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Two Years from Now

We heard this a lot at VoiceCon San Francisco earlier this month. The basic idea seems logical: With capital constrained, the notion is that you can still move forward on technology by purchasing Unified Communications capabilities as a managed or hosted service that you pay for as an operating expense. This assumes that UC is so pressing a need that buying a managed/hosted service would be preferable to simply forgoing UC altogether until such time as you're once again able to acquire it the way that large enterprises prefer to acquire technology, which is as CPE to be supported in-house.

The latest analyst to suggest that managed/hosted may be the right course is Tom Nolle, who writes that managed/hosted is gaining appeal--mostly for the mid-market.

"Where there are somewhere between a dozen and perhaps 50 remote locations, most companies I've surveyed find that hosted UC/UCC [unified communications and collaboration] supported by the IT organization is the approach that generates the best ROI," Tom writes. "Where managed UC/UCC seems to fit best is in the range from about 30 to perhaps 1,000 remote offices."

Tom also writes, "If you have more than 1,000 offices, you're much less likely to be happy with the cost/benefit analysis of managed UC/UCC. The reason is that large organizations begin to achieve the same economies of support scale that service providers do, and that means the savings that managed services could generate is smaller. But even here, my surveys of enterprises show that 2009 and 2010 might bring some changes. Some companies have put tight constraints on any capital projects, making it very difficult to buy anything like computer equipment or software."

Tom's assumption in that last paragraph is key--namely that the business downturn is likely to continue, at least in its effects on technology buying, for two more years--through 2010. So think about your technology investments in that context.

Naturally, we all believe our businesses are going to survive this downturn. There'd be no point showing up to work each day if you didn't believe that. And we've spent enough time in airports thumbing through pop-business books and being forced to watch CNN and CNBC to know we're supposed to say we're not merely going to survive, we're going to thrive, dammit. We're going to be the ones who take advantage of the downturn to eat our rivals.

Whether that's actually true for you, specifically, depends a lot on things like what industry you're in. If you're in higher education, your experience of the next two years is likely to be very different from that of your IT brethren in government, say, or health care, or (God help you) financial services or manufacturing. But whichever segment you're in, what might your world look like in two years? And what will your job be like, serving that environment, if your communications technology stays largely static through 2010? Will that have been a wise move, because conserving resources was the paramount issue? Or will you actually have lost ground as end users, customers and other stakeholders moved on in their relationships to technology?

As I sit here today, I can't say anyone has proved that Unified Communications is something that you *need* in order to survive the next two years. You need phones that work--on your desk, as well as cell phones that your users can use to do business (and whose costs you need to get a handle on). You definitely need collaboration tools--maybe some internal SharePoint-based systems, or on up through telepresence. Chances are, you'll need to make an ROI case for many of those tools, and chances are, you'll be able to.

But does it all need to come together under a single "unified" umbrella? If you say no, will you regret it two years from now?