How to avoid the hidden costs of Unified Communications


Date: 30 September 2011

Michael ThomsonImproved access to sales partners, accelerated business processes and increased productivity - Unified Communications (UC) technology promises a wide range of advantages that have signalled the demise of traditional telephone systems for many modern businesses.

However, not every new implementation actually delivers what it claims, because the support and maintenance costs can be much higher than expected.

What companies typically expect from UC and why maintenance costs can spiral?

If you require integrated fax into your new phone system, the ability to link in to employees’ mobiles or perhaps the need to enable conference calls, you are going to need a separate IT server for each of these options. You may also want to control your telephone from the PC (also known as CTI or computer telephony integration), set up voice mail or introduce a touch-tone system such as press 1 for sales and so on. Already you will need three further servers.

Managing and buying more hardware can be expensive

So, as well as the server for the main phone system, at least a handful of other servers will be required depending on the scope of applications used. Not only that, but if you buy servers from different manufacturers then each will have a different type of administration and user interface.

Then, when a new user is set up or settings are changed, this leads to duplicate, triplicate or more modifications. A simple username change rapidly becomes a small IT project. If you don’t have an IT manager in-house then you could become heavily reliant on a third party provider.

Key conclusion: More servers equates to significantly more maintenance and administration overhead.

What happens if you are a smaller company with limited IT knowledge?

If you want to minimise the time and money managing your Unified Communications solution, then a fully software-based solution could be the answer. They offer all the performance features of a complete Unified Communications solution but only need a single server.

With a single server approach you can drastically reduce the maintenance plus it’s faster to install in the first place. It also presents fewer problems on the compatibility side, so in the event of upgrades you don’t need to make multiple changes to multiple servers, so you can always take advantage of new functionality that can be simply downloaded via the Internet.

With a regular UC or phone system, much of the on-going maintenance changes known as MACs (Moves & Changes) are made to individual user profiles. Employees may leave the organisation or new extensions need to be created as new staff join. If you are a fast-growing company then these kinds of changes are going to happen on a regular basis.

If you go with a solution with multiple servers then all these changes will need to be made to each one, whereas with one server changes need only be entered once and are then universally applied.

Capitalising on the benefits of unified communications

If you’re looking to upgrade you phone system, UC can deliver countless business benefits such as

  • Reduced annual maintenance costs
  • Support for remote and mobile working so that workers can be reached wherever they are via a single number
  • Improved customer service through speedier response and integrating your phone system with other key applications in the business e.g. CRM system
  • Reduced office overheads by supporting flexible/home working
  • Centralised reception for multiple sites
  • Advanced call routing
  • Save on travel expenses and improve collaboration with built-in video and audio conferencing
  • Presence information so you can see which colleagues are available, whether in the office or on the road
  • Fast-track routing of high value calls
  • Business continuity – users can login and be available to answer calls from any location

If you’re considering a move to unified communications, remember to ask your reseller how much maintenance will be involved and what the on-going charges will be. If you ask for a ‘single-server’ approach you will find that over the long-term your support costs will be lower.

Michael Thomson is Director Engineering & Product Management at unified communications vendor, Swyx

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