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The Incredible Expanding UC

InformationWeek Green - June, 2011
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The Incredible Expanding UC

If your idea of a unified communications strategy is to integrate voice mail and email and set up a few room-based videoconferencing systems, you're selling your company short. Think big--make your UC mission statement "to integrate communications as a means to optimize business processes." That means factoring in collaboration, social networking, and mobility, as we'll discuss, but it also means looking beyond mundane IT issues. Your infrastructure has to be up to the task, but it's a lot easier to justify new UC investments when you can point to their potential for earning new business.

And here's something you may not have considered: The mobility and collaboration initiatives you're likely undertaking may be UC by another name. Say: "We're going to spend $300 per employee on a set of tools to integrate voice, video, instant messaging, and email in a dashboard, " and at best you'll inspire a yawn. But say: "We're going to spend $300 per employee to reduce by 75% the average time to create a tailored sales proposal," and you'll get attention.

The big, creative view of UC always links new communications options with the underlying business processes they'll improve.

We're not saying that's easy. For starters, most companies haven't made nearly enough headway on basic integration. A collaboration architect for a major global manufacturer says a lack of standards is still a major roadblock. "The vendors are playing chicken with each other and with customers," he says. "Cisco works with Cisco gear, but not Siemens. Microsoft works with its partners but has no interest in becoming a SIP partner. I frankly don't care which standard wins. I just want integration." His company uses IBM's Lotus Notes for email and Microsoft's IM and SharePoint, but it's migrating to a Cisco-centric architecture to address the influx of iOS and Android devices. "BYOD is adding to the headache, and that's partly why we're moving to Cisco, as well as getting better support for video," he says. But at every turn, he runs into a snag. Coordinating IM with outside partners is a major source of angst, mostly because of security concerns. And it's amazing the industry is still fighting over SIP.

Still, in our most recent InformationWeek Analytics Unified Communications Survey, 61% of 406 respondents said they either have already undertaken UC projects or plan to do so by April 2012, mostly to deploy unified messaging, cited by 33% as the top driver. That's a good start, but business drivers are top of mind. Improving employee collaboration was cited by 59% of respondents, followed by improving efficiency, cited by 52%.

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