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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 organizations 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
organizational 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 center; 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
organizations 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.”