The Business Case for Unified Communications

By: Elizabeth Whitney, Technical Editor

Communication and collaboration tools are quickly becoming the essential workplace technology. According to Gallup, the average worker telecommutes at least two days per month. Global Workplace Analytics reports that workers at Fortune 1000 companies are not at their desks 50-60 percent of the workday. Additionally, millennials – who will comprise 75 percent of the workforce in 10 years – expect to engage seamlessly in work activities while in the office, at home, and on the go.

In-person meetings are sometimes just not feasible, and business users turn to email for all kinds of communication needs. On average, workers send or receive 122 emails per day, which equates to one email every four minutes, according to a study by the Radicati Group. Yahoo Labs’ analysis of 16 billion emails found that 90 percent of emails are responded to within a day, and half of responses are sent within 47 minutes. Most email replies are just five words in length. However, as a user’s email load increases, the likelihood of replying to an email plummets to as low as five percent for high volume users.  If you need an answer and you need it now – or if you need to bring your team together to brainstorm and strategize – email may not do the trick. There are alternatives that encourage faster, more targeted responses.

Unified Communications Tools

Unified Communications (UC) tools include audio and web conferencing, Instant Messaging (IM) and presence, video conferencing, and screen sharing. These tools allow employees to collaborate with their co-workers, vendors, and customers in realtime. While email and VoIP phones are found in most offices, advancements in UC solutions over the past few years have made much more possible.

In fact, IM has become more popular in recent years. According to the Radicati Group, IM is used by enterprises similar to email, is nearly as pervasive, and its use projected to increase: the number of global IM accounts could reach 3.8 billion in 2019. Millennials are especially well-versed in using IM and being able to get the answer they want when they want it.

Benefits of UC

According to IDG Enterprise’s 2015 Unified Communications & Collaboration Study, 93 percent of surveyed employees reported their productivity increased when using UC tools. In addition, 97 percent noted improved collaboration, while 88 percent acknowledged faster problem solving, and 81 percent experienced faster decision making. The ability to bring the right people together at the right time is key to resolving issues, as well as meeting organizational objectives, like shortening the sales cycle or improving customer service.

Gallup’s 2016 Q12 Meta-Analysis report finds that higher employee engagement fosters better employee – and subsequently, company – performance.  With more and more employees working remotely, keeping workers engaged means finding ways to replicate the intimacy of a face-to-face meeting. While communication over IM is often more informal than email, which helps foster more personal working relationships, video conferencing is the UC tool most closely aligned with traditional, in-person meetings.

Investment in UC tools can also help cut the costs of business travel. According to Concur, small businesses spend nearly 24 percent more on travel-related expenses than large businesses. Implementing a UC solution that is well-attuned to the needs of employees and amenable to the existing organizational culture can help guide a company’s transition from travel-centric to online collaboration.

A Look Ahead

According to IDG, 56 percent of enterprises and 66 percent of SMB organizations plan to implement or upgrade their UC solutions this year. Video conferencing and telepresence technologies, in particular, will see an increase in adoption and use. Although video conferencing is currently the least-used UC tool, its adoption and use is projected to increase if employers provide sufficient training. In contrast, the most popular UC tool, IM, which is ubiquitous in non-work life for many, will continue to rival email.

Preparing now for employees’ future collaboration needs can help ensure your IT department is ready for the coming millennial shift and increase in distributed workers. Collaborative technologies are designed to increase communication and productivity, and they can help attract new, key talent. Above all else, evaluate your organization’s communications culture to determine the most appropriate solution, obtain business buy-in, and provide ample training to shore up your UC investments.