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Higher Ed Sees Dramatic Ramp-Up of Unified Communications Plans

Two-thirds of institutions of higher education institutions--66 percent--have prepared a business case or strategic plan for implementing unified communications (UC), citing reduced operating costs and distance learning as the top benefits. That's up from 41 percent in 2009. Public institutions were more likely to have prepared a business case or strategic plan for UC than private institutions. Those are the results from a new survey published by CDW Government (CDW-G), which sells technology products and services.

The "Unified Communications Tracking Poll" surveyed 915 IT professionals in multiple industries--not just education--who work on unified communications or component technologies. Deployment rates in higher ed lag behind K-12; only 4 percent of the former have actually deployed the technology compared with K-12's 13 percent. But that still beats the 2 percent of deployment reported by medium and large businesses.

Another 77 percent of respondents reported that they're in the assessment or planning phases. Nineteen percent said they're implementing the technology.

Unified communications refers to the convergence of voice, video, and data services and software applications across an organization to promote better collaboration among people and improve business processes.

The top concerns of implementing UC in higher ed focus on capital costs, network security, operating costs, and the reliability of the technologies.

"You need to know your culture before moving to unified communications--getting rid of a desk phone is major change," said Kathy Lang, CIO for Marquette University. "Training is crucial to address the fear of change. We provided an initial round of training when we rolled out the system, then a follow-up training a couple of months later to take users to the next level."

Marquette is in the process of replacing its legacy Siemens telephone system with voice over IP and other features of UC, including audio and Web conferencing functionality. During this fiscal year, the university expected to move to voice-enabled UC in five buildings at the Milwaukee, WI campus.

"We were able to make our UC adoption cost-neutral by streamlining related technologies, folding them into our funding model and leveraging new vendor contracts," said another unidentified higher ed IT manager.

Across all industry segments, 71 percent of organizations that have fully implemented UC and that also track return on investment (ROI) report that ROI has met or exceeded their expectations.

"IT executives report that economic pressures were a greater concern in 2009 than in 2008, but for many, the return on investment from UC deployments is so compelling that they ask, 'Why wouldn't we do this?'" said Pat Scheckel, vice president of converged infrastructure solutions at CDW. "The result is reduced costs, increased productivity and improved decision making--benefits that resonate across every industry, especially in a recessionary economy."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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