- Uptake of unified communications solutions is growing, and enterprises that are not alert to this trend may be at a disadvantage.
- Utility pricing looks great on the surface, but enterprises should work with providers to achieve pricing models that deliver genuine value for money.
Research released jointly by Cisco, SFR and Telindus to coincide with SFR’s recent launch of its hosted Cisco HCS proposition has suggested that 39% of French large enterprises are currently involved in ITC projects that involve the deployment of hosted unified communications (UC) services for their employees, whilst 15% of French large enterprises already have deployed a hosted UC solution of some sort. Research also shows that the numbers are similar or slightly lower in other Northern European countries.
So what does this mean to enterprises? Firstly, it implies that while not having a UC solution deployed is not presently a major competitive disadvantage, it may provide a level of differentiation (e.g., through customer service or agile working practices). Secondly, research shows that many companies are now aware of the need to have a more collaborative working environment for their employees, both as an efficiency measure and as a way of improving customer contact. Thus, companies that are not presently considering deploying a UC solution may well find that they are increasingly behind their competitors. The implications of this vary from vertical to vertical, and of course not all UC solutions will be utilised in an effective manner. Still, a landscape that involves more than 50% of large enterprises using UC technology is indicative of there being a genuine perception/realisation of real business benefits resulting from UC/collaboration technologies.
The relatively sluggish uptake of UC solutions so far is a result of numerous factors. Suspicion of business benefits being realised is one; the maturity of UC technology is another. Delivery of UC solutions is also a contributing factor in slow take-up. Companies have not been keen to invest in on-premises UC technology with the capital outlay that requires, so now that cloud delivery models are broadly seen as trustworthy, the CapEx problem is fading away. However, the overall cost problem has not yet vanished. Utility pricing (i.e., paying for what you use) seems like a panacea, but companies are also aware that solutions delivered via a utility model may not represent best value for money, as providers often charge a premium for this flexibility. So, what is the solution? There is no silver bullet as yet, but competition and commoditisation will help. One or both of Cisco HCS and Microsoft Lync solutions are now present in the portfolios of most telecoms providers and SIs. In the shorter term, enterprises should also be willing to compromise on utility pricing models (e.g., through minimum spend agreements). A number of providers will offer lower per-user costs depending on minimum spend, but enterprises should also expect providers to be flexible on minimum spend levels as well as on user adds/removals and on allowing the addition and removal of specific UC features (e.g., presence) for individual users or user groups. All of this means that UC is not a ‘no brainer’ and making a business case remains critical. Enterprises should establish who in their company is likely to benefit from what type of UC service (e.g., does every employee need SharePoint, single-number dialling or desk-to-desk video services?). Doing so will help establish an acceptable level of minimum spend and the potential ROI for the enterprise, thus providing a starting point to negotiate with telecoms service providers.