How to achieve ROI with unified communications

Hot from the Interop conference in the USA, unified communications expert Don Van Doren explains how to acheive ROI from UC.

Unified communications deployments require a solid ROI plan to ensure the maximum benefit to the enterprise. Although a hot new technology, IT managers need to begin to think beyond a UC implementation to UC system management. Don Van Doren is a co-founder of UniComm Consulting, a firm focused exclusively on UC that assists businesses in creating and implementing a successful UC plan. He is also president of Vanguard Communications.

We caught up with Don Van Doren, who will be moderating and presenting several UC sessions at Interop Las Vegas 2008.

Van Doren is moderating sessions including an introduction to UC, enabling business applications, telepresence and high-definition video. He will also lead the session "Justifying unified communications investments today," where he will provide real-world examples of successful UC implementations.


Who is the up-and-coming vendor Interop attendees and UC pros should watch?

This year, I expect that IBM and Microsoft will be showing how they are flexing their muscles in the UC space. There have been significant movements from each company in the past six months.

How receptive are enterprises to using multiple UC vendors? Can they get more for their money using a multi-vendor approach or is it better to stick with their infrastructure vendor?

The classic consulting answer "it depends" applies here. Integration challenges (despite standards) point to single vendor solutions. But different vendors have very different visions of where their products are heading, and there are many interesting innovations coming from the little guys. In general, if you can get what the business needs from the infrastructure vendor, great.

In making this decision there are two big decision points: The first is: What is the focus on the use of UC? Is it user productivity to benefit individuals or business process to embed communications into workflows?

The second is: Which platform do you need to extend to encompass UC? The telephony platform? Or the desktop and mobility? Or is it the application?

Is interoperability proving to be a challenge in a multi-vendor environment or are vendors making good on interoperability claims?

The devil is in the details. Simple applications, say using SIP without any of the proprietary extensions, interoperability works reasonably well. In some cases, standards exist, or Vendor A publishes specs that, if followed, give acceptable results. Where it gets complicated, however, is in more challenging applications across vendor platforms. We're just starting to work on those.

What is the real-world ROI for UC deployments? How can the costs of a UC implementation be justified to a CIO?

ROI depends on the applications. As I noted before, there are two broad classes: Is it user productivity to benefit individuals, or business process to embed communications into workflows?

Too many times ROI is presented as "on average each user saves 15 minutes a day" or something, and then an attempt is made to aggregate those minutes times a loaded salary to achieve a large, soft number that meets with a skeptical audience. That's why the user productivity pitch often doesn't work well.

On the other hand, when integrated into the business process, results can be dramatic. Hard savings come from reducing cycle times, eliminating tasks and staff requirements, as well as direct cost savings. Building the ROI case is a matter of understanding the business applications, showing how the UC capabilities will change how the application is accomplished, and valuing the benefits from those changes.

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