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As the name makes clear, a unified communications (UC) solution encompasses multiple modes of business communication - such as VoIP telephony, instant messaging, video conferencing and screen sharing - on the same platform. The value proposition of a UC platform is straightforward: Instead of needing to navigate between a bunch of disparate tools for collaboration and communication, people can instead do everything from a common interface, which allows for a better user experience and higher productivity.
There are additional benefits of UC for organizations. Because many unified communications companies provide cloud-based solutions, their customers can free themselves from having to manage on-premises IT infrastructure and perform related tasks such as ensuring everything is properly updated and patched. Moreover, cloud-based services for UC don’t require a significant upfront investment in equipment, as the service provider (i.e., the UC company itself) manages all of the servers in question and charges via subscription. That’s much more cost-effective.
All UC solutions are united - pun intended - by the fact that they combine various collaboration tools into one coherent solution. However, there is significant variance between what different unified communications companies offer, in terms of the deployment models they support and how well their services work across common devices. So it’s worth distinguishing between basic UC functionality found in virtually all platforms and advanced capabilities that might require a specific vendor or platform.
UC solutions generally support calling via phone carrier networks as well as VoIP. Wi-Fi calling may also be available to lower the costs of making calls from a business number. This number, in turn, may be reachable on multiple devices, not just from phones. Calls can be controlled from the UC solution’s web interface or its mobile and desktop applications.
Video and audio conferencing
Users may set up a video conference from any compatible device, including phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and some dedicated video conferencing systems, depending on the solution. In some cases, video calls may be joined via link or dial-in. Audio-only conferences can also be hosted on the web, with options for sharing one’s screen, passing presenter controls, muting the microphone and chatting.
UC originally emerged from the need to unite different types of messaging capabilities in one interface. At first, this meant faxes, pages and voicemail. Modern UC systems may still support some of these message types, but generally revolve around instant messages sent via IP networks. Content sharing and search are also important features of UC messaging.
The glue that holds UC solutions together, presence indicates if someone is available on a particular channel at the current moment. This information helps avoid the guesswork involved when communicating over email or phone.
Unlike traditional UC solutions, Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) is hosted in the cloud instead of on-premises. Accordingly, it doesn’t require an organization to set up and manage its own private branch exchange (PBX) infrastructure, thus relieving it of a significant administrative burden and allowing for more resilient service.
Business application integrations
UC and UCaaS platforms may be integrated with a variety of business collaboration tools. Common integrations include ones with customer relationship management software, cloud storage services and project management tools.
As UC and UCaaS usage ramps up, security is a paramount concern, since a lot of sensitive information is exchanged between participants on audio and video conferences and in messages, too. United communications companies may differentiate their offerings based on the security features they can offer, such as the types of encryption used and the protections in place in the data centers that support their services.
Some UC options can be configured as single-tenant offerings that are fully customized to a specific customer’s requirements. APIs within the UC platform may also be present for embedding UC functionality into other applications and services.
UCaaS became a viable alternative to traditional on-premises UC implementations in the 2010s. Like other products that are delivered “as-a-service,” UCaaS solutions are hosted in the cloud and overseen by a cloud service provider (CSP). The actual communication services within a UCaaS offering are similar to those in conventional UC - the main difference is in how they’re delivered.
With UCaaS, everything flows through software. A user can log into the UCaaS platform and access all of its functionality from virtually any device. There’s no required capital investment or specialized infrastructure like PBX switches that needs to be maintained. The CSP oversees everything on the backend and applies updates and fixes as needed.
Most UCaaS architectures are multi-tenant, meaning that they provide a common platform shared by multiple organizations separated by firewalls. Multi-tenancy is very cost-effective and simple to pay for and manage, though single-tenancy may offer additional customization and more predictable system performance.
Unified communications platforms can be beneficial to both their end users and the companies they work for. The main benefits include improved productivity, lower costs and more opportunities to increase revenue.
By centralizing so many modes of communication in one place, UC solutions help workers avoid having to jump between multiple siloed applications. This, in turn, spares them from the effects of context switching, which is the practice of alternating between tasks. Context switching can reduce productivity by as much as 80% according to one assessment published on RescueTime’s blog. In contrast, UC enables better focus and saves time that would have otherwise been lost in opening different apps and searching for particular items across them.
Cloud-based solutions for UC are generally less expensive to use than on-prem alternatives, and even a traditional UC implementation will usually save money compared to having everything siloed. UCaaS is an operating expenditure rather than a capital expenditure, meaning customers don’t have to commit money to depreciating infrastructure and can instead pay for what they use for as long as they need it. UC solutions are also highly scalable, making it economical to expand service to new employees and sites without having to deploy additional IT infrastructure.
With UC or UCaaS in place, organizations can better support remote employees, expand their presence into new geographies and deliver high-quality customer service. They can also more readily pursue particular projects such as smart stores. All of these advantages add up to more opportunities for increasing revenue. A company that can communicate better via a cost-effective and versatile UC solution is one that’s well-positioned for long-term success.
To learn more about how to get started with UC, visit the Telesystem UC-One page or contact a member of our team today.