Unified Communications (UC) may have different meanings depending on who you ask, but the industry has now established what exactly the makeup of UC is, and the minimal applications that have work together.
All vendors also agree that if enterprise customers fully embrace this concept, it will change the way their employee’s will communicate with each other and their respective customers by being faster and more effective. This will give corporations the edge they need for reducing costs and drive up their profit margins.
I call it the 7 pillars or application sets that comprises Unified Communications which are:
Unified Messaging (UM) is the combination of all your fax, email, and voice mail systems into the same messaging infrastructure so that the employees can use their own email client to receive, reply to, or send via that same communications method to others. It speeds up the response time since all employees are tied directly to their email system using their PC or smart phone mobile devices. Additionally, UM should also allow a user to call into their voice mail and have their email read back to them over the phone. And of course this component should also have hands-free operation support for mobile users.
Mobility is demonstrated by having a single number (like an office number) that everyone will normally call me on, however these calls are automatically sent to other phone devices that I might be using as well. For instance, I could be driving into work and have all office calls not only ring at my office desk, but also ring my cell phone at the same time. Since I am still driving into work, I pick the call up on the cell phone, but the person calling me only sees my office number and not my cell phone number. When I reach the office, with a couple of key strokes I can pick the call up on my desk phone. This application should also allow me to call others on any phone I choose, but when the call is received it only shows my office phone number as the calling party. This concept of only giving out one number but having the freedom to have other devices dialed at the same time is quite new to UC.
Instant Messaging is the ability for employees to get quick answers for their questions using text chat. It should also give them the ability to raise the IM chat into an actual phone call by using the same IM software acting as a soft phone device, or by sending a call control request to their office phone to take it off hook and automatically dial the number. Most manufacturers are making their IM client not only function as a text chat platform, but also include soft phone component as well.
Soft Phone is an application that appears to be a phone device on the PC itself. This is a very popular item with mobile IT and sales personnel who tend to travel to multiple locations and want to carry their office with them.
Audio/Video Conferencing is now becoming a “must have” in most corporations. Conferencing deals with having three or more people talking and also sharing presentations (like PowerPoint slides) within a web browser session. Another popular add-on to this would be streaming video so you can actually see the presenter in action.
Applications on the Phone is becoming a very popular feature, especially for conference rooms. With this, a wall phone would display a room conference schedule notifying everyone when a room is supposed to be utilized for official meetings, or the phones could control the conference room lights, projectors, and even the window blinds. My personal favorite is having stock quotes come up on the phone when it has been idle for a period of time.
The last, but most important, UC pillar is Presence located at the heart or center of it all. Presence is defined as the willingness of employees to communicate and the means in which that communication should take place. So, if an employee goes to lunch for 30 minutes but will be available on their cell phone, they would create a presence notification to be displayed on all communication devices that they are at lunch and are reachable by another means.
When you are shopping for a Unified Communications solution, make sure that the vendor you choose can deliver on all the pillars discussed above and can easily handle an expansion when your business starts growing.
Author: Joe Parlas