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Unified Communications - Look at it now!

Thu 9 Apr 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

There are many definitions of unified communications (UC). Here is the Wikipedia definition which is as good as any;

“Unified communications (UC) is the integration of real-time, enterprise, communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, voice (including IP telephony), mobility features (including extension mobility and single number reach), audio, web & video conferencing, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), desktop sharing, data sharing (including web connected electronic interactive whiteboards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging(integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax). UC is not necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user-interface and user-experience across multiple devices and media-types”

Despite what some vendors may suggest, it’s important to remember that UC isn’t one tool. UC is a solution that pulls together all of the communication that you’re already using (plus some new ones you may want to add) so you can communicate through a consistent interface and experience. The key is to make it as simple as possible for the user.

UC can include the following and often also incorporates collaboration;

  • Real-time - mobile voice, landline voice, Instant Messaging (IM) or Chat, peer to peer video
  • Non Real Time - email, fax, TXT
  • Tools – Integrated contacts and directories, presence, integrated voicemail, click to dial
  • Collaboration – Audio, video and web conferencing, desktop sharing, interactive whiteboard

UC solutions incorporate these different modes of communications into a simple user interface. These solutions break down communications barriers so that it’s easier and faster for you to find, reach and communicate with other people, and vice versa.

Why Should You Care?

Whether you realise it or not, you are probably using UC now. Many people have email on their mobile phones today. It recognises phone numbers in emails and allows you to click to dial, send TXTs, or save as a contact with phone number and email address. This is UC. One of the key elements of UC is the integration of traditional desktop activity i.e. email, contacts etc. with traditional voice activity, i.e. voice calls, voicemail.

This is easy to see on a smartphone mobile device which is designed with both in mind. However if you are being sold a UC solution it is likely to offer you integration of your desktop with your landline voice services and offer flexibility of these services away from the office either via mobility or working from home.

  • UC solutions can help you get more done more quickly and help you stay connected to your co-workers and customers wherever you are
  • UC can help you be more productive and save you time by letting you move seamlessly from one device and mode of communication to another
  • UC can also help you operate more flexibly and save money

One of the real challenges for anyone looking at UC solutions is the ability to quantify the benefits to  your business and identify the ROI that justifies the cost. One thing most people agree on is that UC capability does empower users to be more flexible, more efficient and deliver better customer services by being more responsive. The question is by how much and what value is that to your business.

Voice is a key element to creating a UC solution when you are looking at a new enterprise voice platform. You should definitely look at how UC can help your business however as mentioned before UC is not one product so you don’t have to wait. Many traditional voice platforms, whether IP or not, can be incorporated into a UC solution through integration.

What to Consider

UC can be a confusing area to evaluate because vendors design and build their solutions with different communications and collaboration tools.

If you’re considering UC, start by putting together a list of communication pain points and challenges that your company faces. Depending on the nature of your business, its size, and how people work, you may want very different capabilities than the business next door. You’ll also want to look for a solution that is flexible enough to let you add new capabilities as you need them.

UC is something that is happening today and whilst it may be difficult to document the ROI to justify the cost of a solution the demands on businesses and individuals continue to grow. Communication is not limited from 9am-5pm. People expect to contact each other anytime and anywhere. If they can’t get hold of you immediately they expect a quick response otherwise they go elsewhere.

Don’t wait to replace your existing telephony system to think about UC. Work out how UC can benefit your business. You can integrate and leverage your existing communications today and ensure you remain competitive in the fast moving, impatient environment we live in today.

Convergence - Mobile radio and smartphones

There has been talk on how far cellular technology will eat into traditional mobile radio markets. It is another area of convergence.

One of the issues is the one-to-one communication and consumer grade devices of public cellular networks verses the one-to-many communications and robustness of mobile radio networks.

While some industries such as Emergency Services may not want to move to cellular, some might. Some corporate users may want to communicate with users on the mobile radio network. 

A few smartphone applications are now providing an instant, push-to-talk (PTT), one-to-one and one-to-many call capability. Communications become more scalable and collaboration more effective. Smartphones can provide access to the radio network when out of range and radio conversations, not previously accessible with a cellular phone, can be joined by users on their smartphone. Smartphones can provide access to senior decision makers in organising and managing teams, and assisting in compliance and safety management.

Smartphone applications may not replace mobile radios but they certainly provide some interesting options for organisations using mobile radio.

Article by Teleconsultants. For more information about the independent consultant company, check out their website.

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