The economics of UC

Easy as 1 2 3?

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Workshop Building a business case for Unified Communications (UC) is not a clear cut process, with ROI numbers being difficult to derive, and sometimes not really conveying a meaningful value to the business. The endeavours of vendors and the corresponding push-back from businesses in this area is testament to how much of an issue this has become in moving forward with UC.

The weakness in the typical approach taken is that it only reports against a single scenario – implementing UC. Furthermore, the implicit assumption is that the UC implementation will be carried out well.

To properly capture the potential value of UC, it is more useful to compare and contrast alternative scenarios, and the impact each of these has on the business. In this instance, there are three scenarios that it makes sense to look at:

1. Things stay as they are ie UC is not implemented

2. UC is implemented well

3. UC is implemented, but it is not done properly.

Each of these carries a measure of costs, risks and benefits, and it makes sense to try and understand the relative size of each of these for the three scenarios. And if it isn’t obvious, the first scenario is actually one of the most important ones to consider as the ‘status quo’ in itself will always have an ongoing cost and risk against it, and represent a level of continuing business constraint.

With this in mind, we need to remind ourselves that the starting point for many companies is a fragmented and rather complex landscape characterised by a myriad of communications tools that have worked their way into the business in an ad hoc, piecemeal fashion. This concept of fragmentation was touched upon in our recent article How ready is your business for unified communications?

Even though many just accept it as the way things are, the truth is that managing a complex and broad set of communications systems that are not well integrated is time consuming from an IT perspective, and will become increasingly burdensome as newer technologies work their way into the company.

From a user perspective, negotiating the various disparate systems has typically already led to inefficient working practices, and created hidden business costs, the size of which could be quite substantial. Moreover, the longer that users simply accept this inefficient way of working, the less likely companies will be to identify and address it.

Moving on to the next of our scenarios, a well-planned, well-executed UC implementation should be the obvious goal of most companies, as it can deliver a number of tangible and intangible benefits. There are numerous examples of this, but to quote one Reg reader in the context of setting up a conference call:

Most project based business processes will include one (or many) review stages – which, these days, typically means a conference call. Setting up a call is usually a nightmare - check diaries, send out an invite, get some 'accepts' some 'declines', reschedule, start all over again - you know how it goes..... The UC approach is different:......The UC Server has 'presence' visibility of all personnel and can control the conference bridge. When a quorum of people is available, UC initiates the conference and pulls in the necessary people.

And by the way, the UC Server can also conference a voice recording channel into the bridge, and tag the recording of the review back into the CRM so the whole thing has verification built in. Setting up one conference call can waste a good hour of someone's time. How many conference calls does your business run per annum?

When we look at situations like this, it is hard to dispute the benefits that a well-implemented UC suite can bring.

On the flip side, however, coming to the last of our three scenarios, if UC isn’t put in place well, it can actually create additional costs and risks to the business. Again, this is best illustrated with an example. Consider a business that advocates web and video conferencing for all internal calls, but fails to verify that the underlying infrastructure is adequate at all points of access.

For people joining the call from office-based locations, there is unlikely to be a problem. But for people dialling in remotely from home, if their broadband connection is not of sufficiently high bandwidth, they are likely to encounter issues with call quality. Moreover, they are likely to introduce distortions on the call, the upshot of which might be repeated dial-in attempts, and ultimately needing to take discussions ‘offline’. The cost and distraction here is pretty obvious.

We will examine some of the things companies need to think about when scoping and transitioning to UC in the coming weeks, to ensure that an implementation works, and works well. But suffice it to say at this stage that businesses should spend a lot of time understanding all the aspects of UC and how it will impact them.

More importantly, they shouldn’t just focus on the numbers, but carry out a thorough cost/risk/benefits assessment of the different choices open to them, and when tempted to skimp or cut corners on implementation, consider the difference between scenarios 1 and 3. After all, reducing the amount you spend on a project to a degree that undermines the end result and actually makes things worse, is not a particularly bright thing to do.

We would like to hear from readers who have had to carry out ROI analyses, or who are looking at it now, and have any advice they can share - give us your feedback in the comments below.

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