1. What is Unified Communications?
In its simplest terms, Unified communications, commonly shortened to ‘UC’ is an umbrella term for a range of technologies that either replace or supplement a company’s outdated phone system or PBX. The technology was made possible due to the advent of VoIP (low cost telephony via IP networks) and the proliferation of high speed connectivity such as super-fast broadband.
2. How does it work?
Although each vendor may have a slightly different definition dependent on their offering, in more broader terms UC aims to provide a single converged solution for communications between staff and customers. Unlike the old-fashioned PBX (private branch exchange) that was separate from the rest of a company’s IT, unified communications sits on the same network as all other office applications.
The fact that it is simply another piece of software means that you can take advantage of multi-media communications such as voice, IM (instant messaging) or video calling and video conferencing that can be extended to any location where there is an internet connection.
It also gives you the capability to integrate your communications with other systems such as finance. So for example if a customer calls in, all their relevant details will pop up from the accounts or CRM system and also customers can be directly forwarded to the appropriate department without the need for other colleagues to get involved. Overall this enhances services levels and personalisation for customers as well as boosting overall efficiencies with quicker processes and time-savings on transferring calls.
3. Enhanced Communications
There are myriad financial benefits dependent on what’s important to the business. For companies with mobile or remote workers they can extend the same level of communications enjoyed by their office counterparts including something called ‘presence’ that shows on-screen (through integration with the likes of Outlook), an employee’s status such as ‘engaged’, ‘in a meeting’ and so on.
The importance of presence information means that it’s easier to connect people and because this can also be displayed on a smartphone or tablet, there is less telephone tag and in many cases staff no longer need a deskphone at all, as they can log on with any device at any location.
4. Return on Investment (ROI)?
The more immediate ROI comes from the lower running costs. With a traditional phone system maintenance charges are typically higher as you need to call in an external engineer for any moves or changes. With UC, you no longer have to pay for BT lines and the system is supported as part of your overall IT network so is subsumed into existing costs or can be taken care of by a third party if you go for a cloud-based offering. Call charges are also reduced or free between different sites, particularly attractive for companies with multiple offices or with international operations.
For start-ups or organisations that may need more financial flexibility, a cloud-based UC solution is ideal because there is no upfront capital investment (frees up funds to be invested elsewhere), you don’t need any in-house IT resource and it’s also perfect for businesses that have no offices but want to maintain good communications between virtual and/or roaming staff.
5. Is UC suitable for any business?
UC is affordable to any business as it can be delivered as an on-premise solution (either bought outright or financed) or accessed via the cloud on a pay as you go basis. Beware though that some vendors’ cloud offerings may only offer basic functionality and don’t always include optional features such as conferencing and voice mail.
Swyx has just published a new free informative guide for SMEs on understanding the benefits of cloud-based UC. To download click here.