Unified Communications is Just a Buzzword? Get Real.

I’ve been reading comments from several analysts saying that unified communications is just the latest buzzword and marketing buzz. To these analysts I say the same thing that Congressman Barney Frank said to a woman at a health care reform town hall meeting: “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”

Yes, some will say that UC is getting more press than customers, but anyone who says that UC is just a buzzword doesn’t get it. You simply need to take a look at the many case studies that demonstrate the quantifiable benefits companies are getting from UC. And if you talk to actual end users, or read the study that I did with Nancy Jamison where we interviewed UC end users to see how UC is impacting them and their productivity, you’ll know that UC is much, much more than a buzzword. It’s real, it’s here – get used to it.

Here are a couple recent case studies, demonstrating the power of UC.

•    LifeNet, the nation’s largest non-profit, full-service organ donation agency and biomedical tissue banking system, upgraded its existing Unified Communications solution from Avaya to enhance its reliability and business security, while deploying new features and functional¬ities that make its workforce more mobile. Avaya Unified Communications solutions, including Avaya Modular Messaging and Avaya Extension to Cellular, enable LifeNet’s field workers throughout the United States to access directories, conduct conference calls, and receive voicemail and e mail on their mobile cellular devices. LifeNet also is using the one-X Deskphone Edition to speed communications and donations, and making it possible to notify LifeNet employees, wherever they are, when a donation is ready.

•    Abilene Christian University (ACU) provides each incoming student with an Apple iPhone or iPod touch. The Alcatel-Lucent OmniPCX Enterprise Communications Server, OmniTouch Contact Center solution, Alcatel-Lucent LAN switches and wireless LAN solution support an environment that gives students unique services customized for these devices and access to information wherever and whenever they need it. Students can access course calendars, campus maps, receive homework alerts, security alerts, and answer in-class surveys and quizzes, among other ACU-developed web applications.

•    Thiess, a mining, construction, and services contractor in Australia uses Cisco Unified Communications to enable business-to-business exchange of presence and instant messaging with partners. Thiess workers need to collaborate with coworkers and partners to develop project bids and execute projects. It can take as long as a year to develop proposals, and the ability to reach someone for one extra piece of information “can make the difference in winning a multibillion dollar deal, which can be lost by as little as US$100,000.” In addition, employees in temporary and remote locations need to quickly reach their mobile colleagues in any location. With Cisco Unified Presence 7.0, Thiess employees can view the availability of business partners and exchange instant messages, click a button to escalate the chat to a voice call, and then click another button to launch a MeetingPlace session to collaborate further. Thiess notes, “If we need an answer from one of our partner’s engineers while developing the proposal, we will use Cisco Unified Personal Communicator to see which engineer is available and then just send an instant message. Near a proposal deadline, the ability to communicate across company boundaries can make the difference in winning a contract.”

To be fair, UC hasn’t taken off as quickly as some of us expected, in part due to its complexity, and in part due to the economy. Just as things were ramping up and enterprises were starting to make their UC plans, the economy took a nosedive, putting technology spending on hold. Despite that, there are still some bright spots in the UC market. Many companies have been investing in UC conferencing and collaboration solutions in order to reduce their travel budgets. People can see who is available via presence capabilities, and initiate conferencing and collaboration sessions, making it easier to do work with people around the globe without leaving the office. This saves time and money, while improving the work-life balance.

Is UC just a buzzword? Heck no. There are hundreds of case studies of companies using UC to save money, increase collaboration, enhance productivity, and increase revenues. And we’re just at the beginning…

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