Your must-have telecom budget for 2010

It's autumn again. Wood smoke in the air, leaves crunching underfoot … and budgets weighing down the desktop.

If you're like most of the IT professionals I work with, you've gone through your preliminary budgeting exercise -- the one where you request everything under the sun, knowing that you'll get very little of it. And you're hoping and praying that last year's draconian cuts won't be repeated (IT shops reduced budget by an average of 22% from '08 to '09, and head count by an average of 17%).

2009 IT budgets and spending: a snapshot

What should you absolutely, positively, be sure to include on your budget for 2010? Here are a few key items and the rationale behind them.

* Support for mobile workers. Even in the nuclear winter of last year's budget cuts, mobility grew an average of 16% across all organizations. That figure includes hardware, software, services and devices. Expect similar increases for 2010, as applications become increasingly mobile-enabled, workforces continue to become distributed, and new services -- such as long-term evolution (LTE) -- emerge.

* Branch-office hardware, software and support. The number of branch offices has been increasing on average 9% year over year for the past five years -- with the exception of 2009, when it decreased 3%. Expect a significant rebound in 2010, as most companies say they expect an increase of 17%. Also note that branch office support is one of the costliest line items in IT's budget, for the simple reason that branch offices typically lack onsite IT support. Have a strategy for supporting these offices, and a budget line item to support it.

* A WAN services refresh. Even if your contracts don't expire next year, you'll want to budget for a review of emerging technologies, particularly managed VoIP, Session Initiation Protocol trunking and carrier Ethernet. This line item can be as lightweight as a few hours of consulting time, or might include transition, implementation and turn-up costs for the new services.

* Network infrastructure refresh. If you haven't upgraded your routers, switches and wireless LAN gear in a few years, 2010's a good time. Most of the major vendors have announced significant cost cuts, performance upgrades or both. And there's an added bonus: As vendors begin to focus on making their gear more energy-efficient, upgrading now can help cut your energy bills.

* Videoconferencing (and unified communications in general). Many organizations are forging ahead with videoconferencing initiatives even while the other components of UC -- such as presence, dashboards and unified messaging -- lag behind. Whether it's desktop, room-based or telepresence, the chances are good that your organization will be making investments in 2010.

A final word of advice: If, as is likely, one or more of your requests are declined, do yourself a favor -- keep the line item on the budget, even if the numbers are zeroed out. Why? It proves that you did your homework: You assessed the company's needs and requested funding, but it was denied. That's very different from failing to have the foresight to anticipate the need. And if funding opens up later on, you may find those items back on the budget.

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