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Five Ways to Save Money with Unified Communications Now!

Sure it's still fun to talk about things like communications enabled business processes, and long-term, things like CEBP should provide significant return on investment, but when budgets are frozen or declining, IT managers are often forced to think tactically rather than strategically.So with this new reality in mind, and on the assumption that your organization doesn't qualify for a massive federal bailout, let's look at five ways you can leverage unified communications technologies and services to achieve short-term significant cost savings.

1. VOIP - Yeah, it isn't "sexy" anymore, as nearly every company we interview is moving ahead with VOIP in some fashion, but the reality is that there are still considerable cost savings to be had from migrating your existing TDM phone systems to VOIP. These savings come in a variety of ways:

* Reduced management costs from system consolidation - eliminating multiple, often stand-alone systems, each with their own management and service contracts, and collapsing the voice architecture to a more centralized model, or one in which servers may still be distributed, but management and control are centralized.

* Long distance bypass - even with LD rates as low as one or two cents a minute, moving internal voice off the PSTN and onto the WAN can offer significant cost savings depending upon the organization's calling characteristics.

* Reduced moves/adds/changes, and often a reduction in the staff required to maintain phone systems.

2. SIP Trunking - By replacing dedicated PRI links between your phone systems and the PSTN with SIP trunks (often as part of a WAN service), enterprises can save up to 50% on their PSTN access costs (and take advantage of new services such as burstable or shared trunks, or easier policy-based call routing). SIP trunking adoption is rapidly growing, with nearly half of participants in our recent Advanced Communications Services benchmark either adopting or planning to adopt SIP trunking in the next 1-3 years.

3. Instant Messaging - As a way of saving money? Seriously? Yes! We've seen a couple of examples of how IM deployments have reduced phone bills as users take advantage of IM for simple queries rather than picking up the phone and making a call. For companies with large international toll charges, savings can be significant. IBM notes one case study in which a customer cut international long-distance charges by 30% simply by adopting enterprise-wide IM.

4. On-premise conferencing - Most IT executives we speak with still rely primarily on hosted audio and web conferencing for their companies, with services typically billed at a flat monthly fee plus usage. Organizations that primarily conduct internal audio and web conferences may be able to achieve significant cost savings simply by bringing conferencing in-house, either via deploying stand-alone bridges, or by leveraging bridging capabilities available today in many VOIP and UC platforms from a variety of vendors. As an example, Microsoft's message at VoiceCon Amsterdam around its recent release of Office Communications Server 2007 release 2 touted built-in audio and web conferencing capabilities as a way to reduce telecommunications costs to achieve positive ROI.

5. Use the Internet - Services such as JahJah and Truphone can deliver substantial cost savings for mobile phone users by routing calls over the Internet instead of over a wireless provider's private network. For service plans with free incoming calls, Internet-based mobile phone services can eliminate all long distance charges. And don't forget about Skype. Even though flat rate unlimited calling plans for domestic (U.S.) calls are a thing of the past, SkypeOut rates are still considerably cheaper than most other long distance services.

6. "Bonus" - WAN Optimization - Enterprises that utilize WAN optimization spend less on bandwidth, and require less frequent bandwidth upgrades. And they are better able to support real-time applications such as voice and video.

To be fair, this list is rather simplistic, and costs savings will vary greatly based on your required investments in areas such as QoS-capable WAN services, resiliency, power-backup, and E-911 to support VOIP. On-premise conferencing requires additional in-bound calling capabilities to support external participants (or selection of a platform that offers integration of on-premise and hosted services). Still, these are the areas that we've identified in our research and cost model development projects as offering the biggest bang for the buck in terms of reducing costs. Not all will be an appropriate fit for your organization, but if your CIO just told you to slash your budget, these are the first areas I'd recommend you consider.