April 15, 2008
Participating companies included:
Alcatel-Lucent, Microsoft Mediaroom, Forrester Research, and IP Prime
Are Businesses Ready?
Written by Nancee Ruzicka
OSS/BSS Global Competitive Strategies Stratecast, a Division of Frost & Sullivan
Every day decision makers are presented with new applications and alternatives for communicating. Desktops and smart phones are crowded with applications for e-mail, voicemail, messaging, conferencing, video and Internet. Individually these capabilities are powerful productivity enhancers, but what if they were somehow integrated so that calls and messages would reach each user regardless of location or means of connection? What if an employee could retrieve e-mail, messages and voicemail from a common mailbox via a single sign-on or collaborate with colleagues at any location worldwide? That is the promise of unified communications (UC), but implementing UC requires not only transformation of network and applications infrastructure, but changes to business processes and governance as well.
Enterprises are rapidly converging their voice and data traffic onto private IP networks. But a single network does not constitute unified communications. Although there is a common network connection, each service is a separate application. Just as separate IT applications for accounting, inventory and sales have to be integrated to create a seamless process from order to billing, so too must applications for e-mail, instant messaging and voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) be integrated to create a seamless communications experience. Many businesses want to include mobile applications to ensure that their remote workforces are as well connected as desktop users.
The buzz around UC has been building for over five years. In that time, the applications have evolved and most enterprises have deployed the IP infrastructure necessary to support real-time UC. Now that the infrastructure is in place, businesses can evaluate the best ways to implement UC to increase productivity, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction. Vendors including Avaya and Verizon Business are simplifying the job of deploying UC, but each enterprise is different and has to assess what is best for its own operating environment. UC can have a tremendous impact on a business, and understanding the value of the investment as well as the recurring costs and benefits is vital.
Five Questions to Weigh When Considering UC
A UC deployment can mix and match any number of on-demand communications applications. There are dozens of applications, and more are coming to market every day. Some of the most common applications are:
• Audio conferencing
• Instant messaging, including picture and video messaging
• Mobile data, including access to the Internet, instant messaging (IM), e-mail and/or corporate applications via a mobile device
• Presence — the ability to see the availability status of others either via a PC or mobile device
• Web conferencing/collaboration — the ability to show and view documents over the Web (e.g., Webex)
• Video conferencing
• PC-based video conferencing
As enterprises evaluate both the costs and benefits of UC, they need to consider these five basic questions:
1. Timing: Are we there yet?
What aspects of the business would benefit from UC? Would collaboration, presence, conferencing and convergence improve existing business processes? Will the existing network infrastructure support UC? What changes need to be made?
2. Business Need: What works for our workforce?
How are people using communications technology? How should they be using it? Are there system or process changes that need to be implemented that will allow them to take advantage of the productivity, presence and collaboration features of UC?
3. Technology: What is best for the company?
What existing technology must be integrated or transitioned to make UC work? Do businesses need to integrate both desktop and mobility applications? How do they simplify the transition and ensure that the resultant services are interoperable, secure and reliable?
4. Operations and Support: Can unified be simplified?
How will businesses manage it? Are the people, processes and infrastructure in place to enable the transition to UC? What additional systems, support and expertise will be needed? Are there alternatives to in-house operations and management?
5. Cost: What are the real savings? What are the real costs?
Beyond the investment in the IP network and UC applications, what are the other costs? What is the total cost of ownership? What costs will be avoided? What productivity gains can be quantified?
Although UC has been available for nearly five years, the maturity of private enterprise networks has slowed adoption. Compelling as the arguments for UC are, UC starts with VoIP, and VoIP deployments take time. Touted as a cost-effective alternative to traditional voice services, VoIP deployment in enterprises is finally beginning to accelerate. In a 2007 study of 300 large and medium enterprises, Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan found that 21% of respondents have replaced legacy voice platforms with VoIP platforms, and another 24% will do so within two years. That translates to nearly 50% of the businesses surveyed that will be implementing VoIP for some or all of their corporate voice services. VoIP infrastructure sets the stage for businesses to deploy more flexible communications, and ultimately for the implementation of UC. The ability to use existing data infrastructure for voice services has the advantage of simplifying infrastructure requirements and potentially reducing monthly payments to service providers. However, by adding voice to existing enterprise network infrastructure, network managers are now responsible for a critical business application that was previously the responsibility of the service provider. Ensuring the quality of each and every voice call requires much more diligence than ensuring that the data network is operating well. So while the infrastructure is simplified, the management of both infrastructure and the applications running across it (e.g., VoIP and IM) are increased. Enterprises must ensure that network and service management capabilities are in place before extending operations to include UC.
All your employees use e-mail and voicemail, but do they all need IM? Maybe. How about video messaging or mobile data access? What kind of mobile handsets work best with internal PCs and applications? How do we make the system secure? These questions are more about business policy and operating processes than technology. A close look at which applications benefit which employees and how they can use them to be more productive is an important first step in determining what UC will mean to your company.
VoIP infrastructure sets the stage for businesses to deploy more
flexible communications, and ultimately for the implementation of UC.
Some enterprises will implement a UC solution based entirely on its promise of increased productivity and collaborative power. A sales rep in the field who doesn’t have to wait for a product manager to call back or send product specifications can be more responsive to a customer and is in a better position to close the sale. IM
is a quick way to keep up with colleagues in or out of the office, and a single voicemail box for both mobile and office numbers prevents missed messages. In fact, in a UC environment, any user should be able to find any other user regardless of location or connectivity. Find-me-follow-me features prevent missed calls; voicemail can arrive as e-mail; IM notifications can be sent when any message or a specific urgent message is waiting; and callers have the option of how they want to leave a message when a “Do not disturb” flag is set.