What Exactly Is Unified Communications?

Today, the concept of voice, video and data as distinct elements of business communications is rapidly fading. The trend toward unified communications (UC) is fundamentally changing workplace interactions by seamlessly blending a host of formerly independent communication applications.

But despite the fact that the term “unified communications” has been around for more than a decade, many IT managers still don’t know exactly what it means. In a recent Frost & Sullivan survey of more than 1,000 IT decision makers in the U.S. and Europe, 42 percent said their understanding of UC technologies is limited

That’s because UC isn’t a specific technology per se but rather the integration a wide range of communications services within a single interface. UC allows users to access voice, instant messaging, various forms of conferencing and more with a single click, and easily move from one form of communication to another. By integrating these various technologies, UC systems can also do more intelligent routing based on what’s on the user’s calendar, their presence status and personal rules.

Presence technology is key element of a unified communications platform. Voice-embedded applications leverage presence just as IM uses the technology to allow users to see whether someone is available, busy, away from their computer or offline.

Because presence-based applications leverage real-time information about user, system or device availability, they can determine an intended recipient’s location and route information to the appropriate computer or device, guaranteeing that the user receives critical information in a timely manner. Presence technology not only supports communication between users, but application-to-application integration in which the presence infrastructure announces which applications are up, what their functions are and what types of protocols they accept.

Some UC solutions have the ability to embed voice and collaboration capabilities in all sorts of applications. At the click of a button, users will be able to speak to people who are working on a jointly written document to make amendments, reply verbally to emails or check a person’s availability. Users will simply click on links within applications without dialing, looking up numbers in a directory or having to organize conference calls.

Not all UC solutions are created equal. In fact, some of the confusion surrounding unified communications stems from the fact that vendors use the term to market standalone services that aren’t fully integrated. When selecting a UC vendor, it’s important to look for a solution that provides all the key components of UC as well as integration with third-party apps. IPC can help you evaluate the various options and select a solution that helps you improve productivity, streamline business processes and boost the bottom line.