US government agencies are interested in unified communications systems that integrate voice, video and data over Internet Protocol, but they have concerns about funding and security, according to a survey.
Twenty-eight percent of US telecom decision makers surveyed in April 2007 said funding was their greatest challenge to achieving their communications goals. Another 20 percent said security was the top concern, and 17 percent said educating co-workers about the benefits was the biggest challenge.
"We're talking to the boots-on-the-ground program managers, IT directors who are really charged and tasked with getting some of this stuff done," said Aaron Heffron, vice president of Market Connections, which conducted the survey for Cisco Systems. "They said, 'There's a lot of ... concern over security in my agency'."
A unified communications system could include services such as VoIP (voice over IP), instant messaging, remote access to agency files and mobile data or voice devices, all managed together. There are heavy demands for unified communications in US federal agencies, especially in the military, said Brent Byrnes, US federal unified communications manager for Cisco. The US military has "increasing needs to rapidly stand up services" in combat zones, he said.
Asked of the benefits of a unified communications approach, 93 percent of respondents said better security would be a result of integrating IT and telecom systems. Ninety-three percent also believed system reliability would improve, and 91 percent said productivity and collaboration would improve.
There seems to be a difference of opinion about a unified approach's effect on security between top-level managers in agencies and the IT and telecom managers, Heffron said. "Those individuals know that bringing these two systems together can improve their security and reliability," he said. "However, they're swimming upstream in some cases, with other agency management."
Another 88 percent said a unified communications system would allow agencies to improve their plans to continue to operate during a disaster, a major focus of the US government since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.
But only 44 percent of respondents said their agencies have the ability to notify employees in real time. Twenty-eight percent said their agencies have no plans to use real-time notification.
Four in five respondents said their agencies already use audio conferencing and mobile devices. Three-quarters said their agencies allow remote or mobile access to agency files, and 71 percent have wireless networking access. Only 50 percent said their agencies use instant messaging, and 26 percent said they have no plans to use it.
The survey also found that 35 percent of respondents said they had projects delayed or deadlines missed at least sometimes because of communication difficulties. Only 11 percent said they never have experienced delays.
But only 38 percent of respondents said they are rolling out or have rolled out a unified communications system. Another 13 percent said they have either conducted pilot tests or identified a vendor, while 23 percent are investigating it, and 21 percent have done nothing more than talked about unified communications.
Finally, 84 percent of respondents said communications devices have been a "blessing" in daily life. Eleven percent said such devices are a "curse".
The survey solicited comments from 201 US government telecom decision makers.
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