Proponents' Job: Prove Unified Communications Is More Than Cool

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Unified communications -- the ability to find anyone anywhere whatever device he or she is toting around and to do deeply collaborative work -- is cool. Really cool.


Buying decisions, however, are no longer made on the "coolness" factor. Companies must see real payback and other tangible ways in which their organizations benefit from these tools, which are not cheap.


Network World reports on a study by Forrester Research that appears reflect the ambivalence between liking the idea of UC and actually deploying it. The problem, as succinctly stated in the story, is that there is a clear understanding of the various elements of UC -- but less certainty on how they fit together and the overall ROI.


The firm says that 55 percent of 2,187 responding companies in North America and Europe report being confused about the value of UC. Eleven percent of the firms have deployed it, 16 percent are in the process -- and 57 percent are evaluations or pilots. The researcher on the project drove home the ambivalence out there with these two facts: Pilots are up 21 percent since last year -- but there are no increases in actual projects.


The first part of this CIO story does a good job of explaining what unified communications is, and how it is deeper -- if not fundamentally different -- than unified messaging. The second part of the story touches on how companies can deploy UC efficiently. The main takeaway is that it makes sense to first implement elements of UC that have the highest and most immediate potential value. This will help build and sustain interest in elements in which payback is deferred.


Clearly, the more customers understand the value of each element of UC, the more likely they are to take the chance -- or to move from pilots and evaluations to real rollouts. Instead of focusing on each type of applications, eChannelLine digs into three overall benefits that UC brings: enhanced security, productivity and convenience. The story suggests that security in a UC environment will be greater than it is for each application when offered individually. The piece also takes on the somewhat easier task of describing how UC aids convenience and productivity.


It's clear that UC is a complex undertaking. For that reason, system integrators and value-added resellers (SIs and VARs) play a greater role than when simpler tools are deployed. No Jitter says that there are many good VARs and SIs around, and that making the proper choice on which to retain is a vital decision. The piece offers six bulleted things to look for: VAR/SIs should have a proven track record, have earned UC certification and use in-house talent (as opposed to being a "talent broker" that farms tasks out). The firm should have the requisite references; skills sets and fiscal stability.


In many cases, precise measures of ROI must give way to less definitive measures of value. However, companies should not dismiss these softer rationales. This TMCnet.com piece says that UC can drive employee satisfaction and, specifically, keep millennials -- the youngsters entering the workforce now -- happy and engaged. The writer points to a study of Sears Roebuck & Co. that says that a 5 percent improvement in employee satisfaction led to a 1.3 percent increase in customer satisfaction and, ultimately, a 0.5 percent increase in revenues.


Being cool is great for clothing, jazz artists and video games. It isn't enough, however, to justify major investments in IT infrastructure. Clearly, the key is for UC proponents to systematically measure value and explain, in dollars and cents, precisely how cool UC can be.