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UC plays into green IT strategy

UC can boost IT green initiatives and ensure strong ROI.

Zeus Kerravala, vice president for enterprise infrastructure, Yankee Group

Unified communications (UC) has been slow to catch on, in part because of the lack of a business case. As "green" becomes a mainstream initiative in the U.S., IT buyers should look to work UC into the corporate green IT initiatives.

Many of the companies I talk to struggle to build a business case around UC. There's the obvious -- saving money and trying to build a case around productivity improvements -- but I do think there's another element of UC that hasn't been explored much -- corporate "green" initiatives.

Green IT has been in the mainstream in Europe for some time now, and although we in North America have given it a glancing look, it isn't really a mainstream issue yet. I think that could change this year, however. Almost any organization of any significant size has corporate social responsibility teams that look at things like "green." For some reason, IT has fallen outside the mandate of these groups, but I see that changing over the next couple of years. IT will eventually fall under the same corporate standards for green compliance, and IT managers can either let it be a roadblock or use this as another approach for getting IT projects pushed through.

Unified communications can help a company become greener in the following ways:

  • Savings on power and cooling:
    This should be obvious to most, but by consolidating down the number of networks and scaling back the number of IP PBXs a company needs, there's a direct impact on power and cooling. Today, only about 20% of IT departments in the U.S. have incentives that revolve around power and cooling, but this is likely to change over the next few years.
  • Reducing a company's carbon footprint:
    Using collaboration tools such as TelePresence, organizations can hold virtual face-to-face meetings without having to fly people all over the world. This has the added benefit of making it possible to knock a big chunk off the corporate travel budget and give people more time in the office.
  • Reduction in paper from better collaboration tools:
    Hopefully, much of people's collaboration will be done over Web and audio conferencing or even many of the Web 2.0 tools. For example, wiki and blog workers will tend to use electronic media, rather than paper, for storing information.
  • Space savings:
    By deploying UC, companies make it possible for workers to function from any location with virtually the same experience as being in the office. This allows companies to reduce their space in two ways. The first is the most common, and that's allowing workers to spend more time working from home (but watch social disconnection – see last month's column Social connectivity as part of your unified communications strategy ), requiring less office space. The second method is to totally revamp the work environment into an open, ad hoc, collaborative environment where the workers you sit with are the ones on your current project team. This may sound radical, but the companies I've talked to that have gone this route have recovered about 40% more office space.

In practice, I don't expect "green IT" to be the main driver for UC – productivity boosts and cost savings will be the main drivers. However, for those of you currently looking for budget, seek out what corporate green initiatives your company has under way and try to work your UC purchase into those.

About the author:
Zeus Kerravala manages Yankee Group's infrastructure research and consulting, working with customers to solve business issues through the deployment of infrastructure technology solutions, including switching, routing, network management, voice solutions and VPNs. Before joining Yankee Group, Kerravala was a senior engineer and technical project manager for Greenwich Technology Partners; a vice president of IT for Ferris, Baker Watts; and technical project manager for Alex Brown & Sons. Kerravala obtained a B.S. degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Victoria (Canada).

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