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Practical Analysis: Unified Communications' Day Has Arrived

It has been a long time coming, but it looks like unified communications, at least in some form, is now mainstream. In our recent survey, 30% of you tell us you've already deployed UC, while another 30% have plans to do so sometime in the next couple of years. UC means very different things to different people, so your first question is probably: What does implementing UC mean?

For some, it's just a matter of replacing consumer chat tools like AIM and Messenger with enterprise versions. For others, it's going all the way to deploying high-end desktop videoconferencing. For most. though, what's important is the ability to pick and choose the pieces of UC to implement. That requires having a strong IP and SIP infrastructure, so that implementing the desired technologies is cost effective while letting your architects leave off any app that doesn't benefit the organization. That's making UC much more approachable this time around.

Another interesting data point from our survey is that the two business considerations that most commonly drive a UC implementation are improving employee collaboration and improving employee efficiency. Those two factors outdistance all others by 25 and 18 percentage points, respectively. The business benefits that rank lower include creating a more mobile workforce, saving on travel expenses, upgrading PBX systems, and saving on capex and opex. In other words, the self-apparent use of UC (collaboration) is now justification all by itself. Seems all those studies on collaboration along with a couple of years of Web 2.0 messaging have had their effect on us: Creating a collaborative environment is now important.

We see so many polls saying that lowering IT costs is the most important thing under consideration that it's noteworthy when the desired outcome of implementing a new technology is anything else. As I see it, this is an important transition for most new technologies. If all a new tech does is purport to save you some money, chances are you should be looking at other priorities. Telephones, computers, and most other technologies didn't come in the door with a promise of immediate costs savings; they were expenses that made companies better at doing their business. That's not to say that cost cutting isn't an important goal. It is, but the projects that truly deliver savings universally call for consolidating, closing, discontinuing, and firing. If those outcomes aren't part of your project, be dubious of realizing any long-term savings.

While the business benefits of UC are more achievable than ever and implementing the technology is more reasonable, there are still plenty of ways to mess up a unified communications implementation. Here, the survey data and comments reveal two items to watch.

First, keep your system simple. Even when users have had training--and it's critically important that they do--systems that are hard to use just won't see a lot of use. What's "hard to use" can be subjective, but it's worth understanding. Such requirements as lots of authenticating and re-authenticating can be off-putting. The second thing that can derail your work is turf wars between telco and IT teams. If that age-old struggle is still going on in your organization, it's time to end it for good.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. Write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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