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UC: A Key Factor in Global Energy Policy?

If the U.S. were to become totally self-sufficient today--i.e. no further oil imports--the U.S. would exhaust its proven reserves in less than 3 years. Drilling in more places only gets the oil out of the ground faster, it doesn't change the reserves and it doesn't change the crisis status.

Worldwide, the situation is only marginally better. On the current trend line of 14% increase in consumption per year, the global oil reserves will be depleted in 2024. If conservation immediately flattened the global usage to no-growth, the oil would last to about 2060, allowing more time for transitions to alternate energy solutions. Coal and oil sands can extend this time horizon, but they are more costly to produce and more harmful to the environment.

The good news is that there is still time for the combination of conservation and alternate energy sources to make a difference, but we need to make changes in our consumption patterns--now. This brings me to the topic of Unified Communications.

It is possible to run a business with far less travel, far less commuting and far less occupancy cost than is practiced today. We could change business methods in three major categories, and UC is at the heart of the solutions:

* TELEWORKING: Making effective telework possible is one of the major value propositions of Unified Communications. The combination of presence, IM, email and VoIP, allow a person to be as accessible from a home office as from a cubicle. Commercial businesses account for 17% of energy use in the U.S. and expend 67% of that energy on lighting and HVAC. Plus, the energy spent for commuting is estimated at 130% of the energy used in the buildings. Thus, shifting 50% of office work to teleworking could cut total U.S. energy usage by 11.5%. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has adopted such a teleworking goal, targeting 50% by 2010, compared to the current Federal Government average of 4.2%.

* COLLABORATION: New UC tools make it possible to work effectively with people anywhere, often even better and faster than in location-dependent office complexes. This begins with the basics of voice/web/video conferencing; extends to the information-enhanced collaborative workspaces such as Microsoft SharePoint or Office Live, IBM Lotus Quickr or Cisco WebEx WebOffice; and advances to powerful new levels with social networking options such as IBM Lotus Connections. Cases show collaborative tools enabling project accelerations and cost reductions of 100% and more, while less energy is consumed in the virtualized process.

* SIMPLIFICATION: UC enables users to have a full business communication experience with a reduced set of tools. UC makes it possible to work in a virtual, teleworking, collaborative mode without a desk phone (or even PBX extension) and without a LAN termination/access level router. Possibly other economies can be found. Of course, there may be some offsets with more enterprise bandwidth for teleworkers and virtual connections, and the associated hardware--e.g., gateways, firewalls, VLANs, etc.--but the net effect should be lower cost and lower energy use. In addition, the trend to "hosting" and "cloud computing" would further reduce bandwidth equipment within the enterprise--once the teleworker reaches the cloud via their existing broadband connection and with proper encryption, there's no need for more equipment in the buildings.

Some enterprises and some vendors are already actively pursuing this theme. Also, VoiceCon San Francisco 2008 will have two tutorial sessions on November 10 focusing on "How Communications Can Save Energy Costs."

I urge you to act now to get UC tools deployed and to enable the energy conservation and cost reductions that are so clearly critical to the global economy and, for that matter, to the national security of almost every industrialized country. Let's do our best to buy time while the alternative energy sources are advanced and deployed. We need to do this so that ROI can mean "Return of Independence" as well as "Return on Investment". I'm proud to be associated with Unified Communications as such an important factor in this major issue.