Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

If you spend any time at all traveling on the roads this year for Thanksgiving, it will quickly dawn on you that driving in lots of traffic is not only not fun, it’s expensive. And worse yet, as we move into 2008 we’re probably looking at scenarios where gas reaches $4 a gallon given the fact that oil will probably hover somewhere above $100 a barrel for most of 2008 and there are no immediate plans to increase the supply of gas available to consumers.

Given this scenario, now may be a good time to have a conversation with customers about the value of unified communications, especially among SMB (small and midsize business) customers. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation would show that if the average employee is filling his gas tank twice a week to go to work, he is spending at least $80 a week on gas. If an employee has to drive any considerable distance, it’s probably a lot more than that, so you could assume that on average employees are spending $100 a week on gas.

Just think: Many employees could receive the equivalent of a $50 to $100 raise each week if they worked from home.

This, of course, would require your business to invest more in remote communications tools, but over the long haul this would probably be a lot less expensive than increasing the payroll to deal with all those who are complaining about their cost of living expense going up because of increased gasoline prices. And let’s not forget the benefit to the environment as a whole in terms of less carbon emissions, which somebody in Washington will eventually figure out might be worth some type of tax credit if they really want people to change their driving behavior.

What makes this whole area compelling can also be discerned from a recent study on unified communications by CompTIA, which found that SMB customers expect to see double-digit growth on spending for telecommunications and related convergence technologies.

For solution providers, all of this adds up to major new opportunities that, as it happens, companies such as Microsoft and Cisco are willing to lay down a lot of market development fund dollars to develop because it represents an area where they see relatively low penetration for a raft of recently introduced products. So from the perspective of the solution provider, getting dollars to support the marketing around a unified communications practice is probably going to be a lot easier than, say, a general application development practice.

A lot of people are worried that rising energy costs will continue to sap IT budgets because more money will be spent on cooling existing servers and running the rest of the business, but there is usually some silver lining in every ill wind that comes our way. And one of them is more than likely going to be a significant increase in the interest in unified communications in 2008.