By Adrian Thirkill, Easynet UK MD
Dust off the bunting and hang the flags out: global IT spending is forecast to increase by 4.1% in 2013 according to Gartner’s latest worldwide IT spending forecast published in March.
This is great news, but when considered within the still-quaking economy it also comes with a caution: it’s more important than ever to make carefully-planned IT investments which add value to a business and create a Return on Investment in a defined time period. Now is not the time for IT Supermarket Sweeps, or for keeping up with the Jones’.
Unified Communications (UC) is one particular investment which brings about an improved way of working with immediate, tangible business benefits. When securing board buy-in, a commitment to how quickly companies can see a Return on Investment (ROI) from its rollout is often one of the deciding factors.
To make the decision easy for the board, it’s essential that you evaluate the financial impact of such an investment. Forrester Consulting looked at the total economic impact of Microsoft Lync on a business, and estimated a 337 percent risk-adjusted ROI, with a payback period of 12 months. Even to the most IT-anxious board members, those figures are impressive.
A quick web search will help you create a thorough grid of the economic impact of your IT investment, looking at costs v benefits and evaluating risk. My aim, here, is not to provide you with such a framework, but instead to raise a few points and suggestions for measuring ROI which will help you better state your case to the board.
Not every UC rollout will achieve such a remarkable return as that identified by Forrester. What is critical is to identify, collate and consider the different success measures across different areas of your business. The fact remains that a planned unified communications rollout with commitment from across the organisation will pay off if you follow a few simple steps:
- Review what you have in place: how staff and customers choose to communicate, what infrastructure is there already, which systems and processes are used and which are not, which technologies and partners you work with. Make sure you have the infrastructure to support it: you can’t build a house on crumbling foundations
- How do your staff work? Many will use a landline, one or more smartphones, a laptop, a tablet, different instant messaging systems and social networks, various cloud file share systems – and yet still miss important calls, or not read emails
- Think about what you want to achieve for your organisation. Be visionary. What will be your critical success factors? What’s your starting point? You might be taking a look at travel costs, and choose to eliminate unnecessary travel, especially if you’re part of a global business with executives taking frequent long-haul business flights
- Swot up on UC and the different offerings from different vendors. Do you want to work with one provider, or take a ‘best of breed’ approach and select several different vendors? Think about ease of management, best value and how you’d overcome the headaches of integrating different products from separate suppliers
- Secure buy-in: from the board and the rest of the business. Create an internal marketing campaign, and consider a Phase One and Phase Two rollout, so one group of staff can evangelise – and can help train their colleagues. Be open about why you’re implementing the new UC system, and what it can help your business achieve
These steps provide a basic framework for your UC implementation. Once these are in place, it’s time to identify specific measurements for a return on your investment, as mentioned in point 3.
Different departments will have differing ROI measures, so ensure these are documented. A global HR department might aim to cut its average length of time recruiting staff by conducting interviews via videoconferencing. It might measure success in terms of time saved trying to get in touch with internal candidates: a seamless, collaborative UC system will identify when staff are available and enable the HR team to get in touch how, when and where they choose.
The time saved can then be translated into saved costs to the business and offset against the investment.
Productivity increases and cost savings from the removal of downtime (in terms of both staff and systems) can be measured across the organisation, as staff can work faster, smarter and more efficiently.
If staff can manage the booking of their own meeting rooms, for example, it frees up administrators’ time so they can provide more focused business support. According to research from Wainhouse, 69 percent of survey respondents use web conferencing tools to facilitate meetings that they couldn’t otherwise hold due to timing and cost restraints. For the management team, improved communication means faster decision-making processes.
Unified communications and collaboration facilitate an ‘anywhere, anytime’, flexible working approach. This working culture is a significant pull to attract talent and meet staff retention objectives, a return which is hugely important to a business trying to keep its competitive edge and meet its growth targets. Staff satisfaction surveys can be compared and if retention is improved, recruitment costs are reduced.
For customer service and marketing teams, communication with customers is improved as staff have the ability to create a dialogue with them in the way that customers themselves choose.
The key measure here is the Customer Satisfaction Survey. Success can also be measured in terms of retaining customers, resulting in a reduction in the cost of attracting new business. Improved communication with business partners helps too, as it means, ultimately, a seamless customer service experience.
For the IT department, the ROI will be totally different to that of other departments. Hardware and software cost savings can be identified, as one particular UC application might roll in the functionality of several individual applications. You may also be eliminating rental costs if, for example, you choose to implement your own videoconferencing suite. Additionally there are cost savings from upgrading an IT system: by removing ‘end of life’ equipment and outdated operating systems – and after the initial UC rollout – companies see a reduction in help desk support.
Different businesses and different Unified Comms platforms will all achieve different ROI, at varying stages. By taking the simple steps suggested here to audit, plan, gather evidence and secure employee buy-in, and by identifying the platform that’s the best fit for your business, you’re more likely to achieve a faster ROI, gain the board’s trust…and make it easier to hold out your hand for your next IT investment.