Message to VoiceCon: UC can help you through hard times

Users buying into idea that unified communications can cut costs, boost productivity

Vendors at VoiceCon San Francisco 2008 pushed a message that unified communications can cut operational costs and help businesses get more out of the people they have.

Both Microsoft and IBM executives highlighted cost savings and productivity enhancement during their keynotes with demonstrations of their UC products. Separately, Avaya announced zero percent financing for its UC gear to enable customers "to address their business communications needs while conserving capital during these difficult times."

They made a good pitch for savings and productivity, and potential customers attending the show, if not in desperate straits, said they see potential economic benefits of UC. (Despite official attendance figures -- 4,000 preregistered -- set to beat last year's conference, crowds at the show seemed sparse.)

Most attendees interviewed at the show said they are taking extra care to choose which of their IT projects to pursue as they work under restricted budgets. For some, UC is investment they think can help boost revenue and speed up business processes.

For instance, Beckman Coulter, a US$2.5 billion biomedical test gear manufacturer based in Fullerton, Calif., has imposed a travel freeze. That boosts the priority of its UC efforts, says Stephen Campbell, director of network services, because despite the freeze, the company's distributed engineering staff still needs to consult with each other. "Better collaboration tools have been on the road map for a couple of years," he says. "Now we're really going to get serious about it."

So the company has to find something besides face-to-face meetings as a substitute. "The only way to do that is with IT," said Campbell who is building a UC infrastructure around Siemens gear.

Others attending the show agree that UC can help cut costs. For example, Glenn Smith, CEO of systems integrator UCS Solutions, said he urges his small-business customers to adopt one key element of UC -- VoIP -- as a way to save money.

A combination of DSL lines, IP phones and a Switchvox IP PBX can cut the network cost of 24 phones from US$800 to $500 per month, a savings that leads to a rapid return on investment. Plus, with employees able to turn home phones into work extensions, their productivity goes up, Smith said.

These benefits can be reaped even without pulling in other UC elements such as presence, instant messaging, collaboration software, conferencing and integration of communications with business applications.

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