen-popping of caller information, in a single window on the desktop.

From a seller’s perspective by integrating different cloud services together or linking cloud applications with on-premise systems, you will appeal to a wider number of customers that are looking for a joined up approach, need to recoup the return from existing legacy solutions or simply want to keep their options open, before contemplating a 100 percent cloud strategy.

Another trend in the UCaaS market, according to Gartner, is an emphasis on improved user experience, defined by the ease of use for employees who want to navigate seamlessly across different communications platforms, such as IM, presence, telephony, web conferencing and videoconferencing. These are all considerations that you should bear in mind when weighing up the product or range of products on which to base your CaaS business.

Opening doors

Once you have established yourself as a CaaS provider, doors that may have previously remained shut begin to open up.

Start-ups and growing businesses are a prime example, because while they may not have been approachable for large, upfront capital purchases, the attraction of location-independent ‘rentalised’ communications that do not require on-site infrastructure or equipment can be highly compelling.

At the same time these types of businesses typically have distributed workers or virtualised offices and with CaaS, new staff can be added to the office communications network easily and cost-effectively. The innate flexibility and autonomous nature of cloud means that budding entrepreneurs can focus on running their business rather than being distracted with managing the technology to support it. For instance the main priority for a new restaurant chain will be fast roll-out times for all IT services including communications, because as any delays will equate to lost revenues – the exact type of scenario where CaaS excels.

Single provider of multiple services

Choosing a CaaS solution that is highly customisable and will link with other IT services is a win/win for both you and the customer, as they then have a one-stop shop for all their technology needs and their dependence and appreciation of you increases. With the millennial culture of on-demand or virtualised applications, the trend towards outsourcing the entirety of the IT estate is likely to magnify further over the next few years. In the past, IT and telecoms were two very different and disparate animals with their own domains, but with convergence and the emergence of cloud, voice services can be delivered fully integrated along with all the other standard virtualised apps such as email, back-up, CRM or accounting software.

Almost two thirds of SMEs (64 percent) in the UK currently have an average of three cloud solutions in place, but as awareness of cloud technology grows, forecasts suggest that this figure will increase to an average of seven solutions over the next three years, representing an overall market growth of 72 percent.

As the reliance on cloud services grows the challenge though for resellers is to ensure that they can provide the greatest value and satisfaction for their customers so that any churn is minimised. By introducing the right Communications as a Service platform into your portfolio you can strengthen your overall proposition and become more attractive to current and potential customers. The end result – more loyal and sticky customers that will repay you with healthy on-going revenues for years to come.

Checklist for selecting a CaaS solution

• Does it support industry standard virtualisation technology (e.g. VMWare)?

• Does it provide the depth of functionality that customers will be asking for e.g. video calling, IM

(Instant Messaging)?

• Is it easy to integrate with other cloud-based applications e.g. Finance, CRM?

• How easy will it be to administer?

• Does it support both Windows and Mac clients?

• How sophisticated is its softphone – can it be customised?

• Is it affordable to my target customer base – not just medium to large organisations?

• Can you piggy-back the system on to other UC solutions e.g. Microsoft Lync (Skype for Business), so you can voice activate Lync clients and let them use their own SIP trunks for termination?

• Are there any risks? E.g. what track record does the provider have and will they be around in five years?

• Does the solution provide any differentiation when quoting like for like in tender situations?

According to the Cloud Industry Forum, more than 30 percent of small businesses and 55 percent of midsized companies plan to deploy some form of UC in the next 12 months, so now is the perfect time to discover how you can align your communications strategy with your business goals.

Ralf Ebbinghaus is CEO at unified communications vendor, Swyx