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Phones in the Cloud

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Phones in the Cloud

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Recently I've been part of a discussion panel organised by Dimension Data looking at the move of telephony into the Cloud. The discussions, part of the UCExpo event, find me alongside representatives from some of the big telecoms vendors.

It’s been an interesting experience so far, and it strikes me that telephony is running weirdly behind other commodity technology services like basic compute (which with the likes of Azure and AWS is now well established in the market), CRM (with Salesforce probably the trailblazer) or collaboration (Office365, pushed by the work of Google, now appears to be Microsoft’s primary platform). When it comes to phone calls, though, if you are a business with a PBX there isn’t really a credible way to take that to the cloud today except for smaller organisations.

Well, except there is, and it to an extent has already happened. The real Cloud story with telephony is a combination of mobile phones (which hold many of the attributes of multi-tenanted Software as a Service) and then pure IP-based voice and video services like Skype, Hangouts or even more established pure business services like WebEx. The odd bit of legacy, it seems to me, is what we still refer to as “fixed line” telephony. Phone numbers that begin with “01” or “02”.

I’ve been having conversations with clients recently that start by asking the question “Why do you need phones?”. Increasingly we don’t actually use them (a survey I saw recently reported that “for telephone calls” didn’t even make the top 10 things that smartphone users use their devices for).

There are, of course, significant edge cases. If you run helpdesk or contact centre operations, you need some dedicated telephony (although pure cloud-based services are available). There are some compliance examples – safety phones in lifts spring to mind. But a phone on every desk? Or even a virtual phone of every desktop? Commonly the main justification these days appears to be as a result of crappy mobile phone coverage in large open-plan office spaces.

As I write this I’m sitting on a train. Looking around at the adverts that surround me, I see brands calling potential customers to action. There are websites, Facebook pages, Twitter handles. I can’t see a single phone number. That’s the reality today of the necessity for telephones. Investment into “private” or “hybrid” cloud telephony in 2015 might just be ploughing cash into an expensive, and sadly extinction-bound white elephant. Voice communication isn’t necessarily going away, but one can only assume that telephony as we know it today is going the same way as the fax…

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