What are unified communications?
Gartner defines unified communications (UC) products (equipment, software and services) as “those that facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods. This can include control, management and integration of these methods. UC products integrate communications channels (media), networks and systems, as well as IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.”
Sometimes called UCC (unified communications and collaboration), these solutions aim to consolidate business communication both synchronous (like voice calls and video conferences) and asynchronous (like email and text messages), and provide collaboration tools to streamline processes. With a well-integrated UC solution, information can flow between devices, locations, business applications and (of course) people, faster and more effectively.
What unified communications can do for YOUR business
97 percent noted improved collaboration, 88 percent acknowledged faster problem solving, and 81 percent reported faster decision making when implementing unified communications solutions.
But how do UC solutions increase employee productivity and cost efficiency? Through increased mobility, improved collaboration and optimization.
Today’s businesses and employees demand mobility. With 98% of users working remotely or collaboratively, hyper-availability of employees (in the office and outside of it) is just as important as cross-channel availability of corporate information resources and applications.
Unified communications take both into account, saving you money and improving employee satisfaction and retention.
According to the Digital Workplace Group, there are 10 innate advantages to workplace mobility: portability, availability, accessibility, real-time data, improved user experience, personal device ownership/Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and visual content (built-in camera).
UC doesn’t only contribute to the productivity and cost-effectiveness of your current workforce, but enables you to tap into remote talent pools, engage contingent employees and vendors, and more.
Approximately 80% of the global workforce (around 3 billion) is performing physical or deskless work daily. And these workers usually bring their mobile phone to work with them. This creates a unique opportunity to streamline communications using employee apps as part of a UC solution. Handheld devices, capable of running Skype, Facetime or the mobile app offered with your UC solution, make a cost-effective alternative to traditional desk phones and other costly infrastructure and equipment.
Enterprises and small businesses alike see the potential, and are rapidly adopting BYOD strategies to capitalize on the opportunity. And the employees? Loving it. In a survey by the Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU), 60% of employees said mobile technology makes them more productive. Another 45% acknowledge it causes their creativity to rise.
Communicating information is sometimes less effective than collaboration on the task at hand.
Online collaboration tools as part of your UC strategy don’t only save time, but again – save you buying unnecessary equipment. A shared screen in an online video conference is cheaper and just as effective as a meeting room with a projector.
Unified Communications are, fundamentally, about effectively communicating information between people. However, many tasks can be offloaded to machines through automation, or made easier to work with through digital processing.
According to Cisco, a major enterprise UC vendor, half of the companies using a presence feature ‘reported fewer repeated messages’, or ‘telephone tag’- with
many employees saving as much as three hours per week, or 150 hours per year.
But with too many options, features and applications, come challenges.
The Challenges of UC for SMEs
When it comes to the needs of businesses and organizations, unified communications platforms have a lot to offer to enterprises. Traditionally UC platforms were made for large organizations, so these complex and cumbersome systems demanded on-site teams to manage, local servers to run, and a significant monetary investment in hardware, software and support. As they evolve to match the needs of SMEs, IT managers and business owners are often the ones to suffer from their growing pains.
So what can potentially stand between you and unified communication heaven?
- High costs – According to a survey by Jabra [PDF], 73% of companies with more than 5,000 employees cited cost as an obstacle to implementing UC.
- Bad UX – A survey by Softchoice discovered that 71% of employees surveyed use only some of the communication tools their employers make available to them. When asked why, over a third admitted they simply didn’t know how to use some of the tools offered by the UC platform in their organization.
- Employee resistance – You don’t need me to quote statistics to know that people do not like change. Adjusting to new communication tools and developing new habits is hard enough, but people bring their anxieties to work with them. Some hate to “announce” their availability to their coworkers.
- Interoperability issues – Old legacy systems don’t play well with new UC solutions. So sometimes instead of making things more effective, they end up creating duplicate tasks. Unfortunately, even some new and current UC solutions lack the API and integration abilities to allow them to work with some systems. Another issue to consider is bandwidth limitations.
SME Unified Communications Today (and tomorrow)
There is no doubt that the quick and cheap deployment of cloud services remains the main driver for UC adoption in small to medium enterprises. But there’s still a long way to go before the unified communication paradise we imagine is a reality. Compatibility and interoperability issues are slowly but surely being solved with vendor consolidation and API integration options. In addition, business and vendors are beginning to understand that the most important part of implementing a UC solution is ensuring it truly benefits the business. And that can only be reached through thorough evaluation of business needs, employee involvement in implementation, and better user interfaces.
The future of UC for SMEs is bright, and even though there are still challenges, it’s clear that for most businesses, it US implementation is a wise decision.