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Improved productivity with UM apps mean big savings?

Enterprise voice applications: Will they improve productivity enough to justify implementation costs? Site expert Sanjeev Sawaii explores the cost considerations of VoIP and other enterprise voice applications in this tip.

Increased mobility and multiple modes of communication have made managing personal communications a time-consuming task. Enterprise voice applications, often referred to as unified communications applications, help increase personal productivity and manage the complexity of multi-channel communications. Converged voice and data networks make it possible to create enterprise voice applications that simplify communication with a single interface for all personal communications needs.

Examples of enterprise voice applications include auto-attendant, unified messaging, follow-me, single-number reach, voice dialing, click-to-call, voice portal, conferencing and collaboration applications. The initial investment for deploying an enterprise voice application generally consists of a platform on which to run the application (comprising a server, telephony or VoIP interface hardware or software, and a voice applications platform) and then the application itself.

The recent trend toward open, standards-based solutions has contributed a great deal to lowering the cost of the platform. Voice applications can be deployed on standard Intel-based servers running standard operating systems (such as Windows and Linux) and standards-based voice/media platforms using VoiceXML, CCXML and MRCP. Enterprises can sometimes replace an older, proprietary system with a new, open, standards-based system for the cost of annual maintenance on the older system.

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The application costs can vary widely, depending on the complexity of the application and the amount of customization required. For many applications, such as an auto-attendant or a conferencing application, the bulk of the application is packaged and can be deployed at a reasonable cost -- at least at a much lower cost than in years past.

Combine these lower costs with the significant cost savings that result from voice and data network convergence, and the case for offering these applications enterprise-wide becomes compelling and cost effective. Wireless networks, both local and wide-area, make it easier to use the same applications while on the move.

If you already have a converged network and are trying to justify the case for an enterprise voice application, the case can still easily be made in almost all cases. For example, a speech-enabled auto-attendant, which provides 24x7 operator services and typically costs less than $40,000, is justified by the savings in an operator's salary and benefits.

In enterprises that have billable employees, such as law firms or consulting practices, the significant productivity gains achieved through more efficient communications leave no doubt that deploying enterprise voice applications is a winning proposition. For example, in survey results cited by Kathryn Korostoff, president of Sage Research Inc., more than half of enterprise respondents "indicated an average productivity gain of nearly four hours per week per employee because of an increased use of telephony features such as collaborative conferencing, unified messaging, and find-me-style messaging. In a company where a mere 100 employees experienced this gain, this would extrapolate to 2,000 hours per year in additional productivity." A law firm able to recapture 2,000 hours of billable activity could realize an incremental $400,000 per year (based on a billing rate of $200/hour).

Even if the savings don't result in increased billable hours, they do result in a significantly more productive organization -- one that is better able to respond to customers and make decisions, and can complete projects more quickly. In these cases, the cost justification is based on softer productivity savings, but the benefits are still clear. Savvy organizations realize that there is a justifiable benefit in eliminating these inefficiencies and implementing enterprise voice solutions to improve the specific processes that are holding back the organization.

In summary, over the next few years you will see most organizations deploying voice applications. The lower cost of entry resulting from standards-based hardware and software can be easily justified by the converged network savings and productivity gains. Soon, employees will expect voice applications as a birthright, just as they now expect phones, PCs and the Internet.

About the author:
Sanjeev Sawai is a member of the global management team of Envox Worldwide and serves as the company's vice president of research and development. He has more than 15 years of experience with the development of telecommunications and embedded systems and serves as the Enterprise Applications Expert for SearchVoIP's Ask-the-Expert section.

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