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Justification for Unified Communications: What is Productivity, Really?

This spring, I am participating in a 12-city road show [[]] for Siemens Enterprise Communications. In these half-day sessions, I am joining folks from Siemens and InformationWeek to help attendees understand the value of UC. This is my third tour, if you will, and the audience's perception of the technology has changed: Customers increasingly understand what "UC" is, and they get that it can help their business. But their top concern about deployment remains the same: How to justify the new spending in a time of smaller budgets, lower revenues, and strapped IT departments.Despite the uptick in the economy, no one has told me they're willing to rip and replace their existing infrastructure to get the promised benefits of UC. What they are willing to do, however, is deploy new technology that will not just lower their hard-dollar operational expenses (toll charges, MACs, travel, etc.), but which will also positively impact their revenues. That's a shift in thinking; companies that can plan and measure performance gains that result from UC move from "soft-dollar" productivity benefits to "hard dollar" revenue gains.

For instance, saving money on travel is good-at an average of $1,000 per trip, those dollars can add up quickly. But customers are slowly realizing that reducing travel also boosts productivity. And here, we're not talking about saving 10 minutes a day in missed phone calls or message access; we're talking about eight to ten hours spent on planes and in airports, time that could be spent, for instance, on customer calls or project delivery. What's the value of that? Depending on the customer or the project, it can be thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars.

Speaking of customers, it's worth considering what all the capabilities of UC mean to them. Unified communications is not just about employee productivity--it's about how a company appears to its customers. Can they reach key people when they need to? Can they count on the company to be there for service and support? Can they trust the organization to be immediately responsive, and to be on the leading edge of communications and, depending on the business, collaboration? In today's always-on world, customers expect to be able to reach a live person whenever they need to, and they expect an instant response to their feedback and concerns, regardless of how or where they're expressed. (The live person might respond via text on Twitter, but that's OK.)

Finally, when I talk to attendees about UC costs, I try to remind them that they can start deploying key components of UC on a modest budget, then continue building out their infrastructure as time and money allow. For many businesses, that will mean deploying Voice over IP (VoIP)--or, in some cases, video over IP-and then leveraging the IP network for other applications, including instant messaging, conferencing and, increasingly, social networking technologies. (With only 30 percent of enterprise telephony lines IP-ready, there's plenty of room for incremental change.)

The key to such a strategy is to use a vendor, or vendors, with truly open platforms that will allow customers to add applications and endpoints as needed, and for years to come.