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The term 'Unified Communications' (UC) can mean different things to different people and various definitions exist in the market. This can create confusion for IT and business decision makers, particularly because of the multiple approaches and solutions available.

In today’s increasingly connected world, businesses need to excel at communications otherwise they risk missing out on potential growth opportunities and fall behind their competition. Unified Communications solutions can enable organisations to not only improve collaboration but enhance worker productivity and customer service. These solutions provide effective ways for people to constantly keep in touch—regardless of their location or communications device.

One of the most efficient delivery models for UC is cloud computing, which is fast becoming the IT delivery mechanism of choice for many businesses today. Some organisations are further along with their use of cloud services than others, however for many companies, migration to the cloud will take an evolutionary path, rather than happening overnight.

In fact, over the next decade, organisations will likely have a mix of cloud and on-premises solutions for their applications. In general, UC solutions encompass the following key elements and capabilities.

  • Collaboration - Collaboration has become increasingly important — and challenging — for organisations as workers become more widespread geographically. UC systems should enable users to collaborate with one another in a variety of ways.
  • Presence - Presence enables individuals to manage their availability and make better communication decisions. Users can see who is available and choose the most appropriate communication medium. This saves time, especially within highly distributed businesses. For example, users who see that the person they are trying to reach is on the phone can send an instant message.
  • Unified Messaging - UC solutions also include unified messaging, which is the integration of voicemail, fax, email, instant messaging and other electronic media used for messaging users. Messages can be retrieved from the interface of their choice, whether it be the email client, UC client or over the phone, and users can see their messages to prioritise which ones they will listen to first.
  • Mobility - For today’s mobile workers, an important feature of UC is support for mobility, so that users can access features on any device and from any location. Given the rapid increase in the mobile workforce and the “bring-your-own-device” trend, support for mobile technology is especially critical for today’s UC platforms.
  • Contact Centre - UC solutions can significantly improve contact centre environments to enhance service and deliver operational efficiency. They enable companies to serve their customers in the medium of their choice (for example, voice, email, Web chat or SMS), monitor and respond to social media, keep customers well-informed, providing estimated wait-time messages and continuous position-in-queue updates and provide self-service options with interactive voice response.
  • Integration - Most UC solutions can integrate with third-party business applications to deliver business process improvement. For example, integration with customer relationship management (CRM) solutions will provide a pop-up of customers information when they call, so that they can be provided with the best, personalised service.

To summarise Unified Communications is an important consideration when changing any aspect of your technology systems and can help provide a more streamlined workforce environment for your business to operate.

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