Navigating the Landscape of Unified Communications

Jason Koenders, CTO and Senior Vice President, Integra
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Jason Koenders, CTO and Senior Vice President, Integra

Unified communications (UC) continues to evolve as organizations seek seamless integration among voice, mobile communications, email, and messaging  to empower their workforces to be more productive and to better capture the data. This lack of integration between things like an employee’s desk phone, mobile phone, voicemail, calendars, and conferencing is a significant source of frustration and wasted time for companies and employees today.  It is also fueling the evolution of UC solutions which dramatically streamline communications across devices and modes of communication.

“The efficiency and time-saving benefits of UC are driving the conversations that CIOs are having about the solutions they need.”

For instance, a typical employee still has a desk phone that is part of the office’s VoIP or landline-based phone solution. However, that same employee is likely to also have a company- issued or personal mobile phone. They are also not typically connected or integrated with each other or with corporate systems. And, messaging - it’s a mixture of emails, texts, IMs, and shouts across the room to a colleague’s desk. Doing simple tasks like scheduling a meeting or contacting a customer can often mean using many of these tools, and because they are not unified, the act of employing these various communications efforts results in lost time and lost opportunities for capturing important information. 

Moving towards Integrated Platforms and Real time Collaboration

Communications tools that reside in separate silos are not just an inconvenience to users, but for IT, it presents a magnitude of management and support challenges. Legacy tools are pieced together rather than part of a larger strategy, so it’s no wonder that all those communications systems eat up staff time and pile up hard costs, soft costs and opportunity costs for CIOs. 

Effective business communications and collaboration tools can create greater efficiencies across the board. Employees and their companies can benefit from presence technology that gives employees real time visibility into where a colleague is best reached at times when they may be away from their desk. Rather than trying to track down an individual in multiple ways (cell, text, IM, etc.), an employee can contact that person on the first attempt.  This type of UC solution can make everyone’s day more productive.

The efficiency and time-saving benefits of UC are driving the conversations that CIOs are having about the solutions they need. Having a single, integrated platform and access to real time collaboration tools both reduces the burden on CIOs and addresses the needs of the employee.

Bringing it to the Cloud

A cloud-based communications platform can be thought of as a common foundation for every type of communication a company and its employees use, including desk voice, mobile voice, voice messaging, instant/text messaging, phone conferencing, and video conferencing. By using a cloud-based platform as the foundation, organizations can link communications tools previously trapped in separate silos. And when these silos are removed, significant functionality emerges. 

For example, when phones are linked to key software like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics, managers gain greater insight into which customers the sales team is contacting, which customers are dialing in, and how quickly those customers are getting live help. Employees gain the functionality they need and CIOs gain a single platform to manage, less risk and easier navigation of regulatory compliance.

In a Mobile World - An Increased Need for Unified Communications

“Non-unified” communications has reached a crescendo thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, the mobility of the workforce, and the fact that many companies deferred investment in their voice and communications during the economic downturns over the past 15 years. 

There are more and more devices, ways that employees are communicating, and flexibility in where and how they are doing their work – whether in a remote office, at home or on the road. This creates a complex communications picture for a company, made up of corporate-owned devices, employee-owned devices and a variety of software platforms across those devices. This picture should prompt a CIO to think about the need for UC solutions.

For more than a decade, companies of all sizes have had to make difficult decisions about where to invest their technology dollars, and voice systems often get sidelined. Companies have voice systems that are dated and with the increased mobility of the workforce they now need to think about a holistic approach to their communications needs.Unified communications gives them a way to go from 2002 to 2016 in a simplified and single  leap.

The Importance of Network Infrastructure

Already UC has come a long way. Today, with a  unified communications foundation, the tools built on that foundation, the integration across tools, and the integration with other corporate systems are impressive and have been battle tested in real world implementations of every size.

The right network infrastructure is also now in place, making UC ready for prime time. There are fiber networks that can provide not only speed and capacity but also operational flexibility which are critical success factors for enabling UC. As CIOs engage further in unified communications, they must examine the underlying network because it plays a critical role in enabling the functionality and quality that organizations want to see in those integrated tools at the user level.  It is also important to make sure that security is embedded into the network service and not just through the Internet which can be vulnerable.
 
Approaching Unified Communications as a Service

The most significant trend for UC in the workplace is the migration to an ‘as-a-service’ solution. Many enterprises want to keep up with the latest technology so they can easily add features and functionality. Additionally, enterprise customers want to integrate their contact centers with new CRM applications, and in many instances, this can be enabled through the as-a-service solution. Migrating to a UC as-a-service solution allowsthe enterprise to provide better customer service and the internal IT team to free up much needed resources (human and capital) all while providing a more flexible end user solution that increases employee satisfaction and productivity.

An Important Message for CIOs

Keeping the lines of communications open with other CTOs and CIOs is key to success in any UC strategy. Your peers understand your job challenges and are an excellent source of creative ideas, ingeniously simple solutions, and moral support. This can be accomplished through your established industry relationships as well as networking with new contacts at the many industry conferences that take place throughout the year.

The rate of change in the technology industry is dizzying and it requires CIOs to keep their teams trained and ensure that new systems work with older ones. Simplified technology needs to be a mantra for every leader. 

By working towards replacing non-unified communications tools with cohesive unified solutions, the results including access to the latest technology, simplified management and increased productivity, will have a dramatic impact on your entire business that will help to create greater success immediately and on the road ahead.  

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