Cutting the travel budget with UC

Nearly 80 per cent of companies that have deployed unified communications (UC) technologies have seen reduced employee travel time and cost savings as a result, according to a recent Info-Tech Research Group study. But while organizations taking advantage of integrated voice, data and video communications solutions might be reaping the benefits, many companies still choose to remain on the sidelines.

The Info-Tech survey, which polled 220 IT managers, found that most companies who consolidated their communications systems with the use of file sharing, instant messaging and audio/video technology experienced substantial business and productivity benefits. While cutting travel costs was not the primary factor for many companies, according to lead research Jayanth Angl, the savings were considered a welcome bonus with today’s surging gas prices.

“Improving overall collaboration, reducing the number of individual tools, and really consolidating their communications system was typically the deciding factor,” the senior research analyst said. “Travel and commuting reductions wasn’t the primary driver in moving forward with UC.”

But despite the glowing reviews from the UC adopters, a Forrester Research survey released last month indicated that many small and large enterprises remain uncertain of the benefits of a UC implementations. Fifty-five percent of the 2,187 North American and European companies queried said there is “confusion about the value” of unified communications for their company, while only 11 per cent of the firms surveyed had already fully deployed it.

“We were not surprised,” Ellen Daley, Forrester analyst and author of the survey’s report, said. “There’s been a 21 per cent increase in UC pilots since 2007 but no increase in firms buying UC. A lot of people are talking about UC, a lot more are dipping their toe in; but at the same time they’re all saying they’re not sure about the value.”

Daley says Forrester receives inquiries from clients regularly asking simply: What is UC?

“Because they’re not able to define it very clearly for themselves and the supplier landscape is confusing, that translates to confusion about what it does for their company,” she said. “It’s hard to prove that ROI right now.”

Companies understand the components of UC — VoIP, unified messaging, presence, multimedia conferencing, collaboration, and so forth — but the value of the overall pitch is vague, Forrester found.

Info-Tech’s Angl agreed that there is a lot of confusion over UC, but he said this was more common in enterprises that lacked a large percentage of mobile teleworkers. Organizations that were already using multiple IP communications tools such as Web conferencing, instant messaging or IP telephony, he said, latched onto the idea of UC quickly.

“Some of the characteristics of a UC adopter was the complexity of their environment, the usage of multiple tools, and a high percentage of employees that telework,” Angl said. “Enterprises that have deployed UC found that roughly 33 per cent of their employees have telework privileges. With organizations that have no plans for UC, we found that number to only be 11 per cent, so there is a significant gap there.”

Angl also said UC deployment did not vary significantly by company size and, in fact, found the integrated communications technology to be increasingly common among mid-market and small companies.

“You can definitely find SMBs which have multiple locations and are relatively progressive with how they approach technology, communications and collaboration,” he said. “Typically these companies have a history in adopting leading edge technologies and would be more apt to move forward with UC.”

For larger companies that still have a relatively simple environment, which Angl described as “just phones and e-mail,” justifying the benefits of an UC implementation will be difficult.

“For an organization starting from scratch, it’s a really significant jump, but our recommendation is they do move forward,” Angl said. He suggested these companies consider the reduction in travel costs found in the study as a starting point to increase their knowledge and awareness of UC.

— With files from Jim Duffy, Network World (US)