Unified Communications, as its name suggests, is a united communications capability covering telephony, conferencing, email, voicemail, instant messaging, video and collaboration across a variety of user interfaces and devices. It supports mobile employees by allowing them to use any approved device to access, activate and manage telephony, messaging and conferencing, Microsoft Outlook messaging, calendaring and tasks when in the office and on the road.
The result is more consistent, easier access to colleagues, resources and communications tools and a reduction in delays associated with trying to connect with key contacts. It enables employees to filter the level of contact that they receive, giving them more control over their workflow.
It also offers organisations a path to greater productivity. One immediate impact is the increased customer satisfaction that comes from easier and more responsive contact. In an era when business cards may contain three or more telephone numbers, simply telephoning an account representative can be immensely frustrating.
Unified Communications solves this by allocating a single business number for each employee. The single contact number also removes any need for customers to use personal employee numbers (such as for employee-owned mobiles), thus improving customer retention and ensuring continuity of the relationship via the organisation.
Ease of contact also means that workers are reachable anywhere through the corporate network, reducing external network costs.
Workflow is simplified with features such as a consolidated message box for employees combining email and all phone messages, plus via the consistent availability of directories and telephony features such as 'conference', 'hold' and 'forward'.
One of the more interesting functions is 'presence' or real-time information about a person's availability. Consider the reduction in wasted time when trying to reach colleagues with an immediate query and a system that knows to contact only those people presently available.
As with any ICT project, Unified Communications implementations benefit from a staged approach. Anyone considering such a project should think carefully about where to start. Which part of the business is the most straightforward and will gain immediate benefit? (Initial success helps smooth the way for future roll-outs). The other major requirements are: ensuring sufficient bandwidth; a clean data network; and a full network assessment.
Unified Communications offers organisations enormous flexibility in the management and location of its workforce, opening the way for employees to work from home and other remote locations. It improves productivity and smoothes customer communications.
Last year, The Yankee Group estimated that integrating different work and communication modes can improve information worker productivity by 15 to 20%. Currently, we are going through a phase of consolidating various technologies that exist in today's businesses. Moving forward, businesses will want to automate their processes using the technologies they have in place, and for this to happen the technologies need to communicate with each other. Unified Communications will be a good starting point to assist.
With all the functions and features outlined above available now, the kind of productivity benefits outlined by The Yankee Group are truly achievable through Unified Communications today.
About the author: Pushkar Taneja is managing director of GlobalConnect Australia, an IP systems integration specialist and Avaya business partner. He has over 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, operations and customer relations management in the contact centre, IT and information communications industries. Taneja was formerly regional vice-president of sales for Aspect Software.