Unified communications (UC) hardware, software and services provide businesses with multiple communications channels.
These UC products can perform control, management and integration functions on these communications channels, the underlying networks and systems, as well as on business applications and consumer applications and devices.
Let’s see how it works in practice.
1- How Unified Communications Works
UC platforms generally support unified communications systems. These are backend systems that manage, control and integrate the various UC hardware, software and services.
For instance, a UC system may utilize an IP telephony platform to underlie an audio conferencing system to produce a web conferencing system or a unified messaging client could provide voice, chat and video functionality.
UC platforms may also support users changing communication channels within the same session.
For example, one could start communicating with an email or messaging client and then change to a telephone call and then to a video conference by way of simple mouse click without any disruption to other sessions.
Physically UC systems may be deployed locally at a businesses premises or remotely, as a service (UCaaS), in a public or private cloud or using a mixture of the three.
Real-time communication may also be embedded into web browsers as with the WebRTC project.
Partnerships, common protocols and open APIs facilitate interoperability among UC vendors but this remains a challenging aspect of UC systems. Single vendor UC environments provide more integration and compatibility.
2- Types of Unified Communications Products
UC business systems can be made up of many different products produced by multiple vendors.
- User-facing UC products:
Those may include text-based tools such as email, text messaging, instant messaging, unified messaging.
UC products are also wildly based on video and voice. You have certainly heard about Voice over Internet Protocol (also voice over IP, VoIP or IP telephony).
« VoIP is enabled by a group of technologies and methodologies used to deliver voice communications over the internet »
Voice-based applications, such as:
- audio conferencing.
Video-based services, such as:
- desktop video conferencing
- room-based video conferencing
- Web conferencing platforms
- virtual meeting spaces
- interactive whiteboards
All those services allow real-time presence, mobility and single number reach.
UC products such as internet protocol (IP) telephony and video conferencing provide real-time, synchronous communications, while voicemail, e-mail and SMS provide non-real-time asynchronous communications. Others like instant-messaging fall somewhere in between providing near-real-time communication.
- Backend UC system:
It may be comprised of :
- a UC management platform or server
- call control and multimodal communications
- a private branch exchange (PBX)
- devices such as phones, headsets, cameras and microphones
- business process integration (BPI) software
- business communication gateways, such as session border controllers (SBCs).
- a multipoint control unit (MCU), or video bridge, for video conferencing with three or more endpoints.
3- The Benefits of Unified Communications
The benefits of UC for businesses are numerous, both internally between employees and teams and externally with customers and suppliers.
UC also has benefits for the individuals working in those businesses.
- Time is saved.
A single service provider can make administration easier with fewer registrations and bills. Remote working can save time employees spend commuting. Conferencing products can save traveling time.
- Efficiency is boosted and productivity improved.
UC products that provide alternate communication channels, presence information, mobility, single number reach or conferencing improve communication and collaboration between employees and teams. This enhances both employee and team-based productivity. With UC staff, customers and partners can be answered in a more prompt and efficient manner. Sales staff can close deals quicker by allowing work colleagues to reach them on their most efficient mode of communication.
- Costs are reduced.
IP telephony reduces telecom toll costs, the reliance on landlines and the cost of international calls reducing the business operating costs. Video conferencing can reduce employee travel and accommodation costs. Employees working remotely can reduce office equipment costs. Foreign human resources can be tapped into at no extra expense.
- Can scale with the business.
A UC system will enable you to change the scale of your business telephone system, to suit your existing needs. UC platforms have IP (Internet Protocol) telecommunications at their core and this technology has flexibility and ease of management built-in.
- The lifestyles of individuals are improved.
Being able to work remotely on mobile devices like laptops and smartphones using audio and video capabilities can avoid a daily commute through traffic that can be both time consuming and stressful. Working remotely can also reduce travel, canteen and clothing expenses. These benefits can result in a better work/leisure lifestyle.
As you understood, UC products can integrate the various communications tools to provide a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.
The final aim is to provide easy access to the end user and so from whatever device is in use and generally improve communication, collaboration and productivity.