What Is Unified Communications?
Ok, let’s start with the most obvious question…
Well, put very simply, Unified Communications (UC) is a term that is used to describe a technology that allows for the streamlining of all communications that a company or individual might use – that is, telephone, text, email, instant messaging, video calls, faxes, voicemail, etc.
Once upon a time, all we had to worry about was telecommunications. But now the list of our communication methods has extended, and we need a term that encompasses all forms of communication – from texting to internet conferencing. However, importantly – to save any confusion – Unified Communications is not an all-encompassing metonymic term for communications technologies of any type, anywhere in the world, but rather IT refers to particular sets of communications that are unified or linked together over a single network.
A Little History
The term was first coined by the consultant and writer Art Rosenberg in 2000. He intends the term to describe;
“technology that enables the streamlining of all communication systems – texts, emails, voicemail, telecommunications, faxes – so that any particular communication can be rerouted directly to the user wherever they happen to be, via whatever communications device they happen to have to hand.”
In the most part, UC is used for business. The purpose of IT is to increase user productivity and optimize business processes. This works by creating a system whereby all of a user’s means to communicate (i.e. every communication function that they will use on their smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops) are amalgamated for the purposes of more efficient communications.
Unified Communications has become a necessity for businesses over recent years. As technologies have progressed, and businesses evolved, more and more organisations have become ‘virtual’.
What does this mean?
Well, no longer are employees of a company confined to a single space to do their work – that is to say, that their jobs don’t necessarily require them to be glued to an office chair behind a desk either at home or in the office building. Many sales reps, for instance, will be out in the field all day long, business brokers will often convene with partners or clients over lunch in a restaurant, and some companies even run their businesses absolutely decentralised and completely in the virtual space where even the receptionist is remote.
This sort of thing is of course perfectly actionable these days with internet access being as ubiquitous as IT is, and mobile devices being as powerful as they are.
However, just because this superior level of interconnectivity and communication is possible, IT doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily efficient – and that’s where Unified Comms comes in.
Unifying The Virtual Business Space
A lot of a company’s communications – emails, texts, voicemails etc. – will often be very effective. However, because all of these communications are not sufficiently integrated with one another, although they are effective in isolation, they are not necessarily efficient, and this can impact the bottom line of a business.
Typically, companies will often use various different hardware and software systems for their phones, their emails, their video conferencing, their instant messaging, their fax etc. Needless to say, this can all prove to be rather inefficient, as there are multiple means of reaching the end user, yet none are connected or by any means prioritised.
Indeed, you may well have noticed this inefficiency in your own office. How many times have you sent an urgent email to a colleague, only to find out three days later that said colleague is on holiday for the next 2 weeks?
Unified Communications provides the solution to such problems, and many more besides, by unifying all communication systems into a single service fully integrated setup, using only minimal hardware yet quite an advanced technological architecture.
At the heart of Unified Communications is the concept of ‘presence’.
What does this mean?
Well, put simply, ‘presence’ is the indicator of a user’s availability to communicate, and, more importantly, via which medium the user is at disposal to make the communication.
If you think about the indicators on your favourite instant messaging service that tell you whether or not a particular user is on or offline – i.e. available or not – the idea behind presence is that this information is presented on a much larger scale.
Presence doesn’t only indicate a user’s availability, but also the extent of their capability to communicate. So, indicators on UC show whether a particular user is available for a phone call, a video call, or just text or email only, for instant messaging, and on which device they are currently available. What is more, with location technology enabled, a user’s exact location can be pinpointed should the desire for a good old fashioned face-to-face meeting emerge.
Single Number Reach
Unified Comms also contracts all means of contact into a single piece of information – typically a phone number. This, of course, is a very attractive feature, especially for companies who have more than, say, 30 employees.
If each employee has a separate email address, mobile number, Skype account, instant messenger username and fax number, then there is essentially 5 different pieces of contact information per user that must be scrawled through in order to try and make the communication.
But, with single number reach, there is a single access point – your phone number – and the technology will transpose the communication information directly into which means you make yourself available. This means there is less time wasted trying to initiate communications with absent users, and, spread out over, say, a 12-month period and covering your whole workforce, the impact on efficiency and productivity will be significant – and your communications bills will be reduced into a single invoice as well, making the financial team’s job a lot easier to boot.
Does your company use Unified Communications? Let us know in the comments below.