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UC: Cost cutting through collaboration

For cost cutting through collaboration nothing beats unified communications

By Varun Aggarwal, Express Computer Online

2/2/09

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As we enter the New Year, the need for collaboration is increasing. Users are rushing to embrace collaboration as a way to accelerate decision-making, squeeze out productivity gains and strengthen competitive advantage. The realities of the global market mean that distance and time separate people making communication difficult and decision-making slow.

Business and technology decision-makers are placing a high priority on providing optimized communication between remotely located knowledge workers and their teams. Despite the advent of technologies such as instant messaging and mobile devices, companies still face difficulties in contacting key decision makers in a timely manner.

These challenges have created an urgent need among businesses—from SMBs to large enterprises—for an effective communication system that helps streamline business processes; reach the right person the first time; make communications more personal, collaborative, and mobile; and improves profitability.

Unified communications aims to bring about a sea change in the way businesses communicate and collaborate. It is an emerging class of applications and services designed to improve communications within the modern organization—to keep workgroups connected, help them collaborate effectively, and streamline business processes.

Lavanya Palani Batcha, Research Analyst, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan, South Asia & Middle East, opined, “A strong factor working in favor of Unified Communications (UC) and videoconferencing solutions is that of faster ROI. Although the initial cost of investing in UC may be high, the integration of UC and enterprise-wide business processes such as Supply Chain, Contact Center, Sales enablement and Operations will communicate business sense and help the enterprise to understand the inherent benefits of investing in UC. Case studies exist which demonstrate that deploying UC can indeed help achieve higher efficiency, reduced cost per business process and increased productivity. Additionally by investing in a telepresence solution companies can save on travel costs and reduce their carbon footprint in the long-term.” Anshul Dhingra, Senior Marketing Manager, Polycom India & SAARC said, "In this tough economic environment, CEOs are trying to figure out how to reduce and contain costs —HD video and telepresence is an easy answer. Polycom's broad range of HD video and telepresence solutions provides customers with a rapid ROI quickly showing real cash savings." He added studies show telepresence is actually cheaper over time than traditional videoconferencing because usage rates are 10 times higher. Many Polycom HD and telepresence customers see a complete ROI for their investments in as little as 1-6 months. In general, respondents cited up to a 30% increase in productivity after the deployment of video in their companies. For highly compensated professionals and executives, the cost of hours and days wasted in transit can be equal to or more than the actual cost of the travel itself.

Sanish KB, Research Analyst, Gartner India, said, “In UC, cost savings might be difficult to measure and quantify, but Gartner believes that cost savings can be achieved through well-planned UC investments.” Within the broad portfolio of products described as UC, there are opportunities for companies to achieve savings in their IT budgets, especially with consolidation of infrastructure and applications. Companies are already on their way to consolidating e-mail and messaging, as well as rationalizing the number of directories added Satish.

IP telephony: stepping stone to UC

The first step on the road to UC was IP telephony, which took some time to pick up. Now, that IP telephony has matured in the country, there is an increasing interest in UC. Sanish opined, “ROI on videoconferencing solutions can be measured by considering the factors such as high cost of air travel, other costs involved with travel and improving employee productivity in an organization.”

Chetan Yardi, Country Manager, Lotus Software, IBM Software Group, India/ SA, said, “In India, videoconferencing is still considered an up market technology trend restricted to multinationals and other large companies. The average bandwidth ranges from 128-256 kbps. Videoconferencing five years ago was a costly affair but today due to competition there is a slight decrease in the pricing of bandwidth. Therefore, users are looking at videoconferencing as an option in order to communicate and collaborate.”

According to Batcha migration to an IP telephony platform is considered as the stepping-stone to UC. Going by the present market inclination towards IP telephony, the signs are encouraging. However, he added, “UC applications exist predominantly in silos today rather than as an integrated system in its entirety.”

Due to the recent developments in e-Governance, videoconferencing technology can be deployed in rural India to educate and inform farmers and the student community about the latest developments in their areas of interest. Newer concepts from foreign countries can be rendered to these villages, furthering the cause of national development.

Five trends that will drive unified communications

  • The Virtual Workplace will become the rule. Desk phones and computers will gradually disappear, replaced by mobile devices, including laptops that take on traditional office capabilities. Social networking tools and virtual world meeting experiences will simulate the feeling of being there in-person.
  • Instant messaging and other real-time collaboration tools will become the norm, bypassing e-mail. Just as e-mail became a business necessity, a new generation of workers has a new expectation for IM as the preferred method of business interaction. This will fuel rapid adoption of unified communications as traditional IM becomes the core extension point for multi-modal communications.
  • Beyond phone calls to collaborative business processes. Companies will go beyond the initial capabilities of IM, like click-to-call and online presence, to deep integration with business processes and line-of-business applications, where they can realize the greatest benefit.
  • Interoperability and open standards will tear down proprietary walls across business and public domains. Corporate demand for interoperability and maturing of industry standards will force unified communications providers to embrace interoperability.
  • New meeting models will emerge. The definition of ‘meetings’ will radically transform and become increasingly ad hoc and instantaneous based on context and need.

Source: IBM

SMBs are untapped for UC

With approximately 50-60% of IT spend in the country expected to come from the flourishing SMB segment by 2008, according to NASSCOM, it is clear that there is a huge market waiting out there to be tapped. However, in order to tap this segment effectively, it is important that vendors develop customized solutions, which offer a cost-effective and easy to deploy alternative.

According to Vivek Porwal, BU Head–Unified Communications, Avaya GlobalConnect, “UC is a blessing in disguise for the SMB market. SMBs are the ones who need to deliver the most with minimal resources. Avaya has a strong strategy around SMB offerings including its IP Office integrated UC offering along with financial support from GlobalConnect Finance.”

SMBs often face manageability issues with unified communications. To address this issue, many vendors are offering hosted UC. Deepinder Bedi, Executive Director, Tulip Telecom, said, “We see an increasing interest in hosted UC, especially in the SMB market where customers want to focus on their core competencies and allow the experts to manage the complexities involved in UC. With our hosted model, we help small companies to start small without investing heavily on infrastructure. We also offer low-cost, open source solutions for SMBs who do not need the hosted model.”

Sanjay Manchanda, Director, Microsoft business division, Microsoft India, opined, “Organizations adopt different solutions depending on their needs. Companies that do not have a sound IT infrastructure, especially SMBs, prefer hosted solutions.”

Challenges

UC market in India has a long way when it comes to implementing these technologies. However, it has a few challenges to overcome in its present stage.

Some of the challenges faced are:

  • Application performance problems: The biggest challenge in a unified communications implementation is application performance as it can cause trouble directly to the user experience. Quality of service is also imperative, and unified communications applications need consistent network performance because problems from other applications can easily affect the performance of UC applications.
  • Insufficient expertise: Small to mid-sized companies may not have a good IT support in place as they may lack the expertise, training and vision.
  • Bandwidth limitations: When a company is holding a videoconference, the demand on the network is high and constant. Therefore, lack of sufficient bandwidth on the network can result in the interruption of other applications on the network.

According to Porwal, the biggest challenge in terms of UC implementation lies in the reliability, security and ease of maintenance of IP Networks.

Manchanda cautioned, “Since UC comprises of different tools and technologies, organizations should have a limited number of vendors to ensure a fully integrated UC environment.”

Emerging trends

The network has evolved beyond the traditional role of connectivity and in the next phase of the Internet, networks will enable sophisticated forms of human expression – voice and video—beyond personal computers, to Internet telephones, cell phones, PDAs, iPods, video game consoles, and of course, to televisions. “This phase of the Internet is all about innovation and productivity being centered on Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies such as Unified Communications and telepresence. We are also going to see a lot of convergence of voice, video, and data with mobility that would further help in-person collaboration and interaction,” opined Minhaj Zia, National Sales Manager, Unified Communications, Cisco India & SAARC.

“Hosted models would be the future as enterprises find it difficult to manage the solutions themselves. In times to come, we would also see an increasing interest in higher end HD videoconferencing as the prices of HD plunge,” added Bedi.

Manchanda said, “India is at a point where IP telephony sales are exceeding PBX shipments. Therefore, India already has a strong platform to enable newer technologies around UC. Additionally, Indian business has better potential to innovate on domain-specific applications by linking them to UC, given the IT experts in the country.”

The videoconferencing market is still in its growth stage in India and is expected to achieve critical mass in the coming years. However, with the current state of the economy, need to minimize costs, video conferencing is expected to gain strong traction going forward. The SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) model has been gaining considerable interest in Asia-Pacific markets and it is anticipated that this trend will be seen in the Indian context as well.

With a wide variety of UC technologies available, enterprises and SMBs have enough to choose from depending on their requirements. Along with all the cost savings that they achieve from UC deployments, it also helps reduce carbon footprints, enabling a greener environment. End of article.

For additional information regarding video conferencing systems, telepresence, managed conferencing services, streaming video solutions, ip networks, audio visual integration or any of IVCi's conferencing products and services, call 1-800-224-7083, e-mail info@ivci.com , or click here to have an IVCi Representative contact you.


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