Is ‘Unified Communications’ (UC) just the latest empty buzzword in telecommunications… or is it an absolute necessity in the modern workplace?
How should IT managers and decision makers determine whether investment in a UC solution is right for their company?
The core idea behind all UC solutions is to integrate a range of information and communication channels into one intuitive communications system. Text-based instant messaging, telephonic communications, information on staff availability, supply levels, and relevant documents are all readily accessible through an appropriate UC solution. This results in more organised and streamlined channels of communication between both clients and staff members.
What are the key components of a unified communications system?
To help understand the benefits, here’s a quick overview of the key components central to unified communications:
1. Call control
Private branch exchanges (PBX) unify all calls from inside and outside a business’ network into one internal network. Co-workers and clients can easily be connected through a simple series of extensions. PBX no longer requires specific hardware, and can run on software that an IT technician can directly operate. Call control through PBX is essential to the architecture of any UC solution.
Presence systems let all users on a network know who is available to communicate. This ensures that no time is wasted trying to contact someone who is not available, and allows you to see what co-workers with appropriate skills are available to contact instead. UC goes beyond the kind of presence features we see on instant messaging applications though.
3. Universal Messaging
Using Universal Messaging, workers can access all of their voice and text-based messages from anywhere and from multiple devices. Communication can then continue on any of those media, either on a message-by-message basis, or in real-time.
UC solutions tend to be launched from and connected to mobile wireless devices. All communications can therefore be carried out regardless of location. This has, for example, been used in retail applications to allow shoppers to order different sizes and colours of clothes directly to a changing room. But it has also provided solutions based around conferencing and collaboration.
5. Shared virtual workspaces
With virtually shared workspaces, whiteboarding, and file sharing, workers can participate in a real-time conference wherever they are. Several counties in the US for example are already using these UC features to maintain the connectivity and work performance of its officials, attorneys and inspectors whose work requires travelling across the country. A range of virtual assistants allows UC solutions to further improve worker mobility, as intelligent message screening and filtering lets users easily adjust and access their schedules, contacts, and calling via their Universal Messaging system.
Unified Communications in use
The variety of potential gains in productivity and efficiency mean that UC is already being used in a very wide range of enterprises, from local transport authorities and bicycle parts manufacturers to hospitals and investment funds. To help figure out which unified communications is right for your business, here’s few examples of UC systems at work:
- Customer service can be easily simplified and improved by UC, either through automated responses to online orders or by following the example of sports equipment manufacturer Shimano Inc. Shimano use the presence and click-to-call functions of Siemens’ UC package OpenScape to allow sales teams to immediately seek assistance for customers’ queries from sales support and logistics teams. This resulted in year-over-year revenue growth, and improved customer satisfaction from the company’s distributors.
- For manufacturers, a UC solution can detect an issue in one stage of the manufacturing process and automatically notify engineers via their preferred communications mode, speeding up the resolution of the problem.
- With UC, Enterprise Resource Planning efficiently puts a company’s inventory information, order processing, and suppliers in direct communication, regardless of location.
- A simple example of UC in the workplace involves someone reviewing a document, who finds they need additional information from the author. With UC in place, they can simply scroll over the author’s name to see their presence status. They could then send a message or initiate a click-to-call conversation in real-time to find out what they need to know.
5 questions to help you decide whether you need UC
- Do communications between your clients and your company take place across a range of media and devices?
- Do your workers need to seamlessly communicate with co-workers, partners and suppliers across a range of locations?
- Has your business ever wasted time by not being able to contact the necessary person and the right moment?
- Can a developing situation in one area of your business have a serious effect on how your business should be conducted elsewhere?
- Does your business maintain customer relations over the internet?
The field of unified communication is constantly developing, with new applications still emerging. Ensure your organisation is ready!