Thoughts about UC ROI

Can UC be justified using ROI or are we using the wrong decision model

In the last Network World magazine, I came across an article called 'ROI doesn't always pan out with unified communications' and while reading through it, a few topics came up. To begin with, one must differentiate IP Telephony from UC, the vendors make it hard for us by naming everything the same, but some products are IPTEL, some are UC and some are Video conferencing. When trying to identify an ROI justification for a project, this is an important observation.

The classic one is IPTEL; most of the business cases for an IP based telephony solution are the result of:

  1. Aging phone system which can not be supported anymore or the support costs are expensive enough to create an ROI.
  2. More extensions are needed in a TDM system that can not be extended (in TDM you generally need cards to support more phone lines).
  3. A company/branch relocation where moving the existing switch does not make sense or is technically impossible.

As can be observed, those are strictly VoIP topics and UC is not relevant to it, presence, IM, Unified Messaging and desktop based video/audio conferencing are not part of the initial drive toward IP Telephony. They will be a nice addition but in the cases mentioned above, they will not be the reason for a change.

Another area where money can be saved is in the travel budget, if an organization spends a lot on people traveling for meetings, video conference/Telepresence can potentially save air travel money.

VC or IPTEL are not UC imho, which is why when an ROI is being calculated for UC, it's hard to prove ROI for it when saying that the fact that we now have IM saves us money, how can you measure the added value of something that was never measured before.

Just like anything else, if you want to show an improvement you need to do a before and after measurements, otherwise it's all speculative. For IPTEL you need to look at your bills for maintenance, calls (long distance and international), licensing prices, positions and anything else that comes out of the budget to keep the current phone system operational and then compare it to the expected future expenses. This is not an option for UC since it's non existing at this point.

This brings me to my final point, UC rollout is usually not driven by ROI, it is driven by the need for additional features. It's not impossible to measure how many more calls we were able to take in the call center after adding presence and allowing remote experts to be located and engaged but how much more business is the result of those additional calls is impossible to prove. The customer that got served faster might or might not purchased because of the quick response time. Most of the measures for this will be speculative or assumption based.

UC is being bought by organizations that understand its added value, and want to provide this added value to their customers. They want to allow customers to email, chat or call their call center and they want to answer calls fast because if they don't the new customers might decide to call the next provider on their list. UC is added functionality more then ROI and this is why it's hard to show ROI for it.

What do you think? Is there a way to create an ROI based business case for UC?

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