More than 130 years of British financial history has drifted up into the clouds over the past six months. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, one the oldest such groups in the country, is now communicating through cloud-based video conferencing.
That may not be earth-shattering news, but it’s a pretty big deal for the video conferencing world. The people behind organizations such as ICAEW are serious business folk. They don’t change the way their institutes communicate on a whim.
When a group like that makes the switch to cloud-conferencing you know they’re doing it for one bottom-line reason–it is better. If a conservative accounting group established by Royal decree in 1880 is a cloud-calling believer, every small business should be.
LifeSize Converts to the Cloud
The ICAEW conversion from on-premises to cloud video calling is actually a two-for-one victory for the movement toward remote hosting. The grand old accountants have made the transition in partnership with provider LifeSize, which is itself a late convert to the cloud. The on-premises video calling company switched to the digital format after watching its value plummet from a $400 million high to a buyout from former partner Logitech.
The reasons for LifeSize’s initial demise and rebirth are the same as the reasons for ICAEW’s interest in cloud computing. The on-premises video conferencing experience is expensive, tech heavy, requires an IT department, and can’t make full use of the fluidity, accessibility, and near omnipresence of the web we enjoy today.
ICAEW’s own IT manager, Martin Amos described cloud-based video calling as a vastly superior system, running at half the cost of the one it replaced. So, what makes it superior?
Why Cloud-Based Video Conferencing?
The core difference between on-premises video conferencing and its cloud-based version is ownership. In the cloud we’re all renters, not owners. The hardware and software that carries a video call, the storage space where information is kept, and the responsibility for security and tech support all belong to the cloud provider. It’s a Software-as-a-Service arrangement, typified by Amazon’s $160 billion business Amazon Web Services. Essentially, a business pays a rolling subscription and leaves the provider to worry about all the technical details and the ongoing performance.
That results in several advantages, especially for small businesses:
Cheap: There’s no big initial spend on hardware (LifeSize included HD webcams in their subscription deal with ICAEW), no specialized IT support staff to employ, no onsite data storage and backup to maintain, and many subscriptions are billed by the number of users, so a business pays only for what it needs.
Flexible: As the equipment is owned by the provider it’s up to them to keep it updated and upgraded. Cloud systems are also better able to incorporate a variety of devices and endpoints, so employees, clients, and partners can call in from their own desktops, phones, and tablets. For extra security, a business can even upgrade to a private cloud system for video calling and other operations.
Simple: Perhaps the biggest advantage for the small business is that cloud-based systems mean you can survive with an IT guy rather than an IT department. All the infrastructure, ongoing maintenance, and support is handled offsite, so the only employees left touching the system are the ones making the actual video calls.
In short, the cloud lets a small business communicate–and operate–on equal footing with a big one, which comes in handy when they’re trying to earn money from one.
Cloud Calling for Small Business
It takes guts for a big name like ICAEW to adopt a new technology. It is relying on cloud video conferencing to stage international meetings, webinars, and virtual inspections of member firms. If it fails, there are a lot of train and plane tickets to be paid for in order to allow the organization to personally apologize and restage the event.
A smaller business may not have that kind of buy-your-way-out-of-trouble funds, but they can take comfort in the fact the bigger boys have tested the system out and given it their approval. In return for taking a little risk and paying a subscription fee, a small business can enjoy higher quality audio and visuals, and better security and tech support than they would get by sticking to a lower-level free video conferencing service like Skype.
Cloud-based video conferencing should result in a business world where one of the UK’s most respected financial institutions runs the exact same video conferencing technology as your local Main St. tax accountant. Imagine what they’d have to talk about, and how that would benefit your business.
Image Source: Flickr CC User Loz Pycock