Sometimes, all it takes is the emergence one real-world challenge in the workplace to demonstrate how a new IT investment really hits home.For our company, it was our recent off-site retreat. Keep in mind that we\u2019re all used to being \u201cvirtual.\u201d We\u2019re spread across several U.S. states and rely heavily on audioconferencing, file sharing, and Web conferencing. But when we were all together recently - minus one key person who had just returned from maternity leave - we realized the limitations of audioconferencing alone.How great it would be during the meetings to have an integrated dashboard, with push-to-click launch of a videoconference so we could see each other\u2019s facial expressions, integrated white boards so that our colleague could actually participate in and see what we were drawing on a flipchart, and Web conferencing to push our slide decks. Oh, and the key: it would all be\u00a0integrated! There would be no need to deal with figuring out and launching silo applications - delaying the meeting each time we needed to perform a new function.Like many organizations dealing with branch-office employees, the ability to make far-flung individuals more integrated with what\u2019s happening in person simply makes meetings and the individuals in them more productive.Real-time communications (RTC) dashboards are becoming more recognizable and more valuable in the eyes of IT executives for that reason (among others). These dashboards, such as Nortel\u2019s MCS 5100 or Siemens\u2019 OpenScape, provide an integrated set of collaborative tools, accessible from one interface or dashboard. Unified messaging, contact lists, click-to audio or videoconference, Web conferencing, IM, presence, and audioconferencing are all launched from this single, integrated interface. (Nemertes has done a detailed assessment of this market. If you\u2019d like more details on the players, drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)In recent research, we found quantitative evidence that IT executives value these tools now more than they did a year ago. Last year, they were willing to pay an average of $291 per user, with a range of free to $450, for a RTC dashboard tool. This year, that figure jumped to $437 per user, with a range of $6 to $750.The current adoption rate of these tools remains low, at 2.5%. But, nearly 30% of organizations are evaluating them, and another 22% plan to implement RTC dashboards in the next two years.The bottom line: Branch-office employees, regardless of which \u201ctier\u201d of branch office they reside, need to maintain productivity and integrated in with the headquarters and remote teams. One of the best ways to do this is to enable RTC dashboards.But one word of caution. Make sure you benchmark your potential success! Prior to testing these tools, and certainly before implementing them, make sure you do the following:* Determine what you're trying to improve (Sales closing rates? More productive meetings? Better accessibility of employees?).* Figure out how to measure today's performance in those key areas and benchmark the baseline.* Track progress once you implement the tool to document success or failure.* Have a plan to leverage those results. (If successful, use the results to show success when asking for future IT budget; if not successful, find the reason and determine ways to fix it).