What is Unified Communications, and Why Should You Care?

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what is unified communications

Unified communications. It’s a technical phrase you have probably seen around at some point in the past decade. But do you know what that really means, and why it’s important?

There are a wide assortment of definitions of this phrase depending on whether you are talking to an end user, a sales professional or an engineer.

Let’s focus on the most important aspect of the term unified communications, namely, the end result.

The term was coined by consultant Art Rosenberg around the year 2000 in an effort to describe technology that enabled messages and data to be rerouted to reach the recipient as quickly as possible. Simply put, how do we — in real time — get all messages to a user, wherever they may be?

Mobility is a key element.

So the end result — unified communications or UC, an acronym it is known by — refers to the method by which messages from a variety of sources can be brought to a single source for the end user to access.

Features can allow for one number to be assigned to a person’s mobile device, home office or other locations, and have calls follow the person or push/pull between devices without having to disconnect and then reconnect the call.

Another feature, known as voicemail-to-email, allows voice messages to reach managers or employees when they’re away from the office or working remotely by sending an audio file of the voicemail (such as an MP3, MP4 or .wav file) to the recipient’s email. The recipient can then listen the voice via email without having to dial into voicemail. This makes it easy to forward a voicemail, for instance, because all you need to do is forward the email and its sound-file attachment.

Other unified communications software tools may include a downloadable client that enables click-to-dial and service management from within commonly used email client software or web browsers. It can even include tools which redirect calls to back-up numbers if there’s a power outage or network issues.

Why is Unified Communications Important?

Well it may not be as important to every business, or every person in your business … but it offers you something important. Unified communications is a way to get urgent information on the fly regardless of a specific scenario.

Lets take a look at two common business scenarios, and how unified communications can add to productivity, customer satisfaction, profitability and employee satisfaction.

First we’ll consider a sales person.

One snapshot in time has our salesperson, Mel, waiting on an important decision. He’s waiting on the sale of a $23,000 green widget. He received an email just an hour ago. The prospective client’s decision is imminent. But the client organization has a few additional questions. The client’s team is working on the list of questions and plan to call you “as soon as they are ready”.

Sounds like Mel may have a wonderful day. He just needs to answer a few questions and, boom, he may have a sale!

But, wait! Mel receives a phone call. It’s his wife Judy. Mel’s son got a serious cut to his finger and is screaming “bloody murder.” The babysitter is freaking out and Judy is stuck in an epic traffic jam – a 10-car pileup that may take hours to unravel.

Mel has to go home. NOW.

Mel is the star of the show on this particular widget. But his family has to take precedence. He’s torn, because he chooses his family obligations but feels like he has to neglect his business obligations and possibly let the work team down.

Or does he? What if he could handle both issues at the same time?

Let’s look at another situation, this time a network engineer named Bill.

Bill is the final authority on his business’s network. He needs to respond quickly to outages as his business network supports his company’s main product, a software that is downloaded from a server on the network Bill is responsible for.

But Bill cannot stand next to his server 24/7.

Now, what if that server could send an email that also could text his smartphone in case of an outage? Bill could be notified, even if he is watching TV or sitting out on his patio. Bill can be productive no matter where he is, and he feels liberated from his office. Unless and until there’s an outage, he’s free to enjoy his off time. And the company doesn’t have to pay for 24/7 coverage, for someone on the clock to be seated next to the server.

These are just two cases in which you can see the value of a unified communications system. UC systems can keep your people informed and in touch, even in emergency situations, and allow for remote work on an as-needed basis. Therefore, they can easily pay for themselves in the long run.

How Should I Choose a UC Provider?

A number of things should be taken into consideration when looking for the right provider:

  • Does the solution include a business class dedicated Internet connection?
  • Is the solution easily adaptable if our company needs change?
  • Is there a guarantee in Quality of Service (QoS)?
  • Does the vendor provide its own security solution to properly secure the network and devices, or will we need to seek additional security services?
  • What levels of cloud security does the vendor offer?
  • Will communications still be accessible in the event of an emergency or disaster?

With these points in mind you are ready for find a solution provider who can make sure that you get those important calls and messages regardless of the situation.

Global Communications Photo via Shutterstock

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