Unified Communications is a Growing Area of Technology Spending

by QuickCert on July 6, 2011

Untangle your business with unified communications
Unified communications refers to hardware and software integration of all methods of communication, usually in a corporate environment. In a truly unified office, e-mail, instant message, video conferencing, voicemail, and phone conversations all interact through a company’s network so that an employee can seamlessly choose the best method of communication for a given problem.

Traditionally, communications have been either done over the phone or over the computer. Telephone conversations are real-time and ideal for high-priority conversations that don’t require sharing physical or electronic documents. However, advanced phone functionality, such as setting up conference calls, is generally complex. Even managing voicemail can be a labyrinth of menus and commands. Electronic communications, conversely, are easily managed because a user can see the information on a screen. However, e-mails and instant messages are often relegated to non-urgent communications because it is impossible to know if the recipient is immediately available to respond.

Integrated communications bridges the gaps between these forms of communication, allowing the users to seamlessly switch as the need arises. This leads to higher productivity for a workforce because a worker can more quickly address needs and does not have to waste time transferring information from one system to another.

Consider the case of voicemail. A customer leaves a voicemail asking a question. Perhaps the employee who received the voicemail does not know the answer or needs to get someone else involved to fix the problem. With an integrated communications approach, the employee could forward on the voicemail via e-mail or instant message and then immediately follow up with a video conference to discuss its contents with other coworkers.

One of the major reasons for the growth of integrated communications is the cost savings. Updating and maintaining many separate networks is costly in terms of both time and money. Using an integrated approach, however, reduces the number of systems down to one, which is easier and cheaper to maintain. Instead of having multiple vendors to deal with, technology officers only have to interface with one vendor.

There are drawbacks to changing how communications are handled. One of the biggest challenges is the integration between hardware and software. Not all phones are going to be able to seamlessly handle the transition to integrated communications. Because the software and hardware are made by different companies, conflicts will inevitably arise. Also, traditional handsets will most likely not be capable of interfacing with the company’s network directly. They will need to be replaced with internet-enabled handsets.

Changing to a web-based communications approach will also tax existing computers. Because of the increased traffic through the network, latency issues may arise, especially with the adoption of video conferencing. Both desktops and laptops may require upgrades to increase the amount of RAM they have to help reduce latency. Corporations may need to build out their internet infrastructure to make sure that the users of integrated communications have enough bandwidth to use the system in the intended ways. Putting a slow, clunky application on employees’ computers is a quick way to decrease morale and limit adoption by the employees.

The costs of moving to an integrated communications system are only worthwhile if employees utilize the new functionality. Employee participation is a key consideration and needs to be addressed. Routine training and education can help overcome these hurdles. Additionally, having certain employees identified as early adopters of the technology throughout the organization can lend credibility to the process and increase the number of employees who adopt the new tools.

During challenging economic times, companies need to pursue every avenue they can to increase productivity and reduce operating costs. Integrated communications has been a fast growing part of technology budgets because corporations recognize that this solution does both. Not only does integrating communications reduce time and improve efficiencies in communicating with other employees, vendors, and customers, but it also reduces operating costs by limiting how many systems require upkeep and maintenance.