The Olympics occur every four years. However, because the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics are staggered, there is actually an Olympics every 2 years. Since NBC TV has the contract to televise the Olympics here in the United States for the foreseeable future, that means that every 2 years they need to implement a resilient, robust, high-availability communications network in a new location. They need to deploy the network quickly, ramp it up to functionality, then tear it all down a month or two later and pack it away in storage until the next Olympics. NBC Olympics has chosen Avaya as their unified communication solution. Going with a UC solution rather than traditional communications provides them with a number of benefits in terms of being able to communicate more efficiently across voice, email, instant messaging seamlessly and help the NBC Olympics team to stay in touch.
There are a number of big players in unified communications. Everyone is familiar with Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, and Nortel. Most people are familiar with NEC as a company. But, does NEC play in the UC sandbox? Few realize it, but yes. NEC is starting a major marketing push to promote its position in the area of UC and seek to challenge the likes of Microsoft and Cisco for a dominant piece of the UC pie.
Many of the components of unified communications are not new. Even many of the concepts for how to employ them are not new. However, as a quick look at any newspaper or magazine will demonstrate, unified communications has exploded into the business consciousness in recent years. It’s all the rage. According to this report on Market Watch, Frost & Sullivan predict that expenditures on UC will increase by 13% in 2008 up to $4.55 billion. The market is huge and growing and businesses continue to invest and find new ways to leverage unified communications to increase productivity and improve business efficiency.
What does the future of Unified Communications hold? I am sure that Microsoft, Cisco, Nortel and other major UC players all have their own visions (weighed heavily with their own UC products and solutions), but Network World’s Michael Osterman describes his vision of the UC future in this article. I agree with the direction Osterman describes. I think part of the promise of UC is to have a single point of contact. I can have one handle- a phone number, or an IM handle, or an email address- and regardless of whether someone wants to reach me by phone, email, instant messaging, voicemail, fax, etc.- they will all use the single point of contact rather than having to know or remember an entire list of addresses and phone numbers.
Companies love meetings. There are so many meetings it is often amazing that anything ever gets done. There are meetings to plan the initial meeting, progress meetings, milestone meetings, budget meetings, etc., etc. It is insane. What is more insane though is how frequently companies fly everyone to one location to meet in person. On top of the impact to productivity of constantly meeting to begin with, the company incurs expenses for airfare or vehicle mileage, hotel lodging, meals, and other miscellaneous travel expenses. Depending on how many people are attending, it is possible that a single meeting- and its associated travel and lodging expenses– could pay for the lion’s share of a unified communications implementation. Part of the beauty and value of UC is that it helps parties scattered around the globe communicate more effectively. This includes real-time meetings and can represent a significant time and money savings for the company, especially given the current price of fuel.
The features and benefits of unified communications sound great, but for most businesses you have to be able to demonstrate and quantify the actual return on investment. The fact that it is “very cool” does little for the bottom line. But, what if you could tell the CFO, or the Board of Directors that it will reduce the cost of communications by 10%, or that employee productivity will go up by 10%, or that customer satisfaction will increase by 21%? That might make a more solid case for UC. A recent study by Dimension Data shows just that. For more about the Dimension Data study, check out this article from Customer Strategy magazine.
Some organizations have a firm grasp of the regulatory landscape that affects them. They have systems and processes in place to ensure that data is protected and that their I.T. infrastructure and business processes are compliant with the respective mandates and guidelines that impact them. Throwing unified communications into the mix might add some complexity and confusion though. Voicemail may not be required to be retained, but what about when the voicemail is sent to the user as an email attachment. Instant messaging may be a separate issue from email, but when the conversation history from the instant messaging is stored on the email server, the rules may change. Companies also need to be aware of how UC might expose additional risk of data leakage or theft of intellectual property. The risk is nt pervasive in my opinion, nor does it represent a reason to not deploy UC. Unified communications delivers benefits that outweight the risks, and the security issues are really more of a shift in focus than a new threat. Voice communications that were previously separate are now part of the data network, but sound data network security practices remain the same.
Have you been reading all kinds of news and information (like this blog) about how unified communications is going to surpass sliced bread as the greatest invention ever? Perhaps you are wondering what all of the hype is about, but you aren’t sure how it will benefit your company. What if you could just test it out for a while- maybe a month- to explore how it will impact your productivity and efficiency and to try to determine what the return on investment will look like. Today is your lucky day! You can do just that. Unisys, in conjunction with Microsoft is offering a free trial of Microsoft Unified Communications. The trial will hopefully demonstrate the value of Microsoft UC and the expertise of Unisys. Ostensibly, Unisys would like to turn that free trial into a paying project and deploy the full-blown Microsoft Unified Communications implementation once the free trial is complete. What have you got to lose?
What’s better than delivering an IP-enabled solution that can handle up to 850 concurrent users and allow a call-center to efficiently manage and route calls to agents regardless of their physical location? Delivering that solution using technology that is both economically and ecologically frugal. One aspect of Nortel’s offerings which is fairly unique in the marketplace is the fact that they provide a product line designed to run with a minimal carbon footprint and help companies be more environmentally responsible. For more about Nortel’s project to deliver the Melbourne call center for PCI, read this article from Green.TMCNet.com.
Presence is the keystone of unified communications. The ability to identify whether or not a given user is available, and what methods of communication might be most effective with that individual at that point in time is the foundation of what enables UC to make users and business processes more efficient and productive. Organizations that deploy Microsoft Unified Communications can federate with partners or customers that also use Microsoft Unified Communications, as well as with public instant messaging providers such as AIM and Yahoo. However, there remains a gap when one company is using Microsoft and a partner or vendor is using Cisco or IBM unified communications. In order to realize the benefits of presence across heterogonous unified communications systems, the UC vendors need to do more to make sure their toys play nicely together. Blair Pleasant talks more about this in this article from UCStrategies.com.