Twenty years ago, telephones, face-to-face meetings and travel were how people collaborated. In today's world, however, interactions with colleagues, customers and partners are much more complex and fluid. And competitive pressures have further sped up these interactions. However, the people who need to collaborate are likely to be in any location around the world. The result is often wasteful human delays in business processes: you can't find the right person to help you answer a question, you wait for a reply to an e-mail, you play telephone tag, you lose time while a team gets organized to tackle a project. These delays lead to lost sales, unhappy customers and decisions based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Consider these examples:
As if these examples weren't enough, most enterprises are also under immense pressure to reduce expenses. Travel and telephony budgets are at the top of the list. How can teams minimize traveling for internal and external meetings? Avoid high cell phone roaming and hotel access charges on internationaltrips? Slash other telephony costs? Postpone expensive PBX migrations? Reduce expensive monthly subscriptions to hosted Web conferencing services? Reduce maintenance and real estate costs by enabling staff to work from home?
To address these simultaneous challenges, many enterprises have invested in collaboration, telephony and video technologies incrementally. Unfortunately, these systems tend to be isolated, complicated and, typically, underutilized. As a result, these enterprises run and support multiple infrastructures and IT platforms from multiple vendors. The convergence of voice, video and data on IP networks provides a way to unify communications and reduce costs in the long term. But does unifying communications mean that the enterprise needs to do a complete migration to IP telephony and rip and replace their existing infrastructures? Or do organizations have a choice?
A better way forward: unifying your communications and collaboration
There is a common misconception that Unified Communications (UC) = IP telephony, which in turn implies a wholesale replacement of perfectly viable existing infrastructures. However, UC is really an umbrella that covers a wide variety of communications technologies: instant messaging, e-mail, voicemail, audio-, video- and Web conferencing, and IP- and time-division multiplexing (TDM)-based telephony. More importantly, UC is really about how these different capabilities can not only be moved onto a common data network, but become integrated on the back-end and unified for the end-user, while also leveraging and extending your enterprises' existing telephony, video or IT infrastructures.
Your UC vendor or partner should be able to not only bring in one or more UC capabilities, but integrate them with the broader collaboration environment of your enterprise, and tie them specifically to your business' and workers' way of working. Beyond the simple, up-front questions of cost and capability, there are additional important questions you should ask of all your UC vendors:
The benefits from a successful UC deployment should be both hard and soft outcomes, including:
Done right, UC can result in >100% return on investment within the first year of deployment. IBM research estimates that advanced audioconferencing in a converged network environment can save as much as 35% over the cost of traditional approaches. IBM itself typically realizes over US$100million in significant annual savings in phone and travel costs fromits use of these solutions.
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