Have we finally reached managed services 2.0?

Have fundamental changes in the enterprise communications landscape now transformed managed service models?

The traditional managed services model (or managed services 1.0 if you will) has been around for a long time. Those keen on telecoms history will know that what the comms world traditionally sees as a managed service today was essentially born out of the PBX vendors’ counter to BT Featurenet in the final decades of the last century.

But things have changed dramatically since those days – or at least they seem to have. But I’m tempted to ask the question: “have we gone full circle with cloud delivery, or have we moved to a completely new circle, Managed Services 2.0?”

In those days of old, BT offered to do away with on-premise PBX equipment and replace it with technology based in its network – leaving just the phone on your office desk. PBX suppliers responded by providing more advanced and feature-rich on-premise PBX with a fixed price per user/multi-year rental basis, with management and servicing included. And so the voice communication managed services business was born.

Fast forward to 2017 and all the talk is about ‘the cloud’, with every vendor and service provider promoting its cloud-based proposition as if this strangely familiar delivery model somehow provides instant guarantees of utopia.

But in reality there has been significant change occurring throughout the communications landscape, and on lots of different levels.

Let’s look at some of the key changes.

Firstly the highly visible elephant in what was once the comms room is Microsoft – except it’s not in the traditional comms room anymore!

Everybody utilises familiar Microsoft desktop applications. These are now communication enabled with embedded code letting you see the status of the person with whom you are dealing, both inside and outside your organisation. So now Presence is at the core of the new (and not-so new) communications mediums. Instant messaging, peer-to-peer voice and even video are all accessed from within your email, Word or SharePoint application, and you realise the maturity of the words convergence, unification and embedded.

Add Skype for Business (and its predecessors Lync and OCS) and Microsoft has the communications spectrum covered. In other words, the desktop business application company is now providing communications applications in more forms than those original PBX vendors ever did.

But what about delivery?

National communication networks have always been cloud services – it’s just they weren’t called that. Ever since what was the Post Office introduced subscriber trunk dialling in the 1960s, consumers have had access to a uniform, open to everyone, pay-as-you-use service, which is what cloud consumption models are about.

On-premise PBXs, however, gave organisations more – specifically the ability to enjoy features that weren’t available on the feature-light national networks. But consumer expectations have now changed, and Gen Y has joined the workforce with the expectation of working anywhere, at any time with instant access to all services on their device.

And then there’s connectivity – it’s become ubiquitous. Download (and upload) speeds now available to consumers were the province of major corporations only a few years ago, while 4G and Wi-Fi mean that quality of service is more than acceptable.

With all the above the logic for placing the hub of your business communications infrastructure in the basement under the sprinkler makes no sense. Aside from the obvious congestion, management, risk and reliability issues, the investment itself is no longer logical.

And so to Managed Services 2.0

The cycle has gone full circle with the increasing prominence of cloud – or has it? Well perhaps not quite.

The days of the on-premise PBX are dwindling, with converged, unified and embedded communications applications here to stay. From an accessibility, reliability, build and management perspective, these new communication applications are better located in a cloud, at the interconnectivity core, delivered as a service, on a price- per-user basis.

So what’s changed? For a start, we normally see evolution taking place in a serial form, but here we have a lot of parallel evolutions which complement each other and dramatically increase the rate of change.

Technology has naturally rationalised - five discreet boxes delivering switching, voicemail, voice recording, call logging and interactive voice response now are typically delivered as a single application suite, possibly on a virtualised, industry standard operating system and server.

Additional communication mediums have appeared – we call it UC and it encompasses voice, instant messaging, Presence, video and email. What’s more, many of the mediums are embedded in adjacent applications like file managers and can be accessed and interchanged from a fixed or mobile pc or smart device.

Moving to the cloud - the technology that delivers the above can be placed on the client’s premises, but it’s far more efficient to place it in the centre of the network and interconnect with other services and the macro networks – just like Maintel’s ICON Communicate platform.

Consumption models - are moving from Capex to Opex-based where people pay for use by licence fee and network bandwidth. Gone is the need to buy and run assets, bug fix and upgrades – all this is delivered by the service provider within the licence fee.

Managed Services 2.0, all change or no change? You decide. One thing that is for certain whatever we may choose to call it, the fact is we’re well and truly entering a new managed communications era.