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In recent discussions with customers, we’ve been talking a lot about the role of cloud computing and, more specifically cloud communications. The consensus - keeping costs down and improving productivity.

In recent discussions with customers, we’ve been talking a lot about the role of cloud computing and, more specifically cloud communications. In looking to keep costs down and improve productivity a consensus appears to be emerging. Gartner, for example, reports that "you can save up to 50% of IT costs by moving commodity to the cloud.". Not surprising then that the leading research firm expects that "by 2016, all global companies will use cloud services.”.

The cloud is frequently described as ‘the future of the web’: in an IT environment where the ‘to do’ list is always too long, advocates point to the benefits of improved business continuity, reduced complexity and no up-front capital expenditure. In a fast-changing technology environment, the risk of obsolescence is also minimised, with automatic software upgrades implemented centrally and once only, rather than laboriously by site. In addition, from a mobile communications perspective, the principal benefit is that the cloud offers the flexibity of being device and location independent.

All this sounds like good news, in taking the cloud beyond essentially tactical, if valuable, cost savings to a more strategic debate around improving business agility, customer responsiveness and competitive advantage.

Inevitably, cost remains a key driver. With some multi-national corporates managing more than one thousand contracts with communications providers across their global business, the need to rationalise and improve operational efficiencies is still of paramount concern.

Yet in helping bridge the gap between communications and IT, the cloud also plays an important role in the broader development of the business, moving beyond such issues as the management of PBXs to improving business process and shareholder value.

So what does a best practice solution look like? With customers competing on an increasingly international stage, the ability to access truly global, enterprise-wide solutions is key. In an often fragmented and siloed corporate environment, this means that issues as diverse as security, compliance, consumerisation and systems maintenance can be dealt with consistently across the business.

With the move towards a more flexible workforce, mobility must sit at the core of any cloud-based response, if it is to align with the future direction of the business. Maximum visibility across both fixed and mobile and of multiple suppliers will optimise management of the communications portfolio. A context-aware response, which understands where each employee is at all times, ensures that staff can always be contacted, via the most appropriate device, be it fixed line phone, laptop or tablet computer.

Implementing an effective cloud communications strategy is a journey, requiring a step-by-step approach. At the outset it is essential to gain full visibility and control of the fixed and mobile estate. This creates the essential foundation to enable fixed/mobile convergence – which we call intelligent voice. The final step is that of complete Unified Communications, in which all devices are fully integrated and talk to each other via the cloud.

Global corporates can now access practical and affordable cloud-based solutions which can deliver on this promise. No longer the holy grail – highly desirable but tantalisingly out of reach – thanks to the cloud the goal of truly seamless communications is becoming an achievable reality.