Unified communications is essentially the strategy of treating allcommunications as data and processing them through the same network. Thus
landlines are replaced by VoIP communications, fax machines by electronic fax
gateways and answering services with a number which follows employees.
This typically generates a reduction in support costs, not only because
it means that only one set of infrastructure has to supported, but also because
it means that internal phone calls can be taken out of the public telephone
network and made for free over the corporate network. While costs benefits
always go down well, unified communications have numerous benefits which would
make the strategy valuable even if it carried a cost.
The next major benefit could be termed constant presence. To begin with,
even though unified communications allows for sophisticated call-handling
features, including the ability to access voicemail from diverse locations, it
helps to render them unnecessary by making it easier to connect with the
relevant person in the first place.
Although traditional landlines can manage a certain degree of call
forwarding, they require a specific number to be input as part of the process,
for example a landline could be forwarded to a mobile or to a specific phone in
another location. The problem comes when people are continually moving from
place to place. Call forwarding to mobiles can be both expensive and
inconvenient, as the quality of the call can be weak.
Call forwarding from one landline to another can be more effective in
terms of call quality, but more of a challenge in terms of logistics. The
person moving to another location has to know in advance what number they can
use. With unified communications, each employee has
their own number which follows them from place to place. They can either be
equipped with wireless phones or else just log in to any available desk phone
to work as usual.
Secondly all communication forms can be accessed across a variety of
devices. Unified communications is tailor-made for today’s world of smartphones
and tablets, as it essentially makes communications platform neutral. In other
words because all forms of communication are treated as data, they can be
accessed by all devices which can process data. Hence a tablet can pick up an
electronic fax as easily as it can pick up an electronic mail.
It also means that costs can be reduced still further by encouraging
staff to maximize their use of internet technologies in preference to
traditional voice and mobile data networks. For example, many smartphones now
support VoIP applications (such as Skype), which mean that users can make calls
for free (or at extremely attractive rates) anywhere they can pick up a Wi-Fi
connection. This can create substantial savings.
Constant connection and the cloud
Thirdly a result of these first two points is that it becomes easier for
staff to stay connected both to customers and to each other. Instead of having
to rely on established communications channels such as phone, e-mail and
personal visits, employees can use instant messengers for quick questions
needing urgent answers or video conferencing with customers and colleagues in
Unified communications also sits very well with the modern trend towards
cloud computing and a holistic approach towards service provision. It means
that communications systems can be integrated with other key systems, for
example CRM software.
This means, for example, that as soon as a customer contacts a call
centre, their details can be on screen ready for the agent. It also means that
agents calling out can do so with a mouse-click instead of having to look up
and dial a full telephone number into a standard phone. While these may seem
like trivial advantages, in high volume environments such as call-centres, each
of these few seconds saved can add up to a substantial improvement in service
at the end of a day
Even in lower-volume environments, streamlining communications has
multiple benefits. In addition to relieving staff of the annoyance of being
interrupted by fat-fingered dialling mistakes, it removes the frustration of
having to chase down employees via multiple channels (call to landline, call to
mobile, visit to desk, e-mail).
Using unified communications, staff can choose to dial one number and
have it route to that employee wherever they might be, or message them through
their channel of choice, knowing that the message can be picked up from
It can also be used to help encourage (potential) customers to make
contact with a company. Using traditional phones, customers surfing the net
have to find their landline or mobile (which they may already be using to
access the site meaning that they have to exit it to make the call), note down
the number and dial it. Experienced salespeople know that the more steps there
are between the customer and the sale, the harder it is to close it as the
customer can drop out at any point. Using unified communications, by contrast,
customers can click a call button from the website itself and speak directly to
a sales representative or support agent.
Security and liability
A final advantage of unified communications is that it gives
organisations full control over their security policies. Regardless of whether
or not an organisation can be held legally liable in the event of any
data-security breaches on the part of a third party working for them, no
organisation wants to have to tell employees or customers that their data could
have been compromised and no organisation wants to have to deal with the
reputational damage that a data-security breach could cause.
All organisations should already have effective IT security policies in
place, which can simply be extended to cover the additional data traffic caused
by a move to unified communications. This is in sharp contrast to traditional
landline and mobile networks. It should also be noted that it is usually far
quicker and easier to implement changes to IP-based networks in line with
changing security needs (and regulatory requirements) than it is to implement
changes to large scale PBX telephone networks.
Businesses of all sizes
A 2012 survey found that 76% of
the business, government, healthcare and education organisations that had fully
implemented unified communications and tracked ROI saw huge rewards. However,
it’s not just large organisations that can benefit from the technology, it also
has plenty of advantages, monetary or otherwise to the SME.
This is because the feature of unified communications have become
accessible to businesses of all sizes, thanks to its widely available features.
SMEs can adopt as many or as few features as they like and as the technology is
fully scalable, it means that the UC package that they choose can grow with the
Preparing to implement unified
Whatever the size of the business, preparation is key to the success of
implementation, as it is with most aspects of business. Firstly, it’s necessary
to envisage what impact it will have on the company and its customers and how
communication will be improved.
Auditing – look at what
applications you currently use and decide if they can be integrated or upgraded
Vendors – the market is
growing and adapting quickly, so look for newer but trusted technologies and
ask vendors to explain just what it can do for you. Can you get everything you
need from one vendor, or will you have to use several? If the latter is the
case, are the applications on offer interoperable?
Security – especially
important if you keep customer records, make sure that the UC solution
addresses this, especially with regard to employees working outside of the
it’s true that there are some vendors that supply interoperable applications,
this is something that is becoming more complex rather than less. With this in
mind, it’s really better if you can go through one vendor that supplies all of
the products and services that you need, rather than several, as this can get
if you really must use more than one vendor, then consider also using a MSP
(Managed Service Provider). These are companies that offer IT services such as
VoIP, VPNs, managed firewalls and network servers and can reduce the costs
associated with hardware and software.
perfect for SMEs as they can manage a range of technology services, often at a
fraction of the cost of installing an onsite network.
communication and the cloud have all conspired to ensure that today’s IT
infrastructures are powerful and cost-effective whilst offering unrivalled
communications that increase productivity across the board, make for a happier
and flexible workforce and increase company profitability.
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