How unified communications can give you vital budget predictability
“A lot of people in housing technology are looking closely at their finances at the moment” – that was the opinion expressed by industry expert Stewart Buchanan from Gartner at Housing Technology’s 2010 conference*.
And throughout Housing Technology’s 2011 conference what became clear was that although most housing associations have retained their budgets for this year, last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review and the economic downturn in general are forcing changes in the way IT is viewed. Increasingly seen as a utility-based service, IT is being asked by housing CEOs and finance directors to become part of the overall business strategy, delivering greater efficiencies along with innovative technologies that will engage employees and tenants more effectively.
One of the challenges to achieving this is that there is a huge amount of caution around making major capital spending commitments. But the real problem according to Gartner’s Buchanan is that spending in the past has not been formally managed; the really critical change housing associations need to make is to improve the financial management of their IT components.
In this context, budget predictability becomes as important as cost savings. If you don’t know your costs, you have no control over your spend. If you have no control over your expenditure, you can’t plan new or on-going projects efficiently or reduce your costs. However, knowing your costs is not as easy as it sounds. For example, do you know what your licences are going to cost next year, when are the various renewals due, and will there be increases in maintenance fees?
On top of these issues, there is the fundamental problem that it is very difficult to reduce your costs even if you don’t undertake new projects because you still have the costs of maintaining all these existing licences and maintenance contracts, whether or not you know their details!
Therefore, the major question that emerges is: how can you achieve the budget predictability that will allow you to get a grip on your finances and let you reduce your costs?
This is where a managed service provider (MSP) can help, giving you budget certainty and saving you thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pounds a year.
By using an MSP, you don’t have to worry about the cost of your IT assets, you don’t have to worry about security and disaster recovery costs, and you don’t have to worry about a sudden spike of unexpected expenditure – the MSP assumes all these responsibilities.
Services are usually on a monthly basis and offer a scalable ‘pay-as-you-grow, save-if-you-shrink’ model, enabling you to buy in IT and communications resources in much the same way as you would buy other utilities like electricity, gas and water. The added advantage is that you’re looking at flexible, operational expenditure that can be adjusted to meet current needs, not up-front capital expenditure.
An example of just one element of IT expenditure that can be brought under control by outsourcing to an MSP is that of hosted VoIP (Voice over IP) and the broader range of unified communications to which it can belong.
Hosted VoIP telephony can bring huge financial advantage, enabling you to benefit from the latest IP telephone systems and handsets, while removing the need to invest in upgrading or maintaining your ageing PBX telephone systems. The icing on the cake of this on-demand service model is that the switch to the newer technology can cost no more than you’re currently paying for your monthly maintenance costs.
Substantial savings of up to 95 per cent capex and 25 per cent opex can be even higher if you use the same high-quality IP network for other voice and data services, such as unified communications.
Unified communications refers to an integrated suite of desktop applications such as telephony, video conferencing, instant messaging, desktop sharing and collaboration, email and ‘presence’ (real-time information showing if someone’s available, busy, away from their desk, etc). Although separate applications, and even separate products, these business enablers are integrated into a consistent interface as a complementary set of tools. Email systems, such as Microsoft Exchange, can also be hosted over the same IP network.
As well as improving how individuals, groups and companies interact and perform tasks, the streamlined operations can lead to massive savings. Microsoft is a leader in this field with its Office Communications Server (OCS) and Lync products; Microsoft’s own research suggests a £3 million annual saving per 1,000 employees resulting from reduced costs in areas such as travel and subsistence.
Although applications such as IP telephony, OCS and Exchange can be integrated in-house, hosted unified communications from a managed service provider will give you reduced costs and added security as well as freeing up in-house IT resources to concentrate on business-critical front-end activities.
Overall, the flexibility and scalability of the managed service route can give housing providers significant cost savings and will give you the budget predictability and financial accountability you need to get a firm grip on your costs and cost management.
Richard Quine is divisional product director for voice & unified communications at InTechnology.