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Making sense of unified communications

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Since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone back in 1876, the old ‘dog and bone’ has been the primary method of communicating with customers, colleagues and suppliers. However, with the rise of the internet, different types of communication have evolved including email, instant messaging and video conferencing.

Even telephony itself (with the introduction of VoIP) has changed with the majority of the world’s phone calls now transmitted via IP (Internet Protocol) networks. VoIP alone has radically changed the old phone system or PBX from a piece of kit that sat in a cupboard and was only touched occasionally by a telecoms engineer to what it is now – something that has become an integral part of a company’s IT network, like any other application such as Outlook.

As a result of these changes the term Unified Communications (UC) was coined. The common perception of UC is the ability to send and receive a variety of communications on a single medium, so for example you can receive a voice mail message but read it in your email inbox, or you decide on how to contact someone dependent on their ‘presence information’. For example, if their status reads ‘out of the office’ then you try them on their mobile.

UC, however, should be seen as much more than a communications platform because it has the potential to not only improve individual productivity but to entirely transform your overall business processes.    How can it make my business more competitive?

Unlike a traditional telephone, you log in to a UC connection via your computer giving you instant access to your telephone, voicemail, email, IM, text, fax, video conferencing, presence information and even call recording – all on the same screen. This can obviously speed up the way we communicate but because ‘voice’ is now part of the IT network, UC also allows gives you the opportunity to integrate with other areas of the business such as your contact management database, CRM, billing and workflow systems.  

Think about how this could dramatically improve your customer service. Imagine you receive a call from a valued client. The receptionist can route the call according to your presence information. If you are in, you can take the call and immediately, due to caller ID, you can see their account file, order book etc. Alternatively if you are not available, the call can be automatically routed to your mobile or even another member of the team who can help.

Not only will a successful UC implementation make your organisation more responsive, because you have access to relevant content on back office applications, you can service your customers better regardless of your location. UC knows no physical boundaries so you can also offer more flexible working so that staff can work from home or on the move with access to the same resources as their office counterparts. This not only makes employees happier and more productive, it can also dramatically cut overheads with less office space required. Who’s adopting the technology?

Start-ups, SMEs and corporates from every sector are already reaping the benefits of new integrated communications technology. YO! Sushi has invested in UC to centralise its communications throughout its 35 UK-based restaurants so that all the staff are available through a single number and all calls within the network are now free. Rather than outsourcing, the firm has also integrated an external call centre into their own operation that can now service the entire UK for take-away orders using just a handful of staff. 

Another example is lifestyle and sports clothing manufacturer Puma, which has dramatically reduced its maintenance costs and also benefited from moving to a single communications system for all its UK sites.

When considering new technology it is always wise to sit back and wait before jumping in but now UC has matured why not see what business efficiencies and cost-cutting it can deliver? It could be the edge you’re looking for. 

Alexandra Ernst is VP corporate development at unified communications vendor Swyx

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