Spend on architecture, not handsets, to get ROI from Unified Comms

CIOs should buy cheap phones and concentrate on infrastructure to underpin business processes, if they want to get the most out of unified communications.

Businesses will waste more than $US20 billion on fancy VoIP handsets in the next five years, according to Gartner research Vice President Geoff Johnson.

"VoIP handsets with big colour screens are feeding an ego in a corner office," Johnson said yesterday at Gartner’s ITxpo/Symposium 2008. Vendor promises that applications will use the processing power of such handsets, he added, are largely fanciful because more powerful devices like PCs are already readily available.

He therefore advocates simple $100 handsets as the alternative, as such devices can do the job as well as a fancier device and handsets are, in any case, will start to disappear as voice communications becomes part of other devices. Spending less on handsets will also reduce the cost of VoIP and Unified Communications rollouts, which currently allocate 40-45% of their budget to handsets alone.

Organisations can get more for their dollar, Johnson said, by instead considering how unified communications can reduce "human latency", the delay that comes when information does not reach those whose job it is to act on it.

Human latency can be overcome by what Johnson calls "Communications-enabled business processes." These processes are consciously designed to take advantage of unified communications and the various media it can use to reach participants in a process. Johnson used organ transplants as an example of such processes, as when donor organs become available teams in many locations are notified of very precise steps each must take in order to successfully harvest the organ and prepare the recipient.

Organ transplants are, of course, a very exotic and unusual process with unusually critical communications requirements, but Johnson said the kind of communications techniques and tools used in this scenario serve as a model for the development of other communications-enabled business processes.

Such processes may, however, be several years away. "At the moment, unified communications is really driven by IT doing hygiene to prepare infrastructure," Johnson said. "There are a lot of things needed before organisations get to new processes: they need SOA, plus event-driven and context-driven architecture in place before they can deploy communications-enabled business process."

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