Mobile mania spurs demand for unified communications

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As users bring their own technology to the workplace, companies look to unified communications to tie it all together.

In the space of just the past few years, Art Johnston has gone from thinking of unified communications as optional to viewing it as "a strategy that we need to implement to be competitive."

As CIO at Argo Turboserve Corp. (ATC), a Lyndhurst, N.J.-based company that provides customized supply chain management and nuclear engineering services, Johnston understands the importance of ensuring that the company's employees be able to access all their communications tools at any time, from any place.

"Our value-add to customers is in getting them immediate responses, solutions and answers," he explains. "The one thing we don't want to have is 'We'll get back to you' as an answer."

And a survey released in June by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) found that 49% of IT and business leaders surveyed said their spending for UC technology would grow faster than their overall IT budgets in the next 12 months.

Large firms -- those with 500 or more employees -- were the most likely to increase their unified communications investment relative to their overall IT, according to the survey of 600 executives, who were polled in March.

That said, Tim Herbert, vice president of research at (CompTIA), says companies are likely to find that moving forward with unified communications is a complex and costly undertaking.

That's the kind of scenario that can force a company's hand: It either makes an investment in UC, or resolves to live with the consequences of workers piecing together their own communications solutions, along with the questionable security and patchwork availability that often comes with such do-it-yourself fixes.

Even so, it often takes some sort of trigger event -- such as a merger, a relocation or a major phone system upgrade -- to spur companies toward looking into unified communications, says James Whitemore, executive vice president of sales and marketing at UC vendor Smoothstone IP Communications Inc., in Louisville, Ky., says

The Reinvestment Fund, an investment group based in Philadelphia, is one case in point.

Johnston says he's looking at doing a six-month phased-in approach that will take him into next year, with the engineering and sales departments getting access to the UC system first.

When done with that first implementation, he envisions a system that will allow his sales and engineering teams to use their smartphones and tablets to access their desktops' software systems, to handle web conferences, and to collaborate with each other via voice, video and shared documents through online sites that employees are already using such as LinkedIn and Dropbox.

"We plan on having complete collaboration using IM, email, voice and video platforms to integrate with our CRM, ERP, DCM and BI tools," Johnston elaborates. "We have been working on a [bring-your-own-device] policy and how that will fit into our UC solution. Dropbox and other social networking tools have to be evaluated and will definitely have some play into the final UC process," he says.

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