Unified communications projects should focus on increasing business agility, not reducing IT costs.
Organisations seeking to implement unified communications (UC) should do so to increase business agility, not to reduce costs, according to Gartner. A recent Gartner survey of 300 organisations showed that early adopters of UC cited improvements in employee collaboration, productivity and customer service are the top three benefits after deploying UC.
The survey showed that although it remained important, lower total cost of ownership was the least-mentioned benefit. By contrast, lower total cost of ownership and lower equipment costs were the top two expectations of UC among companies that have yet to deploy it. "It is evident that there is a significant difference between the expectations of UC and its actual benefits. We recommend that organisations build a business case based on enabling mobility and agility rather than on reducing IT department costs," said Steve Blood, research vice president at Gartner.
UC is designed to eliminate the barriers that have traditionally separated voice calls, e-mail, instant messaging and conferencing in all forms. Once all these communication media are carried over a common Internet protocol (IP) network, it is possible to manage them all from a single point and use them with common devices. This enables companies to transform key business processes with improved communication flows. "The value for organisations is to reduce human latency within a process that improves business's ability to respond and to be agile," added Blood.
He said that implementing UC requires both technological and organisational change. However, he warned that more than 80% of appropriate organisational changes, including procedures, policies and compensation, will lag behind technological change through 2011. For example, many IT departments will continue to be organised separately around voice, networking and mobility, and some may not even have control of mobile budget. "Nowhere is the effect of this organisational lag more apparent than in how the convergence of voice, data and applications is affecting organisations," he said.
As a first step to creating a successful UC implementation, Gartner advises companies to begin with important but not mission-critical tasks and assess their needs based on the individual (eg, time spent away from desk and office), not purely on job title or role and identify the consumer technologies that could be implemented. A next-generation voice and communications architecture should include collaboration and social networking and, longer-term, integrate communications with business applications.
Gartner also recommends identifying killer applications that focus on productivity benefits for adopting UC technologies. Key opportunities are in:
Contextual presence - including presence information about the individuals and communications channels available to the end user;
Flexible media and conference switching - allowing a single interaction sequence to change channels (or media) and add or reduce the number of participants without ending and re-starting the session;
Intelligent notification services - contacting people with important information, including instructions on the order in which to contact individuals, when someone is unavailable, etc.
For example, challenged with limited visibility and control of project costs and status, oil and gas company Anadarko embedded Backflip intelligent notification software in its SAP process to alert stakeholders through multiple communications channels of the need to review and approve elements of the purchasing process. Consequently, the company reduced purchase-order cycle time from typically more than 30 hours to fewer than five hours.
Gartner warned organisations to take a strategic approach to procurement and consider vendors' product roadmaps. Through 2011, Gartner predicts that organisations will double overpay for as much as 50% of communications and collaboration software as intensifying competition leads to UC product bundling and duplication of technology by vendors.
In addition, Gartner predicts organisations that do not follow best practices for involving the networking team with IT projects will pay at least twice as much for their application development projects and will still deliver poorly performing applications. "Ideally, networking should be involved from the beginning of the application project, actively proposing functions that can be usefully performed in the network, as well as ensuring that applications are tested," said Blood.
Gartner also predicts that between 2007 and 2011, organisations will overestimate their applications' bandwidth needs and waste $21,6 billion on gigabit Ethernet and a further $2 billion on powering it.
Blood recommends that organisations looking to implement UC should create a virtual team of all the stakeholders, both from the business units as well as in IT and look at which groups of users can benefit most from improved collaboration. He added: "Those that have already adopted UC should now verify that productivity benefits are being realised and that users are taking advantage of the new capabilities. Deploying UC is expensive so companies should ensure those that have it are using it."