The Difficulties of Assessing Unified Communications Spending

It's tricky to assess spending on unified communications, because it is an equal measure of physical technology and services. For that reason, it is important to have a very deep understanding of the metrics being used by vendors and analysts.

By Carl Weinschenk | Posted Sep 28, 2011
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When assessing the level of investments being made in unified communications, it pays to make sure that apples-to-apples comparisons are being made. 

True to form with unified communications, such assessments can be a bit more difficult than they seem. There area a couple of recent indications that spending is down a bit in unified communications. Over at IT Business Edge, my colleague Ann All interviewed John Longwell, the vice president of research for Computer Economics. The organization just published its Technology Trends 2011/2012 study. Longwell told All that there is a lag is unified communications spending: 

There seems to be some moderation in UC investment this year, but we think that is just a pause. Organizations have brought UC capability into their organizations, but haven't implemented a lot of the functionality yet. 

A similar conclusion was arrived at by Computer Economics: 

The data also shows that fewer organizations in the U.S. and Canada are making investment in UC. While 35% of organizations were either implementing or expanding UC solutions in 2009, the investment rate dropped to 22% to 2011, marking a substantial falloff.

The Computer Economics report was written by Constellation Research's Elizabeth Herrell. She and Longwell probably have it right. But, within that overall conclusion, it's important to understand that  spending on one piece of gear, depending on how it is used, could fairly be defined as being within and outside the realm of unified communications. In other words, an iPad could be part of a unified communications platform or not.

Longwell and Herrell of course know this and, presumably, include the distinction in their number crunching. It is important, however, for folks looking at the research to understand the special nature of unified communications — it's a process and a platform, not a technology — and understand the analyst's positioning.

Analyst Jon Arnold discusses the changes in how to consider the expense of unified communications. His conclusion: 

When you take these two factors into account – UC is modular and UC is a service – the conventional ROI metric becomes difficult to defend. While you still need to think about communications as an investment – and not just an expense – there is no hard asset to gauge a return against with UC. Getting management to buy into this shouldn't be that difficult since this means your capital budget needs will now be lower.

Unified communications is continually morphing. It is a service and subsumes many elements — some of which are quite costly — that can and do stand alone. It also eliminates the need for other pieces of gear. The bottom line is that planners need to dig deeply into the numbers to understand what the vendor or analyst really is saying when they address capex, opex, ROI and other factors. This formula is far more likely to differ between them due to the inherent complexity of unified communications.

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