With a slowing economy, unified communications could become a major source of savings for enterprises trying to cut costs.
"Especially now, with the economic vulnerability, [unified communications] is reducing travel but still being able to collaborate and have teamwork," said Nora Freedman, IDC analyst and author of her firm's fifth annual Enterprise VoIP Survey.
Her survey has found that total cost of ownership placed third among enterprise telephony system priorities, behind only product performance and reliability.
Freedman said she expected that this emphasis on savings and ROI would only increase over the next three to six months as next year's budgets are mapped out.
Fortunately, unified communications can contribute to cost-cutting in a variety of ways:
1) Reduced air travel: Cisco executives have hailed TelePresence, the company's high-definition video conferencing solution, as the "green technology of the century," largely because they believe it could dramatically reduce business air travel.
A full Cisco TelePresence set-up costs a small fortune in capital and ongoing expenses, but more affordable video conferencing solutions -- from Cisco, and others such as Teliris -- have come a long way and could help disciplined companies cut travel costs significantly.
2) Lower cell phone bills: Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) options are maturing rapidly, with seamless handover and strong partnerships letting companies feel confident about deploying mobile phones as the primary communication device.
As long as the properly equipped dual-mode phone is within a corporate Wi-Fi network, the calls are routed (quite cheaply) over the corporate IP PBX network. When callers leave the Wi-Fi network, the phone automatically hands over to the cellular network, giving workers more flexibility while reducing the overall number of mobile minutes used.
3) More efficient call center resolution: Call centers have been some of the earliest adopters of unified communications; and for those that have not yet upgraded, some serious savings are possible. Not only will a move to all-IP cut phone costs, but truly embracing unified communications can save time, pleasing customers and making staff more productive.
Avaya, for example, recently unveiled its Public Safety Communications Solution, which lets emergency call centers more efficiently process not only incoming calls but also text messages and other emergency service requests, intelligently queuing incoming calls to reduce duplicated work.
4) Cheaper international and long-distance calls: Something of a no-brainer when it comes to converging networks, but recent advances mean there are plenty of new opportunities to save beyond those provided by traditional IP telephony.
For one, more vendors are incorporating Skype for international call trunkinginto their products, which can cut costs significantly.
But VoIP is also advancing on mobile handsets, giving UC-savvy enterprises with international users a way to avoid paying exorbitant roaming fees, by having users switch to Wi-Fi mode when out of country or letting their domestic customers use IP telephony for international calls from their cell phones with the same benefits their landline IP counterparts have.
5) Cheaper equipment: If unified communications upgrades are done as part of an ongoing equipment refresh cycle, switching to IP can also net some major savings on equipment, particularly if enterprises choose an IP PBX powered by open source solutions like Asterix to replace their old, proprietary PBX.
"In some respects, the equipment can be cheaper not only in terms of just the servers themselves but also a smaller physical footprint, which can mean less cost of space and less cost in cooling," Freedman said.
6) Telecommuting: Better collaboration and communication tools also make it easier for enterprises to embrace telecommuting, which can cut costs for workers and employers in a variety of ways while also being easier on the environment.
Telecommuting reduces gas consumption and reduces the cost of maintaining extra office spaces for employees. If enough employees work remotely at least part-time, Freedman said, the company can embrace a hotel-style desk system, where each desk station is assigned on a day-by-day basis, greatly reducing the total number of desks needed.
7) Consolidated networks: Finally, moving to unified communications often means consolidating networks – a logistical nightmare at first but, in the long term, a great way to reduce overhead and management with a single, unified IP infrastructure.
"There are still some companies [that] have distinct networks," Freedman said. "But the trend is to move toward all-IP networks that have both voice and data."
This list first appeared at searchunifiedcommunications.com.