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Is UC Tactical Or Strategic?

Wainhouse Research is out with a new survey of enterprise attitudes and practices in adopting unified communications. One of the key findings is that, more so than last year, the decision is being made by IT, rather than at the CXO level.Brent Kelly of Wainhouse has written a feature for No Jitter about the survey results, and he noted that for almost two-thirds of the respondents, the UC buying decision was being made by IT, which is up from just more than half of the respondents in 2007 who said IT makes this call. A year ago, 24% of respondents said the UC decision was made at the CXO level, versus just 16% who say this in 2008.

These numbers jibe with other findings in the Wainhouse survey, which show that companies that adopt unified communications often do so without first taking such steps as doing a needs assessment, writing an RFP, or doing an ROI analysis. Brent writes:

These results indicate that UC is being implemented without a strategy and without a financial justification in a significant number of companies. Clearly, many companies anticipate gaining value from UC based on the promises found in the marketing messages by the leading vendors, and/or they just believe UC is the "next wave" -- and thus implementation is inevitable. We believe this is a poor way to deploy enterprise technology, and we are beginning to hear rumblings from some companies that have rolled out UC in this way, suggesting that they have encountered significant deployment and/or adoption challenges.

It's not really surprising that this is happening. In one sense, enterprises' UC investments should be not exactly tactical, but definitely targeted. Nobody thinks you should roll out a full suite of UC functions and applications to your entire user base. You certainly shouldn't do this in the near term, and it's probably something that a lot of your users will never need. So you need to target your UC deployments.

On the other hand ... you need to target your UC deployments. Brent characterizes the current state of affairs as the "Ready, fire, aim" mentality, which obviously is just the opposite.

I don't know if the CXO-level executives need to be in on the UC decision making; clearly, more of them saw the need for such involvement last year than this year, so something's changed. It's hard to understand the real needs analysis or ROI picture if there isn't some direction coming from outside the IT organization, telling you why you're doing this in the first place. ROI can be done in an IT echo chamber if all you're doing is figuring out how to save on toll charges or teleconferencing fees or moves, adds, and changes. But that's not where the benefits of UC lie.

So to understand whether UC pays off, IT has to establish communications with the lines of business; maybe they can one-off a solution for one department that acts as a proof of concept for the rest. That's still not strategic for the enterprise as a whole, but at least it's not completely scattershot.

If UC is going to be a strategic investment, the CXO level is going to have to re-engage, but given the trends that Brent Kelly and Wainhouse cite, it's going to be up to IT to make the case for why they should.