Executive Vice President
Enabling Innovation While Reducing Costs
Written by Nancee Ruzicka
OSS/BSS Global Competitive Strategies
Stratecast, a Division of Frost & Sullivan
The term unified communications (UC) was coined nearly ten years ago to describe an approach that businesses could use to tie together increasingly complex voice, data and video communications into a single, manageable service. Workers find themselves with multiple electronic identities and contact points that must all be continuously monitored, including:
» Mobile phone
» Private “only my closest friends get this” e-mail
And the list goes on. UC is intended to funnel this variety of contact methods into a single identity so that no matter where they are, people can stay connected. Likewise, UC makes it easier to find colleagues, include them in conversations or presentations and collaborate on projects in real time, rather than having to reschedule or wait while an expert is located. Access, simplicity and convenience are the promise of UC, and as the technology developed to deliver it matures, the value is becoming apparent and demand is increasing.
Give the People What They Want
Beyond integrated voice, data and video infrastructure, the most common UC feature that businesses implement is unified messaging — the ability to collect e-mail, voice mail, fax and text messages into one account accessible from anywhere by any means. Additional features include text-to-voice or voice-to-text capabilities so that every message can be received whether using voice or data access. Workers also are readily incorporating instant messaging (IM), location services, Web conferencing and collaboration into their daily routines. As the value of UC functionality becomes apparent, the demand from workers increases. The flexibility to work remotely, stay connected when traveling and work on documents or presentations together in real time are powerful motivators for implementing UC infrastructure.
However, even with strong demand for UC capabilities and the value proposition for implementing it, UC deployments are expensive. Beyond the capital expense, even large corporations with large IT support groups are having difficulty deploying UC infrastructure, features and functionality while still ensuring the quality of basic voice, data and video services. And now, with the economy in such dire straits, CIOs are hard-pressed to justify an expensive UC upgrade.
UC Isn’t Out of Reach
Fortunately, there are alternatives to large capital and operational expenditures for UC hardware, software and support. Many businesses are exploring outsourcing, software as a service (SaaS) and managed services for critical IT functions. The benefits include known, manageable costs; no up-front capital expense; current versions and support for hardware and software; and assured levels of quality, reliability and availability. In uncertain times, outsourcing is proving to be a viable alternative to buying, installing and maintaining new infrastructure to support UC, especially for small and medium businesses.
Cypress Communications is one such outsourcer. Coming from the world of shared tenant services for voice communications, Cypress is highly focused on ensuring the quality of voice services. Frank Grillo, executive vice president of marketing at Cypress, insists, “No matter which UC features are or are not used, voice is critical to everybody. Users want the productivity-enhancing collaboration and mobility features of UC, but are not willing to sacrifice voice quality in return.” Cypress clients including law firms, financial services firms, real estate firms and professional services consultancies all share the need for high-quality voice services. Grillo describes Cypress clients as “high-value employees conducting high-value transactions over the phone.” That makes voice quality critical, and Cypress takes great care to make certain the quality of its managed voice services is consistent with the carrier-class standards of landline voice services traditionally provided by the phone company.
By outsourcing, businesses are relieved of the large upfront investment required to buy and install UC hardware and software as well as the ongoing expense of maintenance and upgrades. The service is monitored and managed by Cypress, and service-level agreements ensure that the highest levels of quality, reliability and availability are delivered. In addition to getting carrier-quality voice and data services, companies can pick and choose which UC features their employees can access. Most users — about 70% — leverage advanced UC capabilities including unified messaging, remote office access, collaboration and IM.
“No matter which UC features are or are not used, voice is critical to everybody.
Users want the productivity-enhancing collaboration and mobility features
of UC, but are not willing to sacrifice voice quality in return.”
- Frank Grillo, Executive Vice President of Marketing, Cypress Communications
Ascensus, a longtime Cypress client, is the nation’s largest independent retirement-plan recordkeeping and administration provider to micro to large market segments. The company’s core capabilities cover every component of a retirement-plan service infrastructure, including administration, recordkeeping, ERISA consulting, compliance and sales support, trust and custody services, multilingual participant education programs, training and documentation.
In March 2008, Ascensus released an RFP for a unified communications solution to support its six facilities in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Georgia, North Dakota and Indiana. The primary requirement was for a location-independent solution to tie together the six sites that currently implement isolated communications capabilities. Later in the year, as the economy slowed, cost became a bigger factor in the selection of a final UC solution. The key requirements for the Ascensus UC solution were:
After evaluating both the ownership and hosted models that were proposed, Ascensus chose Cypress Communications and its managed services approach. While some of the hardware/purchased solutions had acceptable long-term ROI, the Cypress solution minimized up-front investment, which became more important as the economy slowed. A hosted solution also eliminated the question of where assets should be located while simplifying disaster recovery and backup processes.
The rollout of the Cypress solution is under way at Ascensus, and John Schroeder, senior vice president of information technology, anticipates a “long-term partnering arrangement that is advantageous to both companies. Ascensus expects to reduce capital, maintenance and support costs, while retaining next-generation technology that enables the highest levels of client service.”
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