Aug 13 2013

Can Colleges Afford to Ignore Unified Communications?

The ability to virtualize unified communication suites is just one factor contributing to the technology’s growing affordability.

On many college and university campuses, IT departments are no longer asking whether they can afford unified communications (UC). In many cases, IT is now asking whether they can afford not to implement UC.

The proliferation of consumer devices on campus is by far the biggest driver of UC adoption within higher education. Still, as astute IT leaders already know, rolling out a UC suite is no small task.

A 2012 Forrester Strategic ­Planning Forrsights ­Emerging ­Technology Survey asked 133 ­network and technology decision-makers at enterprises that have implemented UC with 1,000-plus employees to name the ­greatest ­obstacles to deployment. ­Fifty-three percent of respondents cited cost, while 44 percent said, "Our corporate or IT ­culture is not conducive" to it.

But when it comes to return on investment, is UC really too ­expensive? Forrester's report, "Build a ­Better Business Case for UC," pre­sents some interesting ­discussion points for IT leaders formulating a UC deployment pitch.

The Positive Side Effects of Unified Communications

To institutions integrating Voice over IP — which requires a WAN and LAN upgrade to support Power over Ethernet and real-time quality of service — UC at first can appear to be an expensive proposition. But the savings realized over time from VoIP are numerous.

Forrester estimates that enacting centralized trunking as part of a VoIP project can save 15 to 20 percent on network overhead. UC also can reduce or, in many cases, eliminate, carrier costs.

Additional savings can stem from reduced management, staffing and travel costs, as well as savings achieved through the consolidation of certain software licenses.

One of the more exciting — and relatively recent — advancements that makes UC truly more affordable is IT's ability to host UC suites on virtualized servers. ­Because each UC application no longer requires its own physical server, IT gets more bang for its data center buck.

Server consolidation and lower power and cooling costs are some immediate benefits that come to mind when considering virtual UC. The centrally managed technology can scale easily and serve as the cornerstone of an institution's disaster recovery plan, eliminating the need for redundant hosts.

So, how might that 53 percent of people who think UC is too ­expensive be convinced otherwise?

IT departments looking to persuade the provost's office or the board of trustees should do their homework when it comes to detailing the current costs of the ­functions a proposed UC suite would take over. They also should conduct a ­methodical analysis of how UC would be integrated with the ­enterprise infra­structure
required to support it.

Enlisting UC Advocates

Remember that it's not just the technology that will make the ultimate business case. Forrester's report helpfully points out that IT chiefs would do well to leverage the enthusiasm of the teams or departments that are clamoring for UC. Ask for their help in trials and use their feedback to develop valuable baseline metrics or post-trial validation. Above all, take advantage of vendors and service providers that can help the organization develop its UC business case.

IT can, and should, take advantage of UC's growing affordability. It bears repeating: They don't have to embark on the journey alone.

Robert Churchill/ThinkStock