Unified communications still fragmented

ROI, implementation issues keep adoption rates low

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As part of the upgrade, the company deployed Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2 unified communications platform, which integrates instant messaging, audio, video, Web conferencing and telepresence into Microsoft Office. It also deployed a voice over IP (VoIP) telephony system from Avaya and network-infrastructure components including switches from HP.

"We had outgrown our existing technology, but additionally UL was in a period of transformation, and one goal was to improve communications and collaboration" with customers, Boxrud says.

In addition, the company wanted to reduce travel costs, shorten project cycles and be more agile in the marketplace. "We saw unified communications as a key tool that could deliver that," Boxrud says. The company is in the process of moving to Microsoft Lync, the vendor's latest UC offering.

As a result of using UC and VoIP, UL expects to reduce its telecommunications costs by as much as 50%, Boxrud says. Much of that savings comes from reduced long-distance calling costs among its global offices. Furthermore, UL has cut operating costs by 30%, consolidating nearly 40 email servers worldwide to just one cloud-based email system.

Collaboration among its facilities in North America, Europe and Asia is much easier and less costly since the adoption of UC, Boxrud says. "When we test products, we might have someone [in Asia] with knowledge about a product UL may be testing that someone in North America needs access to," he says. "Instead of sending that person there we can do point-to-point demos or [Web] conferencing with the click of a button."

But the adoption of unified communications has come with some challenges. For one thing, it's been something of a cultural shift for many people in the organization, who had never used the types of advanced features provided by UC.

Unified Communications

"Being that we have an older culture here, the key to the overall implementation [of UC] is having a good [internal] marketing, communications and training campaign -- which we did through our Internet site and self-service tools -- so people could see" how to use UC features, Boxrud says.

The company rolled out features gradually rather than all at once to minimize struggle, Boxrud says. "We did a lot of feedback surveys about how people were feeling about the tools," he says. "Some people had never been exposed to the video capabilities before."

As for financial payback, Boxrud says UL expects a return on investment on its UC technology and other network upgrades within about three years. "That's pretty much on par with what we anticipated," he says.

UC as part of a broader revamp

Another UC user, The Agency Group, a London-based booking agency that represents more than 1,500 music artists worldwide, began deploying Avaya Inc.'s Avaya IP Office 7.0 in late 2010 as part of a telecommunications overhaul to improve communications among its worldwide offices.

Part of the reason for the move was that the firm wanted to upgrade its communications infrastructure from an older Nortel system that wasn't IP-enabled and that the business had outgrown, according to Howie Gold, CIO at The Agency Group.

"We needed more trunking capabilities and more overall features, such as video conferencing and support for iPhone and Android mobile applications," Gold says. But another key reason for adopting unified communications was to achieve the firm's goal of ensuring always-on, real-time service for clients, regardless of their location.

The Agency Group also wanted to increase productivity among its employees, improve collaboration, save costs and reduce travel -- and it has achieved those objectives with the new system, Gold says. Perhaps most important, UC enables the firm -- which also has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Sweden and Nashville and has a large number of highly mobile employees -- to have a cohesiveness that it lacked before.

"Our chairman's main focus for IT was to unify the company, to enhance our level of communications and to get people from different offices to share information," Gold says.

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