Microsoft Offers Tools To Calculate ROI For Unified Communications

Many businesses are reluctant to deploy unified communications technology because the return on investment is hard to prove.
Microsoft this week began offering tools and guidelines to help IT managers predict the return on investment from unified communications, an emerging technology designed to improve business processes.

Unified communications links business processes with presence information, e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, and videoconferencing to facilitate efficient communications.

Businesses can't implement unified communications system out-of-the-box from a single vendor today because it doesn't exist. So while businesses see unified communications as critical to improving knowledge-worker productivity, many are reluctant to deploy it because the ROI is difficulty to prove.

A third of the 325 business tech professionals surveyed by InformationWeek Research in May said the lack of ROI metrics poses a challenge to adopting and deploying unified communications. Over half (51%) of 47 respondents not deploying unified communications cited difficulty measuring or proving ROI as the primary reason.

Microsoft published a whitepaper that outlines for IT managers how they can achieve ROI by using the software marker's unified communications product called Microsoft Office Communication Server 2007. A positive ROI can be gained by applying one or more of the capabilities found in Office Communication Server 2007 to relevant business processes, the company said.

The top capabilities in Office Communications Server 2007 include: audio, video and web conferencing via in-house servers; instant messaging and presence; internal enterprise VoIP and external VoIP; integrated administration; and integrated operations.

"With our approach that focuses in on a software platform that opens up the ecosystem, we will be able to cut in half the amount that people spend on their communications. They'll be able to get more value with less cost," said Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division.

The whitepaper includes a case study on Global Crossing, one of the early adopter's of Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005. Global Crossing embedded Live Communications Server capabilities into its business processes to improve responsiveness to customer service issues. Reps began using instant-messaging to reach out to customers instantly and avoid unnecessary chit-chat.

Additionally, Global Crossing added Live Communications Server to its existing provisioning and network inventory system so it can reach out to the right people faster using presence information. The new systems with embedded unified communications capabilities have improved cycle times by 75% and reduced response time by 80%, according to the company.

Microsoft also made available a ROI calculator tool for businesses, Microsoft channel partners, and Microsoft staff that want a simple way of calculating the ROI from Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 implementations. Users of the calculator have to work their way through formatted tabbed worksheets, answering questions about their businesses operations and finances.

The software maker believes in order for a business to achieve ROI from unified communications, it's not necessary to replace legacy systems or to upgrade the entire company. Rather, it's about understanding business processes and identifying key communications hotspots.

"There are a lot of customers that have yet to make a decision on where they want to go. There's a lot of investment ahead. When we have the chance to show customers the opportunity today, they get it. There's more benefit than the traditional approach," said Raikes. "This is a market that will transform, much like enterprise computing did, where the market rallies around a platform."