Unified Communications (UC) is by no means a new concept. In fact, it’s become a much-touted phrase, with analysts and IT vendors reporting on the benefits offered by an integrated, real-time communications service.
Put simply, UC is a communications platform that connects users across a wide range of channels (e.g. email mobile, instant messenger), devices (e.g. desk phone, smartphone, PC), and locations. But what does UC actually mean in the real world of business? Can it really offer a unified approach to organisation-wide communication that delivers value back to the organisation?
UC: why the time is right now for SMEs
The reality is that for most organisations, teams are far from optimally connected. However, it’s highly likely that your business is already using some or all of the technologies brought together by Unified Communications platforms, just in disparate forms. And that offers a lot of potential.
A number of market dynamics are now working together, providing the ideal ecosystem for UC to thrive. These dynamics are highlighting to businesses the need to find a way for employees to collaborate and communicate with ease, from any location, and any device:
- Changing working practices – the way we work is evolving rapidly, with flexible working, home offices and dispersed offices and locations changing the way we communicate and collaborate
- Consumerisation of IT – consumer demand for the latest mobile devices, applications and technologies is bleeding into the workplace and the adoption of new devices for personal use is making the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) culture ever more prevalent
- The global marketplace – economic austerity, against a backdrop of growing competition, is motivating businesses to find sustainable ways to expand and operate on an international basis
- Mobility - The number of mobile workers globally is approaching the one billion mark and investment in mobile enterprise applications is increasing by around 23 per cent, year-on-year
- Data explosion – today’s enterprise places voracious demand on bandwidth with data-rich services such as video growing in popularity as a means of communication
UC: the business case
For businesses, the market dynamics and workplace ecosystem offer a compelling case for the adoption of unified communications, providing a way to improve employee productivity and ensure a platform for business growth:
1. Access anywhere. Because UC operates across all communications devices, users enjoy unprecedented access to the system from any device and any location.
2. Streamlined communication. By integrating all communication channels, such as email, voice and instant messaging, businesses can provide employees with a cohesive communications experience that is simple to use.
3. Enhanced productivity. UC is the big collaboration facilitator, enabling users to know when co-workers are available (through presence) and integrate co-workers into calls or messaging sessions with ease. The need for travel between sites is greatly reduced and employees can work from any location as if they were in the office.
4. Cost savings. Investment in unified communications solutions can result in long-term reductions in IT and business costs. These economies do not just apply to hardware, software and components. With data and communications running through a central platform, maintenance costs can be reduced and higher levels of efficiency achieved without additional investments in peripheral services.
5. A next generation communications infrastructure. Unified communications provides a long-term solution that protects the interests of an ever-expanding business. With a unified communications network, it is possible to drive efficiency alongside expansion, allowing businesses to invest in new projects and operations without sacrificing quality of service.
SMEs face a number of challenges as they move towards a new age of communications, networking and mobile capabilities. Changes in working practices, the consumerisation of IT devices and the global workplace dynamic are all driving businesses to consider their strategies and the next generation communications networks they need to underpin these.
These changing market dynamics are not without their challenges, particularly for the IT department, which must deliver the network infrastructure and new technologies that the business is demanding, securely and effectively. But for businesses, developments such as flexible working and technologies that facilitate real-time communication offer a compelling case for adoption, promising cost-saving benefits, improvements in employee productivity and a platform for business growth.
By Max Meiklejohn, head of product innovation, Freedom Communications