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September 22, 2015

On-premise or cloud UC – who cares?

C-level briefing: ShoreTel's CMO and EMEA MD explain why they've doubled down on hybrid unified communications.

By Alexander Sword

The cloud vs on-premise debate dominates unified communications, with most companies (understandably) arguing for the side of whichever will sell them the most products.

ShoreTel, however, has a novel and laconic take on the debate: who cares?

This year saw the launch of ShoreTel’s Connect platform, coming at the end of a two-year process of realignment, in which the unified communications company moved to position itself to meet the demands of both cloud and on-premise with a hybrid offering. The solution is resold by a range of unified communications providers.

According to CMO Mark Roberts, the future of unified communications isn’t about either hybrid or on-premise, it’s about choice between the two.

"We believe we do know which way the market is going; we believe that choice and flexibility is what the market is looking for," says Roberts. "Now if you talk to a cloud-only provider, then they’ll say it’s all cloud, and why wouldn’t they? If they are only premise, then guess what the answer is going to be."

According to EMEA MD, Adrian Hipkiss (pictured), the uncertainty and questioning of companies about the future direction of UC drove ShoreTel’s move to serve both markets.

"We’ve gone through a period over the last two years of basically re-engineering the company," Roberts adds. "The reason we took that decision was that we saw a scenario unfolding in the marketplace where you have cloud communications and those who buy and own and operate their own solutions.

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"We believe there’s a dynamic that people are looking for flexibility and choice. We believe the ability to buy, own or operate in the cloud or mix and match the two, which we refer to as hybrid, will be a significant trend in the market.

"Most people told us that this would not be the case and I’m glad that we didn’t listen, because we now have a common platform that is exactly the same user experience whether on-premise or in the cloud.

"What we discovered is that it’s extremely difficult to find a solution where on-premise or cloud fixes every problem. We found that customers wanted some aspects of both premise and cloud, depending on where they were on that journey around their infrastructure, security policies and demand for flexible working.

"What they really wanted to be able to buy into was something that de-risked the way forward. They didn’t want to buy something and then be captured by the vendor.

"We want to give you choice so that you might start in one position, where you deploy on premise, but then perhaps deploy some applications from the cloud on top. All of these challenges were hitting our partners, so what our partners were looking for from us was choice."

In many ways then, this kind of hybrid solution plays into the natural tendency to hedge in a market that is constantly evolving.

"The other point is that the UK is a deregulated telecoms market," Hipkiss adds. "The partners have, since the deregulation a few years ago, been busy building other services. So they may already be the outsourced IT function for a company, the trusted advisor.

"They’ll be supplying their minutes, their MPLS network, maybe some desktop services. When the PBx (fixed phone system) comes along and it’s time to change it, that company is asked to give advice.

"If all you have in your briefcase is an on-premise platform, how can you be truly agnostic and consultative and give the right advice. If you have a premises platform, that’s all you’re going to sell; you’re not going to recommend cloud. Hybrid makes that a completely open conversation."


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