CDW-G Survey: Unified Communications Gains Momentum

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A new CDW-G survey finds unified communications implementations are on the rise, and as many as 33 percent of respondents are planning for a new implementation – good news for the likes of Cisco, Avaya and other unified communications vendors.

It has been touted for years as the Next Big Thing, yet unified communications has loped along virtually under the radar while it gathers fans and converts alike. Now a survey by CDW-G is proving unified communications’ momentum among certain verticals.

CDW-G’s Unified Communications Tracking Poll, which surveyed 766 IT professionals who work on unified communications or component technologies in business, government, higher education and health care, found that 20 percent of organisations are actively implementing unified communications. Another 33 percent are actively planning for implementation.

In contrast, only 6 percent of survey respondents have already deployed unified communications, demonstrating that unified communications is indeed an area of growth.

“We’ve been seeing increasing rates of adoption for quite a few years,” says Pat Scheckel, senior director of CDW-G Solutions Services. “Not a majority of customers have adopted unified communications, but we have many customers who have adopted the different components of unified communications.”

So what is spurring interest in unified communications? Advances in technology have made it much easier to implement a unified communications strategy, and for many companies, it’s as much about leveraging their current technology as it is about having the latest bells and whistles, Scheckel says.

“In many cases the decision to hold off on implementation had to do with the technology not being mature and for others it had to do with [a company’s] business process and not having a catalyst to take them to full unified communications. Now, however, we’re seeing people reach across silos and integrating,” he says.

Plus, “All of the big players [in each component of unified communications] have made it possible to integrate with each other through open standards,” Scheckel says “It is much easier than it was even two years ago.”

Survey respondents cited a number of factors for their deployment of unified communications, with increased productivity and reduced operating costs leading the charge at 61percent and 56 percent, respectively. Coming in third, fourth and fifth were more reliable communication (48 percent), improved cross-functional communication (44 percent) and more effective use of remote or mobile workers (41 percent).

However, growth is being somewhat hobbled by the fact that there is no clear path to implementation. Most companies are approaching unified communication implementation as rich media conferencing or as a telephony-centric application depending on their needs—disparate technologies that could lead to delays in implementation as companies sort out their needs and weigh their options. Adoption of full-scale unified communications usually is predicated on organisational changes in the company, Scheckel notes.

“Few customers are taking a big-bang approach to implementations; most are doing a phased approach to save costs,” he says. “Usually an equipment upgrade or a compelling business reason spurs full-scale implementation of unified communications.”

Indeed, a whopping 92 percent of survey respondents said they were planning on opening a new facility or building; establishing a new or expanding an existing call centre; replacing obsolete or inadequate networks; integrating multiple businesses because of a company merger or other reason; integrating different branches or operations; or expanding or building a telecommuting program for their workers. Of that 92 percent, 82 percent said the changes would include component technologies for a unified communications system.

Companies implementing unified communications aren’t without their share of issues, however. CDW-G’s survey found the biggest challenges among organisations implementing unified communications are the impact on the existing infrastructure (44 percent), training requirements (42 percent), time required to implement (40 percent), capital costs (40 percent) and network security (39 percent). Other challenges include technical support requirements, operating costs, service quality and technology interoperability.

“I think we’ll continue to see steady growth in implementing unified communications just like we have over the last couple of years,” Scheckel says. “But we’re now moving with a timeline that is relatively short. I think we’re now entering the fat part of the bell curve for adoption.”