Unified Communications Is in Your Future
Unified communications (UC) is commonly discussed among vendors. But few business managers appreciate what the term means and why it's important.
The primary reason UC deserves attention is that it soon will play a leading role in the handling of most customer interactions, whether by phone, email, Web, chat, video, or other channels. IT managers have to care about UC because they will need to support a variety of UC-based technologies and applications, including private branch exchanges (PBXs), unified messaging, email, chat, SMS, real-time video, and an assortment of enterprise collaboration tools and applications.
What exactly is unified communications? DMG has defined the term as a technology framework that helps organizations provide a standardized user interface and user experience across multiple applications, devices, and channels. It integrates real-time and non-real-time communications services. The former category includes: Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, presence, call control, speech control, instant messaging (IM)/chat, and conferencing (voice and video). Enterprises can shape technology to fit their business needs instead of forcing businesses to adapt to their technology.
UC promises to deliver next-generation telephony products and services that provide communication efficiencies and standardization of technologies as well as make it easier to integrate third-party products and applications.
Though vendors struggle to build a strong business case and identify tangible benefits that yield a high return on investment, UC offers advantages, including the following:
- Collaboration: The typical enterprise work environment requires real-time teamwork among coworkers, business partners, and clients using advanced data sharing and communications devices and services. Real-time collaboration eases the live development and sharing of ideas and documents among multiple parties in various locations; UC can greatly reduce the costs and time spent on travel.
- Presence: In today's fast-paced work environments, individuals are seldom reachable in a timely manner by traditional communications methods (phone, email, voicemail). Presence reduces the unproductive time spent tracking down available users and waiting for responses to messages left in email and voicemail systems by allowing individuals to see the real-time availability of other associates on their network, as well as their preferred method of communication.
- Devices: Mobility is growing in importance as individuals increasingly use smart devices to complete their daily tasks. Business and IT managers can employ UC tools to enhance business communications by extending communication services to these devices and letting users instantly transition between them. With UC, for example, a user can seamlessly transition from a call initially established on his cellular phone to his desk phone without ever having to vacate the original session. That allows users to stay active and keeps the conversation progressing without interruption.
- Extensibility: UC enables business managers to extend their business services and tools to remote and mobile workers and partners, opening up recruitment and staff expansion in areas where they might not have had access. This can accelerate entrance into new markets and increase the availability of a knowledgeable workforce.
- Access: Through a UC interface, remote users can access critical business processes and systems and enterprise applications, such as enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, supply chain management, and other data management and reporting utilities. This would give a mobile workforce real-time access to internal and partner information that can be used for functions such as customer communications, pricing, and negotiations.
Next Steps for Your Enterprise
UC is the future of telephony, and, like it or not, it needs to be part of your communications strategy going forward. It can improve the way your organization communicates internally and externally with customers, prospects, partners, and investors. Business and IT managers should work together to identify the tangible and intangible benefits of UC that yield the most value for their specific environments.
Donna Fluss and Randy Brewton are with DMG Consulting. Please contact Donna at email@example.com and Randy at