Business Communications in Context

Putting the U in UC

Published/updated: April 2010

by Josie Sephton and Dale Vile

The proliferation of communications channels has set expectations around cost and productivity benefits. Unified Communications (UC) is proffered as a way of helping bring them all together, but companies struggle to justify the business case for it. Against this background, how important is UC as an approach to streamlining communications, and how can businesses exploit it?


Passive evolution of workforce communications has led to inefficiencies
New ways of communicating have continually worked themselves into businesses in a relatively unstructured manner over the years. As a result, when asked to take a step back and consider how well their workforce communications meet business needs today, fewer than one in five of the 544 participants in a recent online survey regarded their current infrastructure as supporting fully efficient and effective working, with most businesses readily acknowledging shortfalls.

The value of improved communications is clearer when considered in context
The communications infrastructure touches all parts of the business and is typically considered to be ‘horizontal’ in nature. The things that matter in a general collaboration context, however, where enabling efficient and effective ad hoc communication is the priority, are often different to needs in a process-centric environment where the focus is on optimising more predictable and prescriptive communication activity. A clear definition of context therefore helps enormously when considering requirements and investment cases, and scoping improvement initiatives.

The benefits of joined-up communications are acknowledged but not widely exploited
The degree to which ‘unification’ has been driven across businesses communications portfolios, from traditional tools such as phone and email, to newer ones such as instant messaging (IM), audio and video conferencing, web conferencing, and SMS, is very limited. Nevertheless, the value of operating in a more unified environment, linking various communication mechanisms together, is well understood, with a range of benefits acknowledged in different contexts.

When it comes to unification, the scope of adoption has a major impact on results
While it is possible to unlock some benefit from limited harmonisation activity, e.g. by unifying one or two aspects of communication, or implementing full unified communications (UC), but to a small segment of users, the real results come when full UC is scaled up across the business. Those implementing more comprehensive UC solutions more broadly across the organisation are significantly more likely to realise the full benefits, and less likely to run into issues around integration, resourcing and costs.

Even in pilot mode, be ‘aggressive’ with UC to hit the ‘multiplier effect’
The discrete functions pertaining to the ‘U’ in UC, such as unified directory, unified messaging, single number telephony, and presence awareness, have a ‘multiplier effect’ when implemented together. When planning initial activity, even a pilot or proof of concept, it is therefore important to implement a richer set of capability from the outset, rather than focusing on individual functions that will always have limited value when deployed independently.

Study based on feedback gathered via an online survey of 544 IT professionals from the UK, USA, and other geographies.

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