Right now there are many ways in which people can communicate with you, such as via your desktop phone, fax, mobile phone, SMS, email, instant messaging and video conferencing. Keeping on top of them all can be quite a challenge in the 24/7 business world where people expect an instant response. When you're drowning in the din of phones, computers and fax machines, the thought of unifying them all can sound very appealing.
At its simplest, Unified Communications aims to integrate all of your various communications channels into one seamless experience. It's the convenience of checking your email from your phone, your phone messages from your computer or your faxes over the web. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Unified Communications doesn't just unite your communications streams, it can unite your actual devices as well. For example, it can connect your desktop phone to your desktop computer, allowing you to click a number on your screen and have your phone dial that number. You can also have incoming calls diverted to your mobile phone or another device, or voicemail converted to an audio file and emailed to you.
Tight integration with your calendar, as well as presence details, can allow incoming communications to be diverted according to your current status. For example, when you're in a meeting, calls can be sent directly to voicemail with a custom message telling people when you'll be back at your desk. If it's an urgent call from a customer, the call can be automatically routed to the next available person in your team - wherever they are in the world.
Mobility is often a key component of a Unified Communications. Incoming calls to your office phone can be diverted to your mobile when you're away from your desk. If you're within range of a wireless network, the call can even travel over that network rather than the mobile phone network - offering the potential to slash your phone bill.
Unified Communications also ties in with another of the other great Work 2.0 catch phrases - collaboration. Once all your communications tools are tied together it becomes easier to collaborate with others via various methods, such as voice conferencing whilst using a whiteboard on a shared desktop and switching between voice and text messaging.