Unified Communications (Not Science Fiction Anymore)

By Gerry Castino

Unified Communications is exactly what it sounds like – technology that seamlessly connects all the different ways one communicates in a typical workday. Whether you send a text, respond via email and followup via phone, all the interactions are right where you need them to be: at your fingertips.

As defined by Wikipedia, United Communications is the integration of real-time communication services – instant messaging, presence management (drawing traffic to a brand online), telephony (including VoIP), video conferencing, desktop sharing, data sharing (including web-connected electronics), call control and speech recognition – with the convergence of “non-real-time communication services” such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax). Unified Communications is not necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.

Let me relate some of the legitimate concerns voiced by many business professionals: “Running a business in today’s environment isn’t easy.”, “I have too much to do, I’m overwhelmed.”, “It’s difficult to figure out what technology I need to support my business growth.”, “My IT infrastructure is becoming more complex, but I can’t afford a dedicated IT staff.”, “It seems costly and risky to install new technology solutions or upgrade existing ones, so many choices.” With all these concerns and the fear of the unknown, is there really an acceptable answer?

Imagine if you could provide via your telephone system all the features that all the larger enterprises have. Imagine if users could have one number access, regardless of location or device, so that they are easily accessible. Imagine if users could work remotely and have access to all the same tools as if they were in the office. Enter Unified Communications, deploying a platform – either with Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) or via the Cloud – that you could install and configure yourself without the need of expert training or expensive reoccurring intervention.

There exists, in a not too distant planet “earth,” software interfaces for your computers and/or electronic devices that allow you to stay connected in or out of the office, and give you the ability to dial contacts directly from a computer, see the status of your contacts (on the phone, out of the office, do not disturb, available), see your call history, decide how your calls are routed, mange your presence, and access corporate directories. These and many other features are part of the functionality of Unified Communications, an affordable way for you to manage your personal and business communications.

The inherent beauty of Unified Communications is its simplicity and scalability, and includes everything today’s businesses need for effective communications. Whether your business is two users or 2,000 users, one location or hundreds, a powerful and feature-rich platform can be delivered easily and affordably.

But what is the return on investment (ROI)? One immediate reality is “hard-dollar savings” on correctly and efficiently managing your reoccurring carrier service; simply stated, being able to reduce the amount of traditional services you need and pay for month after month. Also, huge “soft-dollar savings” by increasing user productivity, in the office, while telecommuting, at your SOHO (Small Office/Home Office), and having total control of your availability on the road and anywhere in between via mobility BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

Because of the simplicity of Unified Communications some may be prompted to say, “That is all well and good, but our needs are much more demanding and advanced.” Not so fast. No one is forgotten or left “technically malnourished,”as Unified Communications offers an entire portfolio of advanced applications, i.e. voice messaging, mobility, conferencing, desktop sharing, integration with CRM (Customer Records Management), emergency notification, auto attendant schedules and announcements for multiple businesses and departments, and call center environments, to mention just a few.

Who said that one size doesn’t fit all? There may be validity to that for some things, but not Unified Communications. It t is a game changer in today’s world, and in our day- to-day lives personally and professionally.

Gerry Castino is a technology sales engineer at Windemuller Electric (Communications & IT Division) in Traverse City. He has more than 20 years in the communication and information technology industry.