This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of Unified Communications Magazine
In the last year we’ve seen UC enter the mainstream with businesses typically having a requirement for at least one UC feature within their business communications systems. Many larger and mid-size businesses are now regularly demanding standards-based and software-based PBX (News - Alert) and UC solutions, often running in virtual machine environments within servers in their IT infrastructure. But what is driving UC adoption as we enter 2011?
In some ways the answer is a bit disappointing, but probably to be expected given the current economic circumstances. Although world economies are out of recession, they are generally in a slow growth mode and most businesses are still being pretty conservative with their spending. That being said, the principle driver for UC is still the acquisition of a new business communications system due to replacement of an existing system that has reached end of life, end of lease, or simply has failed where repair is not considered to be economical. Businesses in this situation are now looking for a VoIP-based solution and are being exposed to UC alternatives and options during their selection process.
The good news for UC is that in most cases, businesses are exposed to at least one UC feature that can enhance their business processes and that either has a short ROI or easily fits within their budget. So, VoIP adoption is still the No. 1 driver for UC adoption, but what are the features that are driving businesses to adopt UC?
The No. 1 feature driving UC adoption remains unified messaging, which allows users to receive voice and, typically, also fax messages in their e-mail inboxes. Many UM features include a fax server that allows users to also send fax messages directly from PCs in addition to receiving faxes by e-mail. Although UM for voice messaging has a soft and harder to identify ROI, fax-based UM has an easily identifiable hard ROI. UM has become a major driver for UC because is it easy to deploy and maintain, is included in all UC systems as a low-cost feature, and is becoming an expected part of business work environments by employees.
The No. 2 UC feature is really a combination of two features that invariably come together, presence and enterprise instant messaging. Presence indicates the availability and ability to communicate with individuals before you attempt to communicate with them. Presence improves collaboration processes between employees by enabling them to get in touch with the right resource at the right time independent of the location and mode of communication available to employees. EIM provides a lower-cost, real-time text alternative to a voice call or to sending an e-mail. Most UC systems that support presence and EIM also allow users to change the mode of communication back and forth between EIM and a voice call. resence and EIM generate a soft ROI by improving business efficiency and customer intimacy by reducing the time needed to accomplish collaborative tasks. As for UM, these two features are both a low-cost UC feature and also an expected part of the business work environment.
Other features driving UC adoption come in neck-to-neck in a pack of other features that include fixed mobile convergence, videoconferencing/telepresence, web conferencing, and communications-enabled business processes.
FMC enables your mobile phone to function as an extension of your UC system or PBX. It often includes seamless handoff between your mobile and PBX phone using cellular, 3G, or Wi-Fi. FMC generates both hard and soft ROIs based on reducing costs by avoiding cellular calls for in-facility calls by using Wi-Fi and increased employee productivity by gaining the benefits of UC regardless of the endpoint in use.
Videoconferencing and telepresence allow participants at two or more locations to interact via live two-way video and audio transmissions. Web conferencing is used to conduct live meetings, training, or presentations via the Internet. Both have recently become popular as they provide a hard ROI by allowing participants to avoid travelling, or enable collaboration that was not previously economically viable.
CEBP reduces human latency within business process flows by integrating communications with line of business applications such as enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and customer relationship management. CEBP generates hard ROIs quickly by reducing staff time to interact with callers, and by making calls or directing calls more efficiently.
Longer-tail features driving UC that account for about 10 percent of the driving features include capabilities such as contact centers; out-calling for appointment reminders, service follow-ups, and emergency notifications; overhead paging, especially for educational institutions; click-to-call, providing in-context dialing; missed call/message notifications; call redirection; and integrated user administration with IT, which can save up to $100/user per year.
As we move into 2011, the barriers to UC adoption are mostly deployment time, cost and complexity. Look for software-based, all-in-one solutions that provide good value and at least one UC feature that you can use immediately that will improve your business processes. Look for flexible standards-based solutions that reduce or eliminate custom integration costs and integrate easily with your IT environment. And keep hunting for those lurking UC applications in your business.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi