Telephones and telephony were one of the first communications platforms to be widely used. For most of their 150 year life span telephony has existed as traditional hard wired, exchange based technology. In the last 10 to 15 years a radical change has taken place with advent of IP telephony (IPT) which uses internet technologies.

Unified communications is the term used for the collection of separate means of communication such as telephony, video and chat. This was a big change for a long-established industry. The shift proved to be so popular that today it is predominantly only IP telephony products that are available on market.

Most providers of IP telephony supply similar products, with the only differentiators being the ranges of features and reliability. As with traditional telephones, most companies would buy, install and maintain the technology themselves.

The recent rise of the cloud for IT systems has led to cloud-based telephony building momentum. For vendors this is a disruptive model that involves a move from capital expenditure where a company buys a system to a subscription model where the service is paid for on a regular basis.

The benefits for businesses using a cloud subscription model are evident: telephony is a large investment for companies and has a finite shelf life. A cloud model removes some of the long-term investment impact because the subscription means access to technology that keeps pace with developments and innovation.  Cloud also allows organisations to quickly scale telephony services up and down in line with the needs of the business.

Moving to a cloud based subscription is more cost effective for most businesses. Economies of scale, the benefit of increased security and the reduction of the need for a company to have the skills to design, buy, build and maintain a system all help with reducing costs. Also, such cloud services are becoming the norm for many companies and there is an air of inevitability about making the switch.

Like most things, there are downsides to cloud telephony too and companies should take time to consider whether ownership of their own telephony system is a better option than moving it to a public cloud offering from the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon. If committed to making the move then a business should consider which provider is the best fit for them and will give them what they need. They also need to consider exactly how they are going to make the switch. Bearing in mind that what is offered by traditional telephony vendors will be more feature-rich and with a history of reliability and a longer provenance, if any of these factors are critical to your company then public cloud may not be right for you.

For businesses in some sectors telephony may be too important to trust to the cloud. Public cloud is only as good as the internet used to connect it. If your company is transacting business over the phone then you may not consider public cloud to be reliable or mature enough to trust with your livelihood. Because we are all very familiar with telephones we don’t tend to think about them much, they have existed on our desks and in our homes for years. It is not until they fail to work that they suddenly become very important indeed. It is true that the internet is more stable than it used to be, it is still not as reliable or arguably as robust as on-premise systems.

It also good to remember that there are alternatives out there. For example hybrids that use a mixture of private cloud, public cloud and some on-premise equipment. Private cloud is more reliable and is self-contained but it will come at a premium compared to public services. On site equipment does have its advantages – being able to monitor and fix the equipment yourself could give you control and peace of mind but it must be purchased, maintained and upgraded and this comes with capital, time and staffing cost.

There are other factors having a disruptive effect on the shift away from telephony at work and in the home. It is a simple fact that people are not making as many calls as they used to. We use email, messaging and online services to communicate and transact business. Younger people entering the work place may prefer other means of communication and often view speaking directly to someone as a last resort. A combination of these factors will mean that telephony will become less important for most people in the near future.

Cloud providers and their services can prove to be very ‘sticky’ – this is an additional factor to be considered when choosing a provider. Ensure that it is clear how your service can be moved to a provider, but importantly, how it can be moved away from them and what charges many be incurred, should this need arise. For all that it is a simple application, the quality of telephony really matters. The reliability and audibility aspects of public cloud services are getting better all the time but with cloud services still in their infancy, companies should give consideration to quality before switching.

The costs should be looked at closely as monthly or annual subscription charges can look cost effective but the price can escalate when added services are included. Reviewing the overall cost and the possible benefits to a business can be complex and may require external expertise. Unified communications and cloud telephony services will certainly improve over time and in many ways the shift to these services in the workplace is inevitable. But while there are still choices and different solutions out there, it is important that companies weigh up exactly what is important to them and make an informed decision.