Unified communications (UC) has long been touted as a money saver and productivity booster, and according to a new vendor-backed study, the technology may be making good on that promise. For the second year, technology products and services provider CDW has conducted its Unified Communications Tracking Poll, surveying 915 IT professionals in December 2009 who work on unified communications or component technologies in business, government, healthcare and education. The company conducts the survey to better understand and gauge the adoption of UC technology, which converges voice, video, and data services and software applications across the enterprise. Among a variety of technologies and services, CDW provides unified communications solutions to organizations in the private and public sectors, and has partnerships and certifications with Cisco, IBM and Microsoft.
Of those surveyed that have fully implemented UC and are tracking their return on investments (ROI), the majority (71 percent) of organizations say that UC ROI has met or exceeded expectations. "ROI is better than expected," says Pat Scheckel, VP of converged infrastructure solutions at CDW. "That matches the direct experience we have with our own customers, but it is nice to see that validated in this poll," he says.
Of those that did see an ROI, 13 percent said the returns exceeded their expectations, while 58 percent said ROI met their expectations. Only 5 percent said ROI was less than expected, and about one-quarter, or 24 percent said it was still too early to determine whether they would achieve an ROI. A little more than half, or 54 percent of the IT executives surveyed said the top benefit from UC was the reduction of operating costs - a particularly meaningful benefit given the economic battering of the past few years. But half the IT execs also pointed to productivity as a key benefit. Other benefits included more reliable communication of information (44 percent) and improved cross-functional communication and collaboration (37 percent).
The capital outlay to plan for and implement UC continues to be of concern. Nearly half, or 46 percent, said getting the budget to pay for their UC deployments was the most significant challenge. Scheckel says, however, that organizations that have planned and/or have some experience already with UC have fewer cost concerns. For example, only 32 percent of organizations that have developed a business case for UC have reported that capital costs were a significant concern, versus 47 percent that had not developed a business case. "We see different levels of sophistication in our customer base, across the board," Scheckel says. "It's like anything. If you develop a plan, and understand and identify potential savings, it is far easier to run that by management and get approvals."
Nonetheless, the poll has indicated that there's an uptick in UC implementations, says Scheckel. In fact, 67 percent of those polled have prepared a business case or strategic plan for unified communications, compared with 55 percent in 2009, the first year the poll was conducted. A closer look at the numbers reveals that few have completely implemented UC but that is changing. For example, only 8 percent have completed an implementation (compared with 6 percent a year ago) but another 31 percent have either made their plans or are in the midst of an implementation.