What is Unified Communications?:
Unified Communications (UC) is an integrated group of communications and collaboration tools, wrapped up in an accessible User eXperience (UX) – which can include;
- voice calls (VoIP)
- comprehensive contact centre facilities
- voice & video conferencing
- instant (text) messaging
- real-time status & presence
- screen & file sharing
- integration with company ERM/CRM systems
- [plus more!]
UC brings these tools together into a streamlined user interface to make them easy to access, and to improve productivity. A user may switch from communications to collaboration within a single call to a colleague or customer. For example, what might start as communication (a phone call), can easily be upgraded to a video conference and include collaboration in the form of a screen share to allow input to an active project from all participants. All of this may take place on desktop computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones.
Unified Communications systems may be deployed as ‘on premises’ solutions (i.e. your own server), or more commonly as a Cloud-based service – also called ‘UC as a Service’ (abbreviated to UCaaS). Most UC systems are now using WebRTC allowing UC services to be accessed using standard Web browsers – like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge – rather than proprietary stand-alone applications.
UC provides a ‘toolbox’ to increase productivity. It allows a company to put together all-encompassing strategies to connect & work with its suppliers and customers (external) and collaboration amongst its own departments and staff (internal).
Components within the UC toolbox will enable;
- reduced travel & travel costs (improving your ‘Green’ credentials)
- staff to be more effective & efficient in working with customers
- staff to be flexible in their roles
- staff to be less isolated and more engaged with their co-workers
UC benefits will also be seen by an organisation’s customers. Companies integrating their UCaaS with social media, websites or call centres can directly engage with their customers to boost client satisfaction due to their problems being solved and questions being answered – faster and easier.
Communication v’s Collaboration:
A VoIP phone will – for example – allow two parties to chat and cooperate. However, their communication isn’t usually collaborative as it results in actions that take place after & outside of the call.
Collaboration involves working together toward a shared result. For example – if a group of Engineers ‘meet’ in a video conference to discuss an issue – they are communicating. But when they share access to a document, presentation or whiteboard where each Engineer can make changes that all can see – then they are collaborating.
Knowing the difference between communicating and collaborating will allow you to get value from your choice of Unified Communications system.
Choosing a UC platform for your business:
When you consider a UC solution, your decision should be based on the following;
- The range of UC services provided by the platform. Some vendors might offer e.g. telephony, instant messaging and conferencing – while others may be comprehensive and provide additional services such as call recording, video and screen & file sharing. Vendors may provide these services as a bundle, or allow you to pick what you need for your business (and will price accordingly).
- Different vendors are specialised in different aspects of UC. Some may be focused on VoIP phones and call centre features. Others may offer more in the way of mobility and collaboration.
- Companies can choose between on-premises UC solutions, cloud-based UCaaS, or a hybrid mix of both. This is usually dictated by cost and the ability (or not) to support an on-site solution.
- With the proliferation of API’s to connect a UC platform to other CRM, ERM etc. vendors, Interoperability becomes significant and you’ll need to check if your systems can be configured to ‘talk’ to each other.
- User experience and access is a key feature. Adoption of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) and the use of mobile devices that are being changed out regularly, mean that the user interface through desk PC’s, laptops, tablets and mobile phones should be considered from both an access point of view, and ease of deployment.
The Future of UC?:
The UC market is going through a period of significant transformation, particularly when it comes to UC’s migration to the cloud and the growing dominance of UCaaS over purely on-premises installs. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically hastened this shift by forcing a large percentage of the workforce to work remotely. According to a Metrigy survey, the percentage of organisations using UCaaS increased by 79% between 2019 and 2020, with more than 60% of organisations speeding up their adoption plans.
Going forward, as employees return to the office, it’s clear they must have the ability to communicate from anywhere at a moment’s notice. Many experts also expect enterprises to permanently embrace a hybrid work model, with a mix of in-office and remote employees. These factors make cloud-based UC technology attractive and, in many cases, necessary.
Contact us here at Foxhall Solutions to talk about putting communications & collaboration strategies in place with your suppliers and customers – and workforce.