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Unified communications

A CEO’s Guide to Unified Communications

For businesses undergoing digital transformation unified communications is nothing short of essential.

Unified communications, or UC, combines all the ways a business communicates into one streamlined solution.

It enables employees to work more efficiently and intuitively by empowering them to communicate via their preferred communications channel, anywhere, anytime.

Unified Communications Explained

In the modern workplace, there’s no end to the communication channels and technologies available to employees:

  • Voice (fixed-line telephony, mobile, VoIP)
  • Audio and video conferencing
  • Messaging
  • IM and presence
  • Email, and
  • Social media.

UC blurs the lines between the communication channels giving employees access to information at their fingertips, anytime, anyplace, and on any device.

What this looks like in practice is a standardised, efficient, and fluid user experience. So, when an employee receives a voicemail message, they can choose to access it through email or any phone. They can see the sender’s online through presence information, and if appropriate, they can send a response immediately through chat message or video call.

UC can involve a single solution from a single supplier, or an integrated solution combining multiple services to work in harmony. 

Unified Communications Benefits

Look at how things get done in your organisation. Want to help your people become more productive? How about reducing business costs? What about improving the customer experience?

Look at your communication tools. Do you rely on multiple applications from different vendors that often duplicate tasks and waste time?

Giving you many opportunities to transform business operations, unified communications benefits the entire enterprise. Using unified communications, your people will be able to access a wide range of modern communications applications that all work together with ease.

Deploying a UC platform across your organisation will allow your people to use all its features and applications under one central management environment, eliminating set-up time and reducing the IT headache of managing multiple individual applications. Reducing third party applications in your network will also reduce security threats.

While UC is not a one-size-fits-all technology, unified communications does have the following universal benefits:

1

Increased productivity

Simplifying common communications tasks results in significant productivity increases. This major benefit of unified communications plays out across the enterprise when employees effortlessly begin an interaction with someone on IM, then switch into a phone call, bring in a third person on a conference and effortlessly share a document. With such ease of communication, it stands to reason that your people will be more productive.

Unified communications solutions minimise time wasted on waiting for call backs and emails. By facilitating better and easier communication among team members, UC improves the efficiency and speed with which tasks get done, while providing the opportunity for multi-tasking when it makes sense.

3

Enhanced customer experience

Another notable benefit of UC is the ability to enhance customer experience. By taking advantage of UC in your business, your team will be able to communicate with customers regardless of the platform.

Unlike legacy communication systems, unified communications enable customer experiences which are seamless and personalised. Your people will be able to communicate with their customers through voice, text, video, etc – whatever the customer prefers.

In addition, the ability to click-to-communicate rather than play traditional telephone tag, or get tied up in lengthy email chains, will help you better serve customer needs. 

2

Reduced costs

With increased mobility, collaboration, productivity, and uptime, UC can reduce business costs in a number of significant ways. These days, many employees expect flexible working arrangements. So, in terms of supporting mobility with a UC solution, firms can expect to see significant reduction in employee absenteeism, and improved employee retention.

When it comes to online collaboration, UC can help to reduce the amount of time wasted on telephone tag and pinging emails back and forth. Bringing together all of the tools your employees need to keep in touch – such as voice communication, video calling, instant messaging, web conferencing and so on – allows them to be more efficient and effective in their roles.

Of course, moving to UC helps reduce the overhead associated with maintaining disparate legacy systems, and freeing up the IT team to concentrate on higher-value activities. With cloud-based UC, the software and network maintenance is handled for them. 

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8 Key Unified Communications Features

UC systems are made up of many different critical features and components. Everyone in your organisation should be able to benefit from the solution you deploy with access to tools such as video conferencing, presence management, screen sharing, and chat on their preferred mobile device or desktop. Here are 8 unified communications features that are essential to any thriving business.

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Presence and instant messaging

Helping individuals to manage their availability, UC enables your people to make better communication decisions and help optimise your time and improve your productivity in doing so. With real-time notifications, knowledge of when a user is available or unavailable, and fast, effective ways to communicate with both your employees and clients, you can choose the most appropriate communication medium. 

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Unified Messaging

Another important feature of unified communications, unified messaging allows users to retrieve all messages from their preferred interface, whether it’s through email, the UC platform or over the phone. Employees can see their messages and prioritise which ones they will listen to first.

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Call Management

UC offers various sophisticated call management features that enhance business communications which are all accessible from a single location. These include:

  • Click-to-dial
  • Direct call routing and forwarding
  • Call recording
  • Call logging, and
  • Missed call notifications.
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Desktop Sharing

With desktop sharing tools, your people can share their desktop content with other devices. This allows users to access their desktop content from any geographical location and through any computer. It’s a feature that comes in super handy when using video conferencing solutions. 

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Web-conferencing

With integrated audio, video and web conferencing, these unified communications features serve as the cornerstone of modern communication and collaboration. You can view presentations and receive updates in real time while conferencing with colleagues from just about anywhere.

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Mobility

Supporting today’s mobile workers, UC enables users to access features on any device and from any location. With access to real-time communications and core systems, UC makes it easy for employees to work from any location, helping them to be more productive, and more decisive.

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Speech Access and Virtual Assistants

You can use virtual assistants to provide intelligent screening and filtering of messages, while helping you to navigate your schedule, contacts and calendar. In doing so, organisation and admin tasks are much easier on both you and your employees.

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Softphones

The softphone feature enables employees to use their desktop or laptop computer as an extension of their phone and leverage their complete office setup on any computer, wherever they are.

Unified Communications Future Trends

 

UC becomes cloud-first

As businesses expand across geographies, more employees are required to communicate across continents and time zones. In the past, businesses had to roll out on-premises-based telephony and messaging servers to meet these needs. Now, adopting cloud-based solutions makes it easier to enable unified communications across disparate locations.
Confirming this trend, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant report for Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) from October 2018 found that 90% of IT executives will stop investing in new on-premises UC infrastructure by 2021.

Increased integration of artificial intelligence

AI is being used to improve collaboration efficiency by automating workflows and processes. The integration of AI with UC tools also promises to deliver enhanced in-call services like transcription, and boost security and authentication. AI can also improve self-service in the contact centre by creating a more natural conversational experience for customers. 

Video used widely beyond conferencing 

Streaming video is growing in use as a collaboration tool, now used as a reliable and practical tool for distributing information both internally and externally. From training videos to how-to tips and manuals, the video platform is universal and useful for multiple audiences.

 

IoT increases collaboration

With IoT making its way into business operations, the unified communications platform provides the means to help share and make sense of the information. The trend to integrate IoT with UC will enable a seamless flow of information, data, and intelligence between the devices.

What is Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)?

Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is an enterprise service method for streamlining all communications via cloud-based software services. UCaaS provides the same features and functions  as a premise-based system, but in a cloud-based delivery model. It allows enterprises to be flexible with IT resources and spending.

As a hosted service, UCaaS provides high levels of availability, flexibility and scalability. You get to avoid major capital spending costs by avoiding the need to buy IT infrastructure and you minimise operational costs because you don’t need to assign a full IT team to manage it.

With UCaaS as an operating expense, you pay an ongoing fee, and can account for service costs directly to specific business units.

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4 Unified Communications Implementation Best Practices

The benefits of a UC strategy vary from business to business, depending on specific communication needs. As part of your planning process, it’s essential to assess your organisation’s capacity to embrace new ways of working

1

Assess users and communications’ needs

If you run a business which is fragmented with multiple offices and remote workers, your business may be using multiple tools and point solutions. The first step to a successful Unified Communications implementation is to have your IT team assess your users’ business requirements and their communication needs. It’s important to know what tools they currently use for conferencing, video, messaging and voice, and when those contracts are up for renewal.

3

Assess cloud solutions

While UC solutions have long been delivered on-premises, there’s a strong trend to the cloud. Cloud services offer your users access from anywhere with single sign-on and free up your IT team from ongoing management and maintenance.

 

2

Establish your network up to the task

Voice communication is business-critical, it requires high-availability and resilience. Integrated voice, messaging and conferencing is likely to be more network-intensive than your existing systems. Before any decision is made on technology, your IT team needs to conduct a full network assessment to ensure your network will be able to handle the increased activity.

 

4

Develop your data security strategy

It’s important to take a proactive approach for your UC security strategy. Ensure it includes:

  • Monitoring
  • Audits
  • Encryption
  • Penetration testing
  • Patching, and
  • Firewalls or application gateways capable of recognising UC traffic.

Also consider compliance and regulatory requirements in terms of your information governance policies. Investigate tools and services which enable you to secure and archive instant messaging data. 

Making the business case for unified communications

In our always on, always connected world, it’s important for companies to keep up with the growing demands of modern business and maintain a competitive advantage.

The ability to be agile and adapt to an ever-changing business climate is key to business success.  In this world, integrating many various means of communication – voice, audio, emails, texts, and video – under one umbrella is no longer considered just a nice to have. It’s key to competitive.

Implementing a UC strategy will consolidate your communications functions, ensuring they work seamlessly from desktop or mobile devices. These days, this is just as important for enabling workplace flexibility as it is to the business bottom line.

 

Greater Efficiencies

Connecting your people in a single collaborative platform increases efficiency and creates more effective communication between team members.  Remote employees can easily be involved in real-time discussions.  

Unified communications allow all team members to have access to the documents and files they need. They can collaborate on projects with improved file sharing and other collaboration tools whether they are:

  • In the office
  • In the field
  • Working remotely
  • In transit, or
  • Working from home.

 

Flexibility

Ensuring work can continue despite severe weather events or major traffic gridlock is an ongoing challenge for all businesses. With UC, your people can meet, message, and make calls from home or in transit as easily as if they were in the office.

Of course, offering increased flexibility and allowing your employees to work remotely can also promote a better work life balance among your employees, and in doing so, help you retain quality talent.

 

Business agility

Unified Communications delivers the very latest communication and collaboration technology, ensuring your business can offer the communications tools your people expect in the digital age.

Consolidating multiple communications tools into one user-friendly platform allows for faster integration when the business expands.

 

Improved Response Times

Helping your team reach the right person at the right time without leaving voicemails, and writing emails helps get jobs done more efficiently and frees up your people to take on more tasks.

With unified communications, all the information your people need is accessible regardless of where they are which is a boon for business productivity and responsiveness. Employees can pick the best method for contacting co-workers before starting contact. Instead of calling and leaving a voicemail, they can check availability and connect by voice or video conference, chat, or text.

 

Reduced carrier communication expenses

Long distance voice charges using a traditional carrier quickly add up. Using a unified communications solution, your business will reduce calling costs, and by treating voice calls as data, your long distance and international calling rates will drop dramatically.

At the same time, by implementing a standardised set of communication tools within your business, you will effectively cut the costs of unnecessary licences. Plus, consolidating your communication tools with a single carrier will help your business achieve faster, simpler troubleshooting.

 

Reduced up-front capital costs

When implementing cloud-based UC services you minimise or eliminate capital expenditure and the cost of installation, maintenance and management. UCaaS also reduces your need to maintain internal telecom specialists or outsource your technology support.

With UCaaS, the burden of equipment costs, maintenance, security and support are taken care of by the UCaaS provider, freeing up your team to focus on higher value tasks.

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