Some 84% of senior executives view convergence as being crucial to achieving their strategic it and business goals, but they also recognise there are significant network security challenges.

This majority has nearly doubled from last year, where only 45% in 2005 felt convergence was central to their strategic IT and business goals, according to a new global survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for telecoms company AT&T.

In addition, 48% of businesses have already implemented IP convergence in all or most of their business, nearly twice the number recorded a year ago.

The survey of 395 global senior executives, called “Convergence Takes Hold in the Enterprise” reveals that, while executives continue to expect streamlined network management and cost-savings as the primary advantages of network convergence, executives are also beginning to see beyond the bottom line.

Around 70% of those polled cited "better collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners" and "better customer service" as recognised benefits of IP convergence, and 65% said they are focusing on using converged networks to launch and manage new applications.

The EIU study found almost three-quarters of respondents (72%) expect their firms to increase spending in this area by at least 10% over the next two years.

But this is tempered by realistic concerns about security. When it comes to implementing converged applications, such as Voice over IP (VoIP), network-security fears are uppermost in executives' minds. According to the survey, 58% view network-security issues as the most significant challenge to implementing convergence.

To overcome these challenges, security plans and measures must be integrated throughout the convergence process.

Companies are also concerned that a shortage of expertise will impede the successful migration to IP networks. Nearly half of companies worldwide say that they lack in-house skills and experience in relevant technologies for handling IP convergence. "Companies will need to address this looming skills gap if they are to reap the full benefits of IP migration," says Denis McCauley, EIU director of global technology research.