Unified Communications: What is it and what elements does it cover?

Like many other aspects of business management, companies are looking to converge their communication silos into one, simple to use interface or system.

The term used in the telecoms sector for this process is unified communications and covers a variety of products and services to help businesses, colleagues and customers stay in touch.

Whilst not a new concept, unified communications has been a key area of investment for companies during the adoption of cloud technologies. Now it is easier than ever for businesses to operate and manage a single system that controls all external and internal communication.

Telephony

Making and receiving calls is the bread and butter of any communications system and for years people were content with the sturdy desk phone. Skip forward a few decades and company-issued mobile phones were becoming popular as they gave staff the chance to make and receive calls on the move. The flexibility and increased productivity that came with staff working on the move was great; however, needing two or three mobile phones on you at anytime was becoming a stress point for individuals.

Enter BYOD, a trend commonly adopted in creative sectors, where companies encourage staff to use their personal devices to make and receive work calls, the cost for which would be reimbursed. This both solved problems and created new issues. Individuals that connect with suppliers, clients and other businesses on a daily basis aren’t keen to share the same number that their friends and family contact them on.

Luckily, all the positive elements of BYOD, mobile and deskphones can be combined into one device. Unified communications solutions such as softphones can be programmed so that a work number can automatically get redirected to a VoIP deskphone, personal mobile device or both. This allows individuals to retain the the flexibility of mobile, keep their personal number private and reduce the number of devices they need to keep with them.

Video calling

Another aspect of communications that is synonymous with modern business interactions is the ability to hold video meetings. Many companies use programs like Skype or Google Hangouts for first-round interviews to vet potential candidates, as well as regular contact with suppliers or clients. Being able to physically see another person when engaging with them helps to keep the all important personal touch, which in a digital age is essential to fostering relationships.

Video and audio conferencing

Traditionally companies used their fixed-line PBX system to host audio conference calls with external contacts. Each participant took up a different line on the PBX which limited the number of people that could join calls at any one time.

VoIP looked to solve these limitations using a digital exchange, providing space for potentially hundreds of participants. When these systems were first introduced, however, internet bandwidth varied hugely and as a result sound quality didn’t match up to the traditional dial-in system. Recent advances in fibre-optic broadband has meant that bandwidth issues no longer pose a problem.

Another form of conferencing used on an increasingly regular basis is video. Whether it’s international offices collaborating on a project, catching up with a mobile workforce or even external webinars, corporations are using video conferencing as a way to connect and engage with multiple people at the same time.

Collaboration 

When it comes to business communications, collaboration is very much the flavour of the month. Every man and his dog has access to at least a couple of cloud-based, instant messaging or file-sharing tools to help boost productivity and cut down on email. When used in the right way they can help teams to interact, review and work together to complete projects and tasks quicker and easier.

The ability to share content, work on documents at the same time as your colleagues or even just send a quick instant message has helped many companies to eliminate some of their process bottlenecks. It’s still early days for the trend but we’ve already helped companies integrate collaboration with the rest of their unified communications setup, allowing them to make calls or start video conferences directly from their collaboration software.

The Cloud

The Cloud has been a huge catalyst for the recent popularity of unified communications, helping turn what was an enormous systems integration job into a simpler migration process. Many companies already use cloud-based collaboration tools like Google Docs or Dropbox so connecting the rest of the dots is a more straightforward task for unified communications providers.

As well as aiding the migration process, the cloud has also eased the in-house management and operation of completely connected systems. Instead of having the number of your technician on speed dial, companies now have a management tool to fix any issues or add new users.

The cost of cloud-based software-as-a-service compared to traditional alternatives has also meant that unified communications is no longer just something for enterprise companies. Our customers are everything from individual contractors to multinational corporates and the user experience is the same for everyone.

The cloud has allowed unified communications suppliers to support the growth of businesses, as it is the most scalable and cost effective way to manage and operate a business communication system.

Monica Visconti-Patel, Director of EMEA and Marketing, RingCentral

Image source: Shutterstock/Brian A Jackson