One would assume state and local governments are on the forefront of unified communications because they deliver a range of field-based services, from trash collection to child welfare. The productivity of caseworkers and other remote employees is thought to improve when they can access a variety of message types — voice, e-mail, text, fax, etc. — on the device of their choice, such as the desktop, smartphone or tablet.

But the reality is that state and local governments, as a group, are lagging behind on unified communications (UC). According to new research by CDW-G and O’Keeffe & Co., only 11 percent of state and local governments have fully deployed UC. CDW-G’s third annual survey on the topic, which was released this week, found that for medium- to large-size businesses, that number is 20 percent. Next was K-12 education (19 percent), higher education (17 percent), health care (16 percent) and federal government (14 percent).

Why is state and local government bringing up the rear? Budget constraints is one big factor, said Andy Dignan, senior manager of unified communications solutions at CDW. Another is that many state and local governments still need to upgrade their network infrastructure.

“A lot of state and local governments don’t have the correct bandwidth or the data centers to be able to adequately deploy [unified communications],” Dignan said.

Across all sectors, UC adoption actually has doubled since last year. Of 900 IT managers interviewed in February, 16 percent said their organization had fully deployed UC. Last year the number was 8 percent, and 6 percent in 2009.

Dignan said he believes cloud computing will become a critical driver for the growth of UC adoption. This will be particularly true in state and local governments, he said, because they won’t have the funding to upgrade every point on their network so that UC is possible. Cloud computing can fill in the gaps, he said.

Like the statistics on deployments, state and local governments are taking longer to move toward the cloud. Fifty-five percent of state and local governments are evaluating, have deployed or have fully deployed UC “using a cloud model.” The other sectors are much higher. The federal government is at 75 percent, in line with all the other sectors. Most of CDW-G’s state and local customers are opting for a private cloud for UC deployments, Dignan said.

In order to catch up, Dignan said state and local IT managers need to make the business case for UC and calculate the ROI. Respondents ranked increased employee productivity (53 percent) and reduced operating costs (48 percent) as the two leading benefits of UC. But getting money for these projects remains a tough task. Forty-one percent of IT professionals said they had difficulty getting funding for UC implementations, and 29 percent said they had trouble securing reliable cost projections.

As service delivery evolves, government workers will need better mobile solutions. And they don’t necessarily have to be complicated, Dignan said. Some of his local government customers are implementing “single number reach,” which allows an employee to control at what time and on what device he or she is e-mailed, texted, instant messaged, faxed and phoned. This simple improvement could allow workers to use their personal smartphones.

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.