Cloud computing

Expert Interview Series: Independent Research Analyst Jon Arnold on Cloud Computing and Collaboration

January 19, 2017

Jon Arnold is a widely followed thought leader and analyst in the areas of collaboration, customer care and digital transformation of work.

We recently talked to Jon about his communications technology expertise and how streamlined cloud computing improves collaboration and communication. Here’s what he shared:

How has communications technology evolved since you started your career?

The technology has obviously evolved a lot, and more importantly, there’s a lot more of it than even just five years ago. In my view, most of the evolution is about being more intelligent and intuitive for end users. AI has a long way to go, but because technology is more pervasive across all facets of everyday life, it has more utility by virtue of being more user-centric.

People care less today about speeds and feeds, and are more interested in what technology can do for them and enable richer experiences. So, when it comes to communications, technology has broken down many of the barriers created by proprietary and closed systems. Everything is more integrated, and by riding over a common IP fabric, today’s communications applications can work seamlessly with each other, as well as in serial fashion.

It no longer matters where you are, what endpoint you’re using, what network you’re on, or what applications are being used to communicate – voice, video and data/text – they are all at our disposal to use as we see fit.

Why should improving collaboration opportunities be a goal for more organizations?

Certain types of work – but not all – require some degree of collaboration with other people, and in today’s information economy, one person rarely has all the information, knowledge or expertise needed to get things done. The Internet has vastly expanded the universe for these things, so more than ever, workers need to collaborate, and organizations have embraced this in a big way. To be fair, vendors in the UC space have played a big role to evangelize the strategic importance of collaboration, especially to support the never-ending quest to improve workplace productivity.

Working backwards, for businesses to achieve this goal, they need to provide the right tools and settings to enable collaboration. To this end, they’re investing in various types of UC platforms, as well as spaces where workers can collaborate. The conventional board room is just one such space, and increasingly they’re adding huddle rooms and open spaces like lounges to accommodate various types of collaboration needs. These needs will vary widely, especially since workers will be collaborating from a variety of settings, not just in the office, but remotely, and often from mobile devices.

How can cloud computing improve collaboration within organizations?

In short, the main benefit of cloud is providing a common platform that all workers can use under all scenarios. As the workplace becomes more decentralized, and as organizations become more distributed, it becomes harder to support collaboration using premise-based solutions, especially with multiple platforms spread across various geographies.

The key to collaboration is providing a consistent user experience so everyone works with the same applications. Cloud economics make this model attractive as collaboration tools are rolled out across the organization, and require minimal IT support. Similarly, new applications are coming all the time, and extending these via the cloud is the easiest way to keep your collaboration solution fresh and relevant for everyone.

What are best practices for embracing more collaboration on the cloud? What are the dos and don’ts?

Since collaboration is end-user driven, the key is ease of use. Collaboration needs to be a seamless experience, where workers can mix and match applications that suit what’s needed in the moment. This means they can communicate equally well across all modes – voice, video, text – and can readily share data with team members.

In terms of best practices, the cloud platform must have enough scale to support all the collaboration applications, and reliability to perform under all use cases. Another consideration is data security, whereby workers feel comfortable sharing sensitive company information, and in regulated markets, this will entail compliance with standards such as HIPAA.

Regarding don’ts, cloud adoption will stall if there are too many hurdles for accessing the applications or sharing data. This is why single sign-on is so important to remove friction from the process; otherwise, various levels of authentication will slow things down to the point where workers will find other ways to collaborate.

Another don’t would be having any network blockages that slow down the movement of data among team members, or degrade real-time applications like voice or video. These will be important factors to consider, especially when comparing the virtues between public and private cloud platforms for collaboration.

Are all collaboration platforms created equal? How should companies approach finding solutions that will work for them?

Given how fluid the definition of collaboration has become, there is a wide range of platforms to choose from. Rather than focus on how equal they are, it’s more important to identify which type of platform fits best for your needs.

To choose the right one, decision makers need to think strategically about what their collaboration needs really are, and how they’re evolving. For workplaces that still rely heavily on legacy applications like email and telephony, they’ll probably need a more conventional UC solution. However, where workforces are younger, more mobile and more Web-centric, they’ll need to look closer at nextgen solutions like CPaaS or workstream messaging.

What are best practices for companies considering migrating their IT functions to the cloud? What considerations should they make before switching from legacy systems to the cloud?

This flows nicely from the previous question, as collaboration is just one of several needs that IT is turning to the cloud for. The broader issue has to do with identifying which areas can and should continue to be managed in-house, as well as where IT can continue providing business value once applications move to a hosted model. These are very much technology-based decisions, but they really are about re-defining IT’s role in the cloud era.

The financial considerations have a key role to play, as Opex is more attractive for short term budgeting purposes. However, this is a more costly model over time, and at some point, the ongoing outlay to cloud providers will lead management to question the business value. In this regard, best practices dictates that IT must map out a long term cost/benefit analysis to ensure the full impact is understood.

There is another set of best practices around choosing the right type of cloud provider, and this starts will determining whether to go with a public or private cloud platform. Each has distinct merits, and in either scenario, IT will need to assess how well the provider can interwork with their existing environment, as well as understanding the particular needs of the business and industry that you’re in.

What are your predictions for how enterprises manage IT in the next five or 10 years?

In terms of communications technology, telephony is the starting point for cloud migration, and once that gains acceptance, UC will soon follow. As UC becomes established, the need will also be recognized for some form of workstream messaging application, all of which are cloud-based.

This will be a common enterprise scenario over the next few years, and as the business case for the cloud becomes stronger, IT’s role will need to evolve. The cloud is rapidly undermining IT’s traditional power base of managing capital-intensive premise-based infrastructure, and unless IT adapts to become more cloud-centric, their role will become both diminished and less strategic.

To stay on the right side of the innovation curve, IT will need to find new ways to deliver business value from technology. Rather than leveraging the cloud to reduce operational costs, IT will need to use it to streamline business processes and drive worker productivity as the organization becomes more distributed.

Looking further out, IT will need to become more adept with analytics to manage all the new data coming from cloud-based applications. Not only will they need to do this to properly support employees, but as IoT emerges, they’ll need analytics expertise to manage connectivity across a multitude of Web-enabled devices.

What should businesses be doing today to prepare for their IT needs of the future?

First off, they need to embrace the technology transition from hardware to software, and then from premise to cloud. There is still resistance to change, especially among the older generation of IT managers, and they do have legitimate concerns about what the cloud can really deliver, along with how well they can maintain peak network performance when giving up so much hands-on control.

IT professionals coming up behind them have very different sensibilities, and while they may not have a deep grasp of call control technology, they are at home with the need to become more Web-centric. This generational shift will be at the heart of how businesses prepare for what’s coming. Old school IT expertise still has great value, but the innovation is coming from the cloud. IT departments will need a mix from both generations, not just to understand how new technology is driving change, but also to stay current with vendor landscape.

For communications in particular, the conventional vendors – largely rooted in the PBX world – still dominate IT budgets. However, the cloud has opened the door for a wide range of new and different players not native to the communications space, but with very relevant offerings that IT needs to consider. If those companies are not on the technology planning radar, the business runs the risk of staying in IT’s comfort zone at the expense of what’s best for the future overall.

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