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How to make a business case for unified communications

Making a business case for unified communications isn't the same as deciding on a PBX. ROI, for example, isn't as important. But training is. Here is what you should focus on.

Building a business case for unified communications, or UC, may seem simple at first glance, but it's a long way from buying legacy technologies, like PBX or video conferencing. For one thing, UC is more software than hardware; in addition, there is a strong shift underway from premises-based UC to cloud-based. More importantly, UC is an integrated approach that affects everyone in the organization, and that's quite different from buying point products, like phone systems.

Consequently, IT decision-makers must view UC as more than a transactional purchase. UC's productivity value is just one consideration; the business case must also reflect IT's understanding of how UC will affect various stakeholders, including top management and end users across the organization.

Here are five important points to keep in mind when considering UC, from vendor evaluation to operational deployment.

1. Measure the cost savings and ROI

This is the right starting point, but expectations must be carefully set. UC is a service -- not a product -- so conventional ROI metrics associated with phone systems won't tell the whole story. Increasingly, enterprises are deploying UC as a service (UCaaS) rather than premises-based UC, and since this variation uses an on-demand subscription model, total cost of ownership might be a better financial metric.

Yet, cost savings should not be a primary driver for the business case. That's not the main benefit for UC, although some costs will fall. For example, departments will no longer have to pay for their own conferencing or video services. With UC, that duplication can be minimized by having everyone running off a common platform, resulting in some savings. IT overheads will also be reduced, since there would be no reason to support duplicated applications or to provide the support needed to provision UC. With UCaaS, most of this becomes cloud-based, reducing the need for costly IT support resources.

UC benefits
Deploying UC offers organizations benefits.

2. Focus on the right metrics

When measuring UC's overall business value, use and performance metrics are a better indicator than financial metrics. Ultimately, the success of UC depends on end-user adoption, so measuring usage will be critical. IT can easily monitor adoption patterns, not just for UC overall, but also for specific applications -- among them conferencing, messaging, video, voice applications and mobile UC.

For many, meetings are onerous, but UC removes a lot of that friction.

Measuring UC performance is a bit trickier. The basic goal is improved productivity. Unfortunately, productivity is difficult to measure, so IT will be challenged to show metrics related to UC's efficacy. While the industry struggles to develop meaningful productivity metrics, there are some basic areas IT can measure that serve as a good proxy.

Consider meetings. For many, meetings are onerous, but UC removes a lot of that friction. Based on the notion that people will be more productive if meetings are more effective, IT will want to track UC's impact on meetings:

  • how often meetings occur
  • how long meetings are
  • how many attendees there are

Communications is another area. Are workers connecting with one another? Key indicators would be a lower incidence of calls going to voicemail and even less usage of email.

3. Plan for UC implementation challenges

Since UC will be new, the business case for unified communications needs to reflect how IT can implement and deploy it with the least amount of disruption. Which UC approach to use will largely be driven by how much change, if any, IT wants to make to the existing network infrastructure. There may be good reasons to keep existing phone systems or replace them as part of the UC investment. IT will also need to make a realistic assessment of how much of the deployment it will be able to manage. If the deployment's too complex, UCaaS and the cloud will be a better option than a premises-based approach.

In addition to these decisions, broader implementation challenges must be considered. Since UC will become the hub for collaboration activity, extensive integration with other systems and software will be required -- among them phone systems, business software, email platforms, video endpoints and CRM software.

Mobile integration is another key point, particularly since smartphones have become a primary productivity tool. Spanning this will be the need to implement UC securely, especially with so many remote employees working from home, where network access could be less secure than the office.

4. Ensure that UC benefits are delivered

If the business case for unified communications is based on the promise of improved productivity, then demonstrating how that promise has been fulfilled is the next step. A key benefit is more streamlined communications and processes for teamwork. A prime indicator would be a reduction in the use of overlapping third-party applications, especially consumer-grade ones. The more extensively UC can support all these needs, the less the need for shadow IT, and that's a benefit IT will surely welcome. What's more, by integrating applications on a common platform, IT's visibility across the network will increase. That will let IT optimize the use of network resources and maintain security.

5. Follow through with training

This point is important because the business case for UC has to be supported on an ongoing basis. Thanks to new capabilities and applications, UC will keep evolving, and with that, the business value will grow -- but only if employees can keep pace. This won't be an issue for tech-savvy workers. But UC is for everyone, and others will need training for the benefits to accrue organization wide.

IT does not normally take on this role, but to support the business case for unified communications, new capabilities will be needed on this front. This could take the form of online tutorials, FAQs, workshops or individual training. Another approach gaining traction is gamification -- making UC fun to use and introducing some friendly competition. Whatever approach taken for training, the objective should be to show employees that UC is easy to use. Once they become familiar with UC's benefits, they should see how it's a better way to work compared to what they were doing before.

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