In fact, some believe that the boom in mobile communications will help spur demand for UC as a way of tying it all together, and to help enable the promise of anywhere, anytime connectivity across multiple types and brands of devices. Analyst firm Info-Tech Research Group uses mobility as one key factor in its recently released UC scorecard.
Companies that have deployed UC are seeing results. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) of Northbrook, Ill., a global independent product-safety science company, two years ago implemented a UC platform that includes components from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Avaya.
The company wanted to improve communications and collaboration throughout the organization and at the same time upgrade an aging communications and networking infrastructure, says Tom Boxrud, IT director, global operations at UL.
As part of the upgrade, the company deployed Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2 unified communications platform, which integrates instant messaging, audio, video, Web conferencing and telepresence into Microsoft Office. It also deployed a voice over IP (VoIP) telephony system from Avaya and network-infrastructure components including switches from HP.
"We had outgrown our existing technology, but additionally UL was in a period of transformation, and one goal was to improve communications and collaboration" with customers, Boxrud says.
In addition, the company wanted to reduce travel costs, shorten project cycles and be more agile in the marketplace. "We saw unified communications as a key tool that could deliver that," Boxrud says. The company is in the process of moving to Microsoft Lync, the vendor's latest UC offering.
As a result of using UC and VoIP, UL expects to reduce its telecommunications costs by as much as 50 percent, Boxrud says. Much of that savings comes from reduced long-distance calling costs among its global offices. Furthermore, UL has cut operating costs by 30 percent, consolidating nearly 40 email servers worldwide to just one cloud-based email system.
Collaboration among its facilities in North America, Europe and Asia is much easier and less costly since the adoption of UC, Boxrud says. "When we test products, we might have someone [in Asia] with knowledge about a product UL may be testing that someone in North America needs access to," he says. "Instead of sending that person there we can do point-to-point demos or [Web] conferencing with the click of a button."
But the adoption of unified communications has come with some challenges. For one thing, it's been something of a cultural shift for many people in the organization, who had never used the types of advanced features provided by UC.
"Being that we have an older culture here, the key to the overall implementation [of UC] is having a good [internal] marketing, communications and training campaign -- which we did through our Internet site and self-service tools -- so people could see" how to use UC features, Boxrud says.