Wednesday Apr 16, 2014
Payback Power: ROI Drives Unified Communications Implementation
Written by Brian Kopf, manager of unified communications practice, CDW   
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 05:36

As businesses consider their IT budgets, a growing number of organizations are deploying unified communications (UC) solutions – integrated voice, data, messaging, conferencing, and collaboration services over converged networks.  The reason?  Return on investment.  In fact, a recent CDW report found that UC implementation rates doubled from 2010 to 2011, with 16 percent of organizations fully implemented today.  Meanwhile, 76 percent of organizations that have fully implemented UC and track return on investment (ROI) say that ROI has met or exceeded their expectations – up five percent since 2010. 

Customers frequently tell us that UC solutions quickly increase their organizations’ productivity and reduce operating costs.  UC provides more reliable and cross-functional communication, and increases resilience against network disruptions.  In addition, UC enhances the sense of belonging and affinity for remote or mobile staff.

Sounding great?  It is – but getting to a unified communications platform takes careful thought and planning.

UC is not one size fits all

Definitions of “unified communications” are as abundant as the companies that provide the component technologies.  So while there is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” in UC, there are several broad categories of approach to UC on a single platform.

Many businesses pursue rich media or telephony-centric approaches to implementation, while others focus on e-mail- or instant messaging-centric approaches.  Admittedly, the array of available technologies, combined with their unique implications, make selecting a UC solution a complex undertaking.  There are many things to consider, including the nature of your organization’s work and its physical structure.

While there are few industry-standard UC approaches, the range of solutions and strategies available enables tailored solutions that best fit each organization’s needs.

Many obstacles faced in UC implementations arise from at least one of the following:

>   Rushed discovery phase – it’s easier to address challenges prior to implementation, so this phase should carefully assess all potential applications and systems that link to the communications platform or may be affected by the change in traffic
>    Assumption that equipment/applications can be transferred “as is” from existing systems – it is important to clarify this before investing
>    Lack of stakeholder involvement in the process – since unifying communications is not an IT-only decision, you’ll only capture the maximum benefit if you secure the users’ input during the discovery, planning, and implementation process
>    Failure to establish a goal and stick to it – this is where UC solutions can become needlessly complicated, leading to unanticipated costs
>    Failure to understand the contract and implementation process – this can cost you in the long run
>    Waiting to “clean things up” after the migration rather than before – a guaranteed way to dissatisfy your users is to not test your platform and applications beforehand

Change means UC options

Many businesses find they are able to reduce cost associated with a UC implementation by planning it in conjunction with other organizational changes involving facilities or the communications network.  Customers have indicated that along with planning and executing UC solutions, they are also often doing at least one of the following:

>    Establishing a new call center or expanding an old one
>   Integrating two or more existing organizations’ networks (e.g., a business merger/acquisition or a reorganization)
>    Expanding or deploying a telecommuting program for a significant percentage of the organization’s workforce
>    Replacing obsolete or inadequate existing networks
>    Implementing a business continuity/disaster recovery plan and supporting capabilities
>    Integrating branches of distributed operations (e.g., retail store locations, bank branches and field offices)

It is critical for IT managers to look for these kinds of changes in an organization, and to talk with management about how to couple improvements in the communications systems to make them more effective and cost-efficient.

Assess your network and emphasize training

If your network is not strong enough to handle the increase in traffic from UC, you will not get the results you are expecting.  Review your current business and network environments, assess current and future needs, and incorporate them into a scope of work for design and implementation.  For most companies, UC is a phased process, leading to an end goal that meets business/organizational communication goals.  What is best for your company is a network and solution set that stays up and running when the weakest link is at or near maximum capacity.

Remember that training your associates on the maintenance and use of the UC components is essential.  Begin preparing them for implementation during installation and configuration.  Again, your goal is to launch a reliable operating system without disrupting business as usual.

Implementation is not a scary word:It is not always easy to sell management on the idea of a revamped, companywide communications system, but when management understands the benefits of UC, they may realize it is just the kind of enhancement they are looking for.

The most common concerns among organizations planning for UC implementation are how it will affect network security, equipment, and capital cost requirements, and where it will drive operating costs.  However, we have found that many of those apprehensions ease once implementation begins.  Organizations that have completed or begun their implementations report substantially lower levels of concern with such issues.

While UC is complex and comes with many potential challenges, there is no doubt that it can transform an organization and result in attractive operating efficiencies.  The facts speak for themselves – UC is an innovative way to change the way your company does business.

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