Unified communications, which was near the top of Gartner's list for 2008 strategic IT technologies, remains a priority; but next year, the focus will be on projects with short returns on investment and which fit lifecycle plans, according to Gartner vice president Bern Elliot.
Many pricey unified communications (UC) initiatives are likely to be delayed as companies weather a slowing economy. "In general, when you're trying to save money, you don't undertake major infrastructure initiatives," Elliot said. "There are other things about UC that are strategic that might not take a big investment."
Enterprises are much more aware of UC than they were last year, and they are better at making sure their deployments at least are planned in the context of a broader UC strategy, even if they did not directly contribute to it, Elliot said.
Companies have shifted their thinking on UC. Instead of looking at it as a series of products to buy, such as fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) or desktop video conferencing, they see it as a more gradual but fundamental change in communications.
"Unified communications is not a thing," Elliot said. "It is a series of changes taking place driven by network consolidation and the move of applications to open platforms."
And while many flashier projects will probably be delayed or cancelled, he said, there will still be plenty of opportunity for savvy UC experts to make a difference on the bottom line.
"If you're a planner for an enterprise, you know it's not the right time to come in with major initiatives that aren't going to pay off in the immediate future, when the company is much less certain … about [its] revenue stream," Elliot said. Instead, focus on short-term return on investment (ROI). Elliot recently spoke with one company that was planning to see a 12-month ROI on a project.
He also advised enterprises to take advantage of new technologies that do not cost much more but better align communications technology with an overall UC strategy. For example, as old PBXs need to be upgraded, shift them to IP PBXs that will handle future communication needs.
Even when times are tough, Elliot said, communications is still a critical component that can make a big difference -- positive or negative.
"I think communications is always really important," he said. "Every year, companies pay a lot of their operational budget for communications."
Elliot highlighted seven distinct areas in which to map out a unified communications framework, and he said that savvy companies should at least think about each one, even if their plans need to be delayed:
- Voice and telephony
- Conferencing strategies: audio, video, Web, telepresence
- Messaging: voice and email
- IM and presence
- Client and customer interaction
- Business integration: call centers, collaboration applications
- Mobility, particularly how it applies to the other six areas