UC: Cost cutting through collaboration
For cost cutting through collaboration nothing beats unified communications
By Varun Aggarwal, Express Computer Online
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 businessesfrom SMBs
to large enterprisesfor 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 organizationto
keep workgroups connected, help them collaborate effectively, and streamline
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
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
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.
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 HeadUnified 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
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.
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.
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 videobeyond 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
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,
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.
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