The UC tide

Many companies haven't bothered to flesh out their unified communications strategies because 1) it can be hard to calculate ROI, and 2) the deployment effort is often daunting given so much custom work is required to piece together the various components that make up an integrated UC system.

The secret to the former, experts say, is to think small and identify one or two measurable targets for a subset of employees. Can you, for example, figure out how to use the tools to improve customer response times?

A BRIEF HISTORY OF UC: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

But there are no simple answers to the questions surrounding deployment. There are many ways to approach the opportunity, lots of competing technologies and loads of legacy investments to accommodate.

Network World recently fielded a study on UC that provides a glimpse into how some buyers are approaching the task. For example, when asked which technology they are using to build out UC, 43% of the 1,105 respondents said they are building from voice/telephone-centric systems. Second most popular was messaging/email at 27%, while 13% were working to UC-enable specific applications. Only 4% are taking a video-centric approach (3% said "other" and 10% said they weren't sure).

Asked whether they are using any cloud resources for the efforts, more than half (51%) said no, that they are using private, on-premise UC tools, but 8% are relying on a managed solution (where the customer still owns the infrastructure), while 9% went with a hosted option and 22% are using a hybrid approach.

Some of the impetus to get going with UC is the bring-your-own-device movement. Asked if the influx of consumer devices was accelerating their UC plans, 20% said yes, significantly. Another 47% said yes, somewhat, while 28% said no (and 5% said they weren't sure).

How about the importance of video in UC? Only 8% said video was critical to their organization's approach to UC, but 28% said it was very important and 41% said it was somewhat important. One-fifth of the group said video was not important.

Given the difficulty of building an ROI case for UC, it isn't surprising that cost/funding topped the list of biggest UC challenges, cited by 54% of the respondents, but many other impediments were also listed: integration with existing infrastructure, 47%; lack of skill sets, 33%; security concerns, 31%; bandwidth limitations, 27%; difficulty extending UC to mobile workers, 24%; and integration issues with consumer devices, 21%.

In the meantime, of course, elements of UC keep creeping into the enterprise, whether there is a sanctioned strategy or not. Bits show up in new application features, in new smartphone functions, and of course, employees can stitch together their own environments using things like Google Voice. Do you wait to see what develops, or do you get out ahead of it and plan accordingly?

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