Unified Communications (UC): What businesses need to know

Unified Communications (UC) refers to a technology whereby a number of different communication media or platforms are connected and accessed as if they were a single entity. In practical terms, this enables businesses to employ a less fragmented approach to communication, allowing them to access and manage their internal and outward comms more easily. The breadth of applications covered by Unified Communications is relatively wide and growing to accommodate new methods of interaction. UC may incorporate email, instant messaging, smartphones, landlines, fax and social media outlets. Unified Communications tools are also capable of handling both audio and video content, which is why they are increasingly being adopted by businesses located across a broad spectrum of industries.

In order for Unified Communications to work, all of a company’s communications must be in a digital format, so that it can be transported over a network connection. With instant messaging and emails, this means that UC will not have a major impact on the medium itself, as these were already processed digitally. However, telephone audio signals have traditionally been analogue, so switching to Unified Communications will have an impact on a company's telecoms infrastructure. With UC, traditional PBX phone lines are often replaced with VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) systems, which transmit telephone calls over an Internet connection. Although there are challenges for businesses to overcome before they successfully implement UC, those that do embrace the technology are able to experience a number of important business benefits.

Key business features

Unified Communications can make a huge difference to the productivity and reliability of a business and its employees. Rather than having to manually collate different strands of communication, UC lets staff seamlessly continue working across which ever medium they feel is most relevant. In addition, Unified Communications introduces a number of useful features.

  • Presence – Unified Communications brings some advanced telephony features into the workplace, one of which is Presence. This feature lets clients, customers and colleagues know when an employee is available and which particular communication channel they can be reached on. Staff can also use the comment system to inform the necessary people as to their availability. This makes contacting the right people a much simpler and efficient process. Reliable communication is vital for all businesses, with a recent survey indicating that 85 per cent of all missed calls do not ring back. Unified Communications, therefore, can help complete sales and improve customer retention.
  • Smarter phone systems – There are other UC telephony features that could prove useful for your business. Short-number dialling lets businesses working across a multitude of locations forego area codes and multi-device ringing makes it much more likely that employees will receive intended calls.
  • Scalable – Unified Communications are also easily scalable, particularly when compared to traditional communications infrastructure. All data is processed and stored using a single server so upgrading your communications hardware and software is a simple process should you need to expand or downsize.
  • Security – As mentioned previously, Unified Communications only uses digital data, which means that sensitive information can be easily encrypted. When combined with robust user authentication systems, this means that UC software can make communications much more secure.
  • Mobility – With UC employees can access their business communications wherever they are, providing they have an Internet connection and their user credentials. This means that staff can be more flexible, remaining productive even when out of the office. In fact, employees can seamlessly transition from one medium to another without disruption. Unified Communications, for example, lets employees start conversations on their work phone, before transitioning to their mobile, should they need to leave the office.

Before adopting Unified Communications, however, businesses should be aware of some potential hurdles. UC can place added strain on an organisations’ network infrastructure as a result of the increase in digital data. Companies should ensure they have the necessary bandwidth to accommodate all of their phone calls, for example, or they may experience a fall in quality. Similarly, because UC relies on an Internet connection, all of your communications will be disrupted in the event of an Internet outage. Previously, analogue phone calls would have continued to work even in the event of a blackout.

If businesses are not sure about whether or not to transition to Unified Communications, they may want to consider Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). This is where communications are outsourced to a third-party cloud provider. In exchange for a subscription fee, businesses will not have to worry about managing and updating their comms technology, because this will be handled by the UCaaS provider.

Future trends

It is difficult to know for sure what the future holds for the Unified Communications market, but some interesting trends are already in place. Firstly, the market is set for continued growth, with the industry expected to be worth $24.88 billion by 2020. Within this, the UCaaS market is expected to grow at a faster rate than the rest of the UC industry and many businesses will opt for a hybrid approach, managing some aspects of their communications in-house, while outsourcing others. Collaboration is also likely to become a bigger part of UC, with more features centring on internal correspondence.

Already, many businesses are reaping the rewards of Unified Communications. Bringing greater mobility, at a cost-effective price, UC is currently going from strength to strength. By enabling employees to work more efficiently in a world where more and more communication channels are opening up all the time, UC is brings structure to the workplace. Whether you opt for UCaaS or choose to manage your own infrastructure, there are plenty of benefits to be had for organisations willing to embrace Unified Communications.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Brian A Jackson