Unifying Communications

The IP communications movement is evolving from VoIP and Internet Telephony implementations to a true Unified Communications (UC) environment.

VoIP is growing steadily. IP Telephony is gaining traction. So what is all of this investment in infrastructure leading to?

Government technologists such as DOE Associate CIO Pete Tseronis believe it will be Unified Communications (UC), which can raise staff productivity, assist in the management of distributed workforces and improve customer service response time.

While Tseronis is working to evolve DOE, keeping a close eye on the UC market are VoIP and IP Telephony specific publications such as VoIP-News.

“UC integrates a variety of communication applications onto a single platform including email, IM (instantmessaging), voice, collaboration tools and voice and video conferencing. The goal is to create a simplified, streamlined experience for the end-user,” write VoIP-News analysts in White Papers on Enterprise Unified Communications.

In general, a UC platform is layered on top of existing telephony infrastructure, so no major overhaul is required. You can also roll out an end-to-end UC solution or deploy UC components individually, adding to the system as users need more features.

UC unifies data, voice and collaboration applications onto one platform for easier management. By leveraging your existing IP infrastructure and existing communication applications, including email, UC preserves your investments in current communication systems and infrastructures.

Some of the basic features of a UC solution include multivendor integration, unified messaging, single number and voice mailbox for all devices, simultaneous ringing, IM and “click to call”.

You also want your vendor to provide audio, web and video conferencing, calendar control, call control, visual voice mail and desktop sharing capabilities. You can also get a presence capability, which shows the whereabouts of your workforce in real time.

All of these features allow you to communicate more efficiently across your organization and with customers. And it improves collaboration among a distributed mobile workforce.

Ask Yourself   Before evaluating your UC needs, be sure you fully understand all the different ways your company's employees work while in the office, on the road and while telecommuting so that you know what features and capabilities to look for in a UC solution say VoIP-News analysts.

While UC can be installed on existing infrastructure, you need to investigate whether you need to upgrade your IP infrastructure to support a UC solution – including bandwidth that enables voice and video capabilities. You need to be realistic about your equipment and software needs. For example do you need to look for a solution that works well with either Outlook or Lotus
Notes – or both? Do you need more server capacity? Will your solution integrate with existing desktop phones or will you buy new IP Phones (a significant investment)?

These are just a few of the questions you should ask.

The UC Future

No doubt UC will eventually be the norm said Tseronis. “We will look back on this time and wonder what took us so long.”

But there are challenges to implementing a UC solution, especially since this is still an immature technology without a large installed base. Its applications still have limited
functionality and there are not a multitude of best practices to draw on. And solutions will continue to evolve even as you may be rolling out your UC solution. But it is coming.

One challenge to buyers according to VoIP-News analysts will be choosing a provider. “Each vendor delivers UC slightly differently, which is one of the challenging aspects of choosing a UC solution.”

Regardless of how a provider offers its UC technology, the functionality is the same, combining unified messaging, IM (instant messaging), voice, email and conferencing on one platform.

VoIP-News analysts also say said that with UC, users can access all methods of  communication from their desktop computers and mobile devices – making contact easier, faster and more efficient.

“When UC is integrated with business processes and applications, communication is streamlined so that employees can be more responsive to co-workers, clients, customers and partners. Ultimately, UC can improve business processes, productivity and collaboration, especially among distributed workers.”