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Unified comms strong, but help needed with ROI story

Alex Scroxton


Unified communications (UC) outfits claim they are busier than ever during the recession, but some say that resellers and service providers are still not getting enough support when it comes to explaining why a UC solution might be a good investment.

Moves are afoot to change this as vendors have understood that they have to make their solutions easier for dealers to sell.

Naturally, training and education is key here. It is fair to say that many dealers getting into the more services-driven world of UC cut their teeth selling PBX switches and so on, and therefore stand to benefit from more UC certifications and accreditations. But vendors are now focusing more frequently on return on investment (ROI).

Online ROI calculator
Towards the end of 2008, unified comms integrator 5i teamed up with call centre and integrated telephony software vendor Zeacom to spearhead a push into the contact centre environment, and earlier in January launched an online calculator designed to show resellers the returns that their customers can expect to see when they invest in UC.

"Historically, UC has eluded traditional ROI calculators as it is difficult to quantify increases in workforce productivity or efficiency in financial terms," said 5i managing director Peter Howells.

Zeacom European general manager Samuel Williams said, "This tool is based on models taken from user experiences, where companies have implemented the system and seen benefits, which traditional calculators don't.

"In tight economic conditions client retention is more important than ever, and customer service can be a key differentiator. At the same time, IT managers are required to justify all investments they make.

"Demonstrating ROI is no longer a 'nice-to-have' to aid purchasing decisions but is a critical component."

Zeacom claims that taking an average business with around 1,000 seats and four operators, its console products were able to demonstrate savings of £1,800 a month based on time saved by using rich presence features.

Avaya is taking a slightly different tack and is setting out to motivate its
customers to demand more from their IT providers. Last month it launched an online energy saving calculator intended to get its customers thinking about ways to reduce their energy use. Hopefully they will then feed back to Avaya, which will hand the new business over to the channel.

Recalcitrant end-users
But others believe that the disconnect lies not with resellers but with recalcitrant end-users. Often, an IT manager will come out in favour of bringing UC into the business but will have difficulty convincing the CFO to make any outlay - a problem that is becoming more pronounced as the recession begins to bite.

This is an issue that comms integrator Dimension Data says it sees often. Last week it released figures claiming that well over 50% of enterprise-level CIOs saw UC as a key element in supporting business growth, and slightly less than half saw it as a de facto standard for the future of corporate communications.

But despite this they still saw a lack of understanding at board level, with the initial outlay and groundwork costs being cited as just two of the keener pressure points.

"What is clear is that CIOs need help defining the benefits of UC in order to convince the board of its importance. If they use this understanding to develop a long-term view as to how it will support growth, then they will be better able to show their bosses that it is a case of 'spending to save'," says Didata Microsoft line of business director Rob Stanley.

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