Businesses are starting to notice a more measurable return on investment when they tightly integrate applications like video into their UC architecture. The returns are even higher when they use cloud as a delivery mechanism for UC applications so IT can avoid the pain associated with integrating sophisticated UC apps into the architecture, according to a recent unified communications strategies survey of mid-to-large enterprise IT professionals by Infonetics Research.
Sophisticated collaboration tools and flexible unified communications (UC) deployments are helping to make previously intangible UC benefits more obvious -- like increased productivity and employee response time and reduced operational costs -- giving IT the opportunity to more effectively justify the cost of sophisticated unified communications tools.
"Enterprises have had disparate UC tools, like email, voice and maybe a conferencing platform at the baseline," said Diane Myers, principal analyst at Campbell, Calif.-based Infonetics Research. "Now, it's becoming a question of how to bring this UC architecture together to create productivity, and if the costs will justify the gains in terms of flexibility and improved productivity."
Video effective when tightly integrated into UC architecture
Enterprises are moving beyond implementing PBX phone systems with other UC apps bolted on. The addition of more sophisticated collaboration tools -- such as video and screen sharing -- is creating a demand for a more deeply integrated UC architecture.
Desktop and mobile video conferencing technology has allowed video to be more flexibly and readily deployed by IT than its large, room-based telepresence system counterparts, said Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC. "We are seeing enterprises running personal video conferencing platforms now in small conference rooms -- like [Microsoft] Lync or [Cisco] Jabber client running on a PC that integrates with other UC tools – [rather] than using telepresence technology that's like a separate island in those rooms," he said.
Many enterprises have also been historically unable to justify a strong return on investment (ROI) for room-based video options, and mobile video technology in the consumer space is strong-arming enterprises to offer the same flexible functionality to its employees, Haskins said. "Users can't walk into a room and start a video call with the same ease as they could with their own personal video solution, which has resulted in poor utilization in the past for telepresence," he said.
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The technology team at California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., a distributed campus with several off-campus academic buildings and 7,200 graduate and undergraduate students, wanted to make the school's online class curriculum more competitive in order to support a growing number of students, said Dr. Tran Hong, associate vice president of technology for the university. Rather than just build out the school's online class portfolio using its Blackboard Learning System, Hong's team made video the center of its online curriculum.
Hong knew video and other UC technologies also had to be consolidated into a single platform for a small IT group to easily support and manage it while still taking advantage of the university's existing UC architecture. The IT team deployed Cisco's cloud-based WebEx suite and Jabber video for HD telepresence on-premises.
Over 3,000 students are now taking at least one online class, and students have access to both WebEx and Jabber HD Video, depending on what the class or group is working on. "Our plan is to integrate telepresence and WebEx together in the future, and to implement Cisco Show and Share for video archiving and searchability features," he said.
The school has seen a clear ROI for its video strategy from the number of students it can now support, Hong said. "We can now support tens of thousands of students, where before, we struggled to support 4,200 students. At the same time, our technology is still being managed by the same small core IT group."
Cloud and mobility: Possible drivers of change for many enterprise UC architectures
While adoption of more sophisticated UC applications -- like video -- is on the rise, overall UC adoption is steadily rising at the same time, but cost still remains a barrier for many businesses, Infonetics' Myers said. "It's not just the cost of buying the system, but also the price of implementing and integrating [the UC architecture] with existing systems," she said.
The cloud can help simplify the integration process for many enterprises who are finding the costs of the delivery methods to be in line with its benefits, Myers said. "That's why we are seeing enterprises more willing to undertake cloud-based UC deployments."
Mobility as a delivery mechanism for UC applications is also becoming highly valued by enterprises and UC vendors. Cloud and service providers, too, are under a similar pressure from businesses to have a strong mobile element in their UC services, Wainhouse's Haskins said. "Mobile endpoints have to be able to connect as easily as possible to [the] cloud, as well as premises-based communications environments," he said.