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Realising the potential of unified communications: you'll never get there without integration

According to Gartner, Unified Communications (UC) products including equipment, software and services are “those that facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods”. This can include control, management and integration of these methods. UC products integrate communications channels (media), networks and systems, as well as IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.”

Nexon /
Unified Communications

Much of today’s UC technology has been around for some time but until recently, it has appeared to be a solution looking for a problem. Vendors tell us bringing together communications and applications will change the way we do things, improve communication and foster cooperation. It will save us time, remove delays and stop duplicate effort. Often, UC is mentioned in the same breath as “collaboration” and we are all assured it will deliver better outcomes for businesses.

But for many organisations, the reality of UC has fallen short of its promise. Most of us still rely on at least two phone numbers (the office land line and the mobile, and sometimes three, the home land line). When a customer or a colleague can’t contact you, they leave messages on every number they can think of as well as sending an email, a text or an instant message (IM). So much for speeding communication and removing duplicate effort.

Most frequently, the failure to achieve anticipated benefits occurs when there is a lack of integration. UC is capable of many things but there’s far more to it than simply deploying a voice over IP telephony system or introducing tools such as IM, presence and video. As Gartner’s definition makes it clear, UC is based on integration. It requires communications, networks and systems that work together to share content and data in a way that improves business processes and outcomes.

The UC tool set:
The common components of a UC solution include IM, IP telephony, video, presence, web conferencing, directories, an integrated calendar and email. Frequently, there will also be some legacy applications. These are all separate systems that may be deployed on premise or delivered via the cloud. They can work on their own but when integrated, create a solution that is bigger and better than the sum of its parts.

Think of the time savings that come from the ability to see whether someone is at their desk before calling them. Or the customer service benefits of being able to automatically identify the right subject matter expert, and to then forward a call to that person whether they are in the office or off site. In addition, the administrative benefits of being able to bring together multiple parties for a web conference without days spent agonising over everyone’s diaries. It’s the interaction between telephony, presence, meeting requests, calendars and all the other components of UC that drive ROI (return on investment).

Designing for success:
Before you start designing a UC solution, it’s necessary to analyse the current communication processes. You need to understand how conversations and data flow within and out of the organisation, so that you can identify ways of improving the flow and design new processes using UC functionality.

The best results come when organisations use a blend of internal and external expertise, bringing together staff with the knowledge of current processes, and external UC professionals with the knowledge of UC’s best practices and experience in process development.
A professional consultancy will also provide the technical expertise necessary to install, configure, integrate and customise your UC tools. It will offer training and support to help your organisation as it undergoes the culture change that inevitably comes with a UC deployment. It will also be there to tweak the configuration, adapt systems and work with you to ensure adoption of the new tool is set.

The ROI:
Quantifying the value of process and communication improvements is difficult, but there are other avenues for calculating the ROI of a UC deployment. IP telephony can dramatically reduce an organisation’s communication costs and extend the life of the PBX. Tools such as instant messaging are not only efficient, they are cheaper than voice calls. Video conferencing will significantly reduce travel costs. Video calls make it possible to maintain close customer contact while reducing the need for sales reps or other staff to leave the office. Video can also cut training costs yet still improve training accessibility.

The bottom line benefits are real but they rely on systems that work together and processes that are efficient, effective and workable. To achieve the potential, integration is essential.