It has become something of a buzzword. Like “green” and “sustainable”, “forward-thinking” and “progressive”, before it. Subsequently, many people think of “unified communications” in the same way; more of a cool concept than a tangible mode of improving businesses and services.
However, it remains a path for businesses to progress, nonetheless. As reported by Forbes, ‘mastering’ unified communications gives any business an edge over the others that do not. Therefore, the simplest way to pluck it from the ether and lay it out as a realistic option for your own business is to explain how it works.
Unified communications, or UC, is a term that describes the merging of communication services – and we’ll come to the specific services shortly – into one entity. This means that business owners or communications departments will be dealing with a single platform, as opposed to multiple communication formats and business applications, via one, more manageable channel.
Think about your typical modern smartphone. This allows you access to email, phone calls, video conferencing, text and other unified messaging platforms on a single device. For a sole trader, this works as their unified communications platform. However, the moment that business expands, even with just one more employee, two smartphones equates to multiple unified communications devices working independently.
Essentially, this immediately means ‘un-unified, unified communications’, as there is no longer a single platform or interface. Now, think about how many desktop telephones, mobile smartphones and tablets, and computers or laptops there are in your business.
Then, imagine every method of communication being sent over a single channel, and having real time access to all of this data as you develop your business and marketing strategies. This is how unified communications systems work so effectively for business.
What to consider
At this point, it’s worth noting that you’ve probably already got some form of unified communications in operation. Any tech-savvy business, and most startups, will already be using cloud backup for storage and taking advantage of the collaborative sharing and editing of important documents. However, what many businesses aren’t aware of, is the potential to integrate telephones – including mobile devices – into this same system.
A hosted phone system, for instance, allows all desktop phone lines and mobile devices used by a business to be integrated within one cloud-based service. This usually means fewer bills, lower costs, more control and greater use of tech for businesses. Unified communications takes this even further, pulling in the computers and laptops that your staff use, and driving all incoming and outgoing communications traffic – both onsite and off – through one channel.
According to The Telegraph, “29% of UK businesses say technology helps them while they’re in transit,” and unified communications will help them to save money in the long term. Perform a quick communications audit – and yes, this does sound like another ‘buzz-term’ – by looking at the devices used and, especially, the bills you pay.
Do you have access to the data from every device? Do your bills fluctuate from month to month? Would you like more control over this information? If these kind of questions crop up, then unified communications is the solution for you.
What you could discover
Many businesses, across both the public and private sectors, will have been operating smoothly for many years. The standard setup of a desktop computer and a telephone is now time-tested, and certainly hasn’t been without its own evolution over time. As computers, in particular, have advanced, these methods are still far from outmoded – but for how much longer?
Fast Company predicts that “remote tools will become standard, even among non-remote staff.” This means that instant messaging, video calling and emails will replace even walking across the office to ask a question.
Fundamentally, this is because people communicate this way when they’re out of work, too. This is one reason why you will often find unified communications linked to a solution for sales and marketing teams.
As it is becoming the communication method of choice for the many, it is advised that even work traditionally relying on convincing, face-to-face interaction should be adapted, and now. While it may appear to remove some of the emotion and, excuse the emotive term, ‘humanity’ from communication, it simply makes it easier. Imagine fewer cancelled meetings, less travel and easier interaction when travel is essential.
What you may need
Depending on your current setup, implementing a unified communications platform could involve new software, new hardware, additional training for you and your staff, or even a restructuring of responsibilities. It’s unlikely to be a case of ‘plug-in-and-play’, but it’s rarely a case of absolute change. The advantage of people already communicating in this way outside of work means that doing so in work is likely to be a smooth transition.
TechTarget have identified that businesses who also give staff specific responsibilities in unified communications management are 17% more successful in integrating all communications through one platform. This could mean having one person responsible for file management, one for social platforms, or sub-teams assigned to monitor such activity. While this sounds complex and may not fit your business model, you will always have full control and a complete overview of all of this activity.
The barriers that most businesses face when adopting a unified communications platform are encountered in four main areas. The first is identifying business priorities – ‘do we need this?’, ‘do we need this right NOW?’, ‘Is it worth the upheaval?’ Then there is the platform’s impact upon employees – ‘will they be able to adopt this new technology?’, ‘Are they not already working to a high standard?’
Whatever the immediate answers to these questions, it’s likely that priorities will change over time. As many more businesses get ‘the edge’ that unified communications provides, it’s more a matter of when, not if, others should also take advantage.
The other regulatory barriers businesses regularly face involve getting the right systems in place, which can be expensive. However, as most mobile technologies, up-to-date computers and many desktop phones are already perfectly compatible with cloud-based technology, this issue can be quickly resolved.