Budget woes strengthen unified communications business case
Experts argue that there is a lot more to unified communications than the potential cost savings. But given the current budget environment, the prospect of saving money might be the most compelling case for investing in new technology.
Now more than ever, for many organizations the initial appeal of unified communications is simple: big savings.
Without a doubt, they quickly discover the other benefits of integrating voice, video and data networks, not the least of which is the ability to provide seamless communications and collaboration across the enterprise (see related article).
But at a time when agencies are scrutinizing their budgets for any place to cut expenses and taking a dim view of any request for new spending, they often begin by emphasizing the potential to reduce the cost of maintaining multiple network infrastructures and related management applications.
During a panel discussion earlier this year, DOD officials said that with the threat of deep budget cuts on the horizon, they were investing in UC and other commercial innovations as a way to reduce network costs without compromising their support for the warfighter.
“We’re not looking at trying to reinvent the wheel — we’re trying to exploit the best wheel out there,” said David Mihelcic, the Defense Information Systems Agency’s chief technology officer and principal director of Global Information Grid enterprise services engineering. “We’re not going to develop unique technologies, [so] we’re looking at industry to develop innovation that we can leverage.”
The Agricultural Department has also turned to UC as a way to save money.
At one time, the department was spending money to support 21 email systems, in addition to multiple videoconferencing systems, according to the 2012 "Accomplishments and Capabilities" report by the Office of the CIO. That began to change in 2010 when the office developed a UC strategy, the report states.
The Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, part of the Transportation Department, is taking a similar route, beginning with an investment in a voice-over-IP (VOIP) system. The all-digital system “will eliminate our current disparate telecommunication infrastructure while providing a greatly reduced cost for ongoing administration and maintenance,” according to a Volpe procurement document.
But Volpe is not stopping there. The VOIP system also will enable the center to integrate its phone system with its email, mobile phones and videoconferencing system, providing more seamless communications and a new tool for continuity of operations in the event of a disaster, the document states.
Most IT analysts would probably agree that Volpe, with its plan to leverage VOIP throughout the enterprise, is on the right track. Forrester Research, a market research firm, has found that the most successful implementations are based on solid business cases that address the operational benefits of UC.
“The key to success of a UC deployment is delivering benefits to users and business units — not just saving money on infrastructure,” according to a recent report by Forrester.
First and foremost is the potential for much better collaboration among employees. In fact, Forrester refers to UC as a “communications and collaboration infrastructure.” In a recent report, the firm recommended identifying “collaboration champions,” employees who can offer “testimonials to encourage further adoption.”
The Aberdeen Group offers another note of caution for organizations overly focused on the bottom line. Although organizations will see savings upfront when they move to an all-digital infrastructure, they are likely to find that the complexity of that infrastructure comes with higher-priced management and support staff.
“Total cost of ownership is becoming more important for these purchases as the lifespan of a new UC solution is now expected to be six years,” wrote Hyoun Park, research analyst for telecommunications and UC, on the Aberdeen Group’s blog. “With this expectation, the recurring costs associated with support, maintenance, software assurance and network services all become increasingly important.”