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What is unified communications technology?

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What is unified communications technology?

Unified communications (UC) technology is the core of business UC solutions, which combine multiple channels into one comprehensive platform for streamlined, efficient and scalable collaboration. These channels typically include:

  • Phone calls and hosted Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony.
  • Web and video conferencing.
  • Content and screen sharing from any device (PC, tablet, phone, etc.).
  • Integrations with various business apps, e.g. office suites and CRMs.
  • Unified messaging (business chat) with presence, history, and group conversations.

The top benefits of using unified communications technology

There are numerous advantages to using a UC suite for enterprise communications. Let’s look at a few of the biggest ones in more detail.

Convenient SaaS delivery

Many modern UC suites, such as UC-One from Telesystem, are delivered via a Software-as-a-Service model. That means that the cloud service provider takes care of updating, scaling, and generally maintaining the app.

Accordingly, the customer doesn’t have to worry about procuring or building out new infrastructure. SaaS provides significant savings and added convenience, especially compared to an on-premises private branch exchange (PBX).

Deep multi-device support

Workers are no longer in front of their PCs all day. Mobile devices are fixtures of today’s workflows, not to mention essential to remote working arrangements. Remote work increased 159% from 2005 to 2017, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

UC solutions are designed to work seamlessly across multiple devices, through lightweight interfaces and dedicated mobile apps. They make it easy to hop on a call on the go, share documents or video chat with someone, regardless of everyone’s physical location.

Indeed, UC software is one big reason why so many companies see remote working setups as a boon to productivity. Eight in ten organizations have cited such benefits.

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Flexible calling options

UC technology makes it easy to stay connected on any device, including through voice services. End users can take advantage of VoIP and normal phone calls within a UC solution, receiving calls at their business phone numbers.

The same number can even be used across multiple devices. Plus, UC suites may provide integration with a corporate directory so that lookups are quick and intuitive. Dial-ins are also available for video conferences hosted on the UC platform, as another way to join in addition to following a URL.

High-definition audio and video

When workers collaborate from different sites, it’s important to create shared context and ensure clarity. Unified communications technologies do just that, by delivering high-quality audio and video communications during online meetings.

For example, the HD video conferencing available in UC-One helps keep meeting participants engaged through real-time communications. They also get to see each other’s reactions from moment to moment and can even use visual aids to explain what they’re saying.

These types of visual cues and added information are useful for overcoming one of the biggest drawbacks to mobile and remote work, namely the fact that many faraway employees feel lonely or left out. The State of Remote Work 2019 report from Buffer confirmed this phenomenon, underscoring the importance of implementing a richly featured UC solution.

Instant messaging and content sharing

According to a 2017 ReportLinker poll, 43% of office workers already use instant messaging apps on the job, with the most popular options including Facebook Messenger and Slack. In this context, business-centric chat software, such as solutions included in a UC platform, are great fits for in-office and cross-office collaboration.

These apps might still take a back seat to email, but they are superior in many ways:

  • Conversations happen in real time, include presence to indicate if someone is active at the moment.
  • They also come with chat histories for easy review and search.
  • Support for easy content sharing is built in as well.

Overall, instant messaging services help reduce email overload and inefficiency. Whereas it takes someone an average of 90 minutes to respond to an email, the average for a text-based message is only 90 seconds.

It’s also possible to use screen and content sharing within virtual/online meeting rooms. Someone can quickly demonstrate a particular workflow or literally get everyone on to the same (virtual) page with just a few clicks or taps.

Compatibility with existing business tools

One of the central value propositions of UC technology is how it brings together once-disparate communications channels in a single platform. This overarching benefit also applies to apps that are not within the UC solution’s main suite of IP telephony, video/web conferencing and instant messaging.

For instance, a UC platform might integrate with Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, Salesforce, SAP Concur, Twitter and more, as UC-One does. In practice, that means it’s relatively simple to integrate content and data from other systems into UC-based workflows. Someone might send a link to a document in Google Drive or record contact info from Salesforce.

High scalability and flexibility

UC software is designed to support organizations of all sizes as they grow and evolve. Compared to a PBX implementation, a UC system is much better in these respects:

  • First, if it’s SaaS-based, then adding more users and capacity is very straightforward.
  • That’s because there’s no need to request pricey vendor visits or install lots of extra infrastructure; the service provider oversees the platform’s technical upkeep.
  • Since it supports multiple devices, it can also easily accommodate the addition of new remote and mobile working arrangements.
  • Its integrations make it a natural fit for existing workflows, without requiring extensive retooling of how different applications interact.

Unpacking common unified communications technology terms

In addition to “unified communications,” we’ve used a wide selection of technical terms to describe UC technology so far. Here’s a quick overview of the important terminology to understand when evaluating your UC solution options.

VoIP telephony

VoIP refers simply to voice calls made over an IP network, such as the public internet. These calls are packet-switched instead of circuit-switched. Their quality is noticeably different from calls made over the public switched telephone network (PSTN). With a reliable connection, they offer richer audio than most PSTN calls, not to mention lower costs regardless of the physical distance between callers.

Hosted VoIP

In a hosted VoIP installation, a provider such as Telesystem maintains the off-site infrastructure that supports VoIP calling. This setup is the polar opposite of a traditional PBX, which relies on infrastructure located on-premises. Hosted VoIP solutions are much more scalable than PBXes, and important components of UC platforms.

Real-time communications

The VoIP and video services that are integral to UC both qualify as forms of real-time communications. Real-time comms are synchronous, unlike asynchronous interactions such as sending emails or actual mail. As such, they demand the highest levels of performance, beyond what it is needed for TCP apps like file sharing. This is where network services such as software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) and dedicated internet access can make a difference.

SD-WAN

An SD-WAN is a network solution for simplifying WAN management and improving WAN performance. It is a virtual architecture, governed by software. All SD-WANs allow for the use of transport options such as broadband and 4G LTE as replacements for, or supplements to, the MPLS links that are the main components of a traditional WAN. These alternatives are more cost-effective than MPLS and allow for greater bandwidth to be added to key applications. Policies can also be set to ensure that real-time UC apps for voice and video get the fastest, most secure paths through the WAN.

SaaS

SaaS is one of the major forms of cloud computing. In the context of unified communications technology, it indicates a solution that’s hosted and maintained by a service provider instead of by the customer. This business model has some significant advantages for customers, including easier maintenance, more manageable costs (since there’s no need for a big upfront expenditure on infrastructure) and enhanced scalability. The savings over a comparable PBX can be substantial.

Virtual meeting/online meeting room

When different parties join a conference via a UC solution, the proceeding happen in a virtual meeting room. In this location, participants can typically see the names of others on the line, video feeds (if available), various controls for muting/unmuting and screen sharing and options for chatting. People who chose to dial-in to a meeting won’t see these same features, but they will be “in” the same room and others will be able to hear what they say as long as they’re not muted.

What does the future hold for unified communications technology?

Adoption of UC technology is ramping up as organizations look to move beyond the limitations of conventional PBXes, support new workstyles and pursue as many opportunities as possible. Grandview Research has projected a 16.8% compound annual growth rate in the UC market from 2019 to 2025. Its research also cited the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning as key drivers in the growth of UC implementations.

In a UC solution, the combination of AI and machine learning might be useful for powering a chatbot or interactive voice response system. Both of these innovations can parse input from a user and then run through some possible responses before providing an answer. AI-enabled capabilities are especially useful when leveraging unified communications technology in use cases such as customer support or employee self-service (e.g., looking for an answer to a routine question).

Chatbots are already important parts of many consumer-facing and standalone messaging apps. As components within a UC solution, they’re even more powerful because they provide answers in the same interface that users already go to stay updated on what’s happening across the company.

They’re also helpful for support agents. According to the Salesforce State of Service report for 2019, 64% of agents who got assistance from AI chatbots reported being able to spend most of their time working on strategic problems, compared to 50% of those without chatbot help.

Telesystem can ensure you get a UC solution that supports your organization's goals and growth. To learn more, visit the main UC-One page, where you can request a quote from our team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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