Businesses have been using e-mail, instant messaging, mobile phones, and videoconferencing for years, but IP-based systems are often isolated and treated as separate communications tools. Unified communications provides a way to bring everything together and improve collaboration among co-workers, partners, vendors, and customers.
Enterprise-class UC incorporates real-time services--including IP telephony, conferencing, softphones, and presence--into a company's workflow. It's an investment that can improve productivity and availability, save money, and increase user and customer satisfaction.
However, UC comes at a cost. A typical UC rollout entails an expensive upgrade of older systems and the deployment of new software and hardware. And many UC products are complex to deploy and require organizational changes and extensive product customization and integration. If a strong ROI can't be demonstrated, top executives may balk.
Cost reduction and avoidance as well as revenue gains are easily defined. However, many UC benefits are more intangible ones such as productivity gains and can be more difficult to quantify.
On the tangible side, a UC system can cut traditional telephony costs. Legacy enterprise voice systems comprising TDM (time-division multiplexing) PBXes cost $30 to $45 per seat per month. With the advent of IP telephony, enterprises are able to route internal site-to-site calls over the corporate data network, lowering long-distance as well as maintenance and support costs by as much as 25%. And once an IP telephony system is in place, the costs for adds, moves, and changes may also drop.
Intangible benefits are harder to define. In our experience, the greatest returns come from improved communication, which can have several benefits, including enhanced customer service and revenue acceleration, where having faster access to information results in sales closing faster and invoices being sent out sooner.
For example, high-end Japanese retailer Mitsukoshi embedded UC capabilities in its inventory application. It assessed and addressed critical business and technical requirements prior to implementing the new capabilities, and in six months, Mitsukoshi's UC-enabled RFID inventory application reduced the company's sales cycle time by 20% and increased top-line growth by 113% over the previous year.
Other intangible benefits may include the ability to quickly answer customer questions and provide better support. These benefits may not immediately result in increased revenue or a cost reductions, but customer retention, loyalty, and referrals ultimately affect the bottom line.
The goal for IT is to determine how these productivity gains can be aggregated into benefits measurable at the group, division, and corporate levels, and then include the aggregate benefits in calculating ROI. Our advice is to first understand what tangible and intangible benefits are most important to your company. The best business case for adopting unified communications comes from streamlining the mission-critical processes that drive your business.
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Mark Damphousse is CTO at TriNET Systems, which implements and supports voice, data, video, and mobility services. You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.