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Unified communications: An instrument for enterprise evolution

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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For enterprises, change is as frightening as it is necessary. Very few businesses strive by fighting against the changing attitudes, technologies and challenges that each passing year brings. We all know that it is the companies that evolve and adapt to trends that not only live to fight another day, but grow stronger in doing so.

Change within enterprises is no longer limited to technologies, either. Sure, computers seem to get smaller and shinier while mobile phones get larger and faster, but these changes pale in comparison to the difference in the traditional work environment. Disparate work forces are becoming increasingly prevalent in business: in many cases, employees find themselves working remotely or travelling on business more often than they are at their desks.

For the last few years unified communications has been hailed as the next great problem solver. Mobile workforce? It’ll join them all together in glorious harmony. Customer communication issues? Fear not – unified communications will ensure a coming-together of such mutual convenience that all those involved will be taken aback by the sense of convivial bliss.

Look past the hyperbole, though, and there are many truths in the enthusiasm around unified communications. It can help to connect a disparate workforce, and, provided you choose the right solution, can also help you to minimise communication by providing the customer with the right person to speak to. That said, as with any trend, unified communications has its challenges.

Perhaps the most widely touted issue with cloud-based unified communications is the fear that the telephony will suffer. To flog an already quite poorly horse, one must adapt to changing times, however, it is important not to leave behind that which came before. Instant messenger (IM) and email are perhaps more quickly turned-to than picking up the phone – but this doesn’t mean one should neglect telephony. Conference calls are certainly not a thing of the past – and as anyone who has sat through a call where the quality has been dubious at best, and downright atrocious at worst can testify – voice quality is important.

There have been even more serious allegations tossed in the direction of unified communications, the most startling of which came in 2011 – when it was claimed that unified communications could cause behavioural problems amongst workers. It was alleged that the ability to instantly communicate with co-workers and customers can become distracting if users aren’t properly trained. Researchers from the University of California found that interrupted office workers took, on average, 25 minutes to return to their original task. Such issues seem surprising for a trend

once forecast for a worth of $2.3 billion (£1.4 billion) by 2016

, and one that is already being utilised by such companies as Deutsche Telekom.

However, by taking a closer look it is easy to see how such issues can be addressed. In some instances voice can be compromised – such as while using public Internet to carry the call. However, it will hardly equate to the sound of bellowing into a well and the main factor that determines call quality is the data network on which it runs. By using the right solution, this can be totally avoided. The assertion that unified communications can cause behavioural problems also seems easily fixable. An important addendum was added when reporting this fact – it can become distracting if users aren’t properly trained. Any intelligent organisation would offer extensive training with the introduction of a new solution. An organisation that does not provide proper training cannot truly express surprise when a new system is put in place and causes problems for workers.

The positives of unified communications are perhaps more widely known. As well as the benefits listed above, video conferencing also offers an appealing prospect to enterprises, as it offers the ability for off-site employees, clients or customers to easily attend meetings they would otherwise miss. Many companies, from China Telekom to Vodafone, have already benefitted from such solutions.

While such benefits are common knowledge to most people with a passing interest in unified communications, there are several other, more tangible boosts that it has provided. A multinational technology company

recently announced findings

that by using a unified communications solution in a hospital, it could save nurses two hours of time each day. These are two hours that can be used for patient care.

It is often the case that, as every new trend washes ashore, too many are too eager to pick it up and take it home regardless of the practicalities. Unified communications isn’t perfect – nothing is – but it can help your enterprise to improve internal and external communication, and most importantly, adapt to the changing tides of the mobile workforce. As anyone who has been left behind can attest – it’s better to roll with the punches than to be knocked to the ground.