For many working in the IT world, the benefits of unified communications are readily apparent, especially when it comes to bottom-line figures such as productivity and operating costs.
In fact, of the 900 IT managers surveyed in our 2011 CDW Unified Communications Tracking Poll, 53 percent say the leading benefits of UC include increased productivity, and 48 percent cite a reduction of operating costs.
But these benefits aren't convincing everyone of what UC can bring to the table. Forty-one percent of those surveyed say securing budget commitment from top management is a major challenge, and another 25 percent say convincing management of UC's return on investment is still an obstacle.
Some IT managers have found effective ways to overcome this kind of skepticism. In our feature story "The Case for Convergence," the IT teams at Butler University in Indianapolis and Stark State College in North Canton, Ohio, found that their administrations were highly responsive when UC initiatives were tied into larger IT projects.
In both cases, the UC pitches were timed to coincide with needed network upgrades and the replacement of aging PBX systems. And both colleges clearly demonstrated the benefits of UC.
For Butler, improving campus safety and offering improved communications tools make the UC investment worthwhile. At Stark State, a new call center has improved customer service, reduced call volume and saved the college money because it no longer has to hire additional staff during busy periods.
"The call center technology has improved our customer service and decreased the number of calls to call center agents," says Geoffrey Starnes, Stark State College's network systems and security manager.
"Students used to call and sit in a queue, and now they're very happy it's self-service and they don't have to wait an hour or so to have a simple question answered," Starnes explains.
Take the Lead
So what is the take-away for IT managers at colleges and universities? Securing funding for a UC project may require a wide understanding of the IT infrastructure and UC's role within it – and the ability to communicate those ideas in a way that wins over stakeholder management.
And while UC is not necessarily complex, the world of applications and product features it opens up is exciting and maybe even a little overwhelming for some.
The variety of new tools that it offers often requires new skills for the IT staff. In our survey, 35 percent of the respondents noted that they had experienced challenges supporting a smartphone environment, and another 33 percent made similar mentions about supporting a mobile desktop environment. IT staff training definitely needs to be a consideration for any UC initiative, not to mention training for other staff and faculty as well.
Despite some skepticism by stakeholders, the real-world experiences at Butler University and Stark State College offer reasons for optimism that UC deployments at colleges and universities will expand as users discover the value of this technology's new features. This optimism is reflected in the recent CDW poll, which found that UC adoption has nearly tripled over the past few years. Among those surveyed, the number of colleges that have fully implemented UC has grown from 6 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2011.