Unified Communications on the Cheap

IT organizatoins are looking to reduce costs while increasing productivity, and so are looking to unified communications to meet these goals. New technology and financing options can help companies do just that.

With the economic downturn (to put it mildly), IT organizations are looking to reduce their capital expenditures while implementing technologies that increase organizational productivity. Many companies are evaluating unified communications to meet these goals, but the costs involved can seem prohibitive, especially for small and midsize businesses.

The good news is that many providers are delivering technology and financing solutions aimed at attracting customers and reducing the cost of diving into UC.

Of course, no matter what the technology or pricing scheme, companies will need to figure in the costs of software upgrades, training and management during a five-year life-cycle. But now, with many of the available options-or combinations thereof-an expensive UC solution could turn into a relatively affordable buy over time.

Host with the Most

Basic VOIP hosting services have been around for a while, delivering simplicity of deployment and management. Increasingly, these providers are adding things such as hosted PBX and unified messaging. Enventis' Encompass, for example, provides hosted IP PBX functionality, as well as unified messaging, calendaring and contact center capabilities.

The leading UC players are also pushing the hosted or SAAS (software as a service) model. Cisco Systems just announced its WebEx Connect, for example, as part of the company's broader UC push; Verizon a year ago introduced Integrated Communications Package for users of its Hosted IP Centrex business; and Microsoft in June released Hosted Messaging and Collaboration 4.5, which allows carriers to deploy hosted UC and messaging services to their customers.

Smaller vendors are also getting into the UC services act. Intermedia, for example, hosts Microsoft Office Communications Server and Exchange.

Hosted services promise lower costs and less management overhead, but these systems have been seen as too limited within the enterprise. With Centrex services, for example, organizations need to pay for each move, add and change, as well as for numerous other features and functions.

The integration of SOAs (service-oriented architectures) with VOIP could significantly improve the adaptability of these services. By opening up their UC platforms for SOA, hosted providers could give organizations the flexibility of a premises-based service at the price point of a hosted service.