Businesses are always looking for ways to increase productivity and leverage a wide range of integrated communications solutions to drive top-line revenue while optimizing automation efficiencies for lower operational costs. As a result, Unified Communications (UC) technology is being adopted by businesses of all sizes.
Although many people differ on the exact definition of UC, it typically includes a suite of features such as: find me/follow me, voice mail to email transcription, softphones, electronic faxing, presence, instant messaging, video chat, screen sharing, file sharing and others. The idea is to bridge the gap between your computer and your phone, making it easier and faster to communicate and collaborate.
The use of UC can be a boon to those running a business on a tight budget. “UC solutions are implemented to improve communication flow, enable mobility and save time,” said Jeff Valentine, UC provider ShoreTel’s Cloud Division VP of Product and GM. “For example, cloud-based UC allows an employee to seamlessly collaborate with another person on a project, even if they are on opposite sides of the country. A user can easily and quickly find the required coworker by accessing an interactive directory, engage in an instant messaging session, and if necessary escalate the session to a voice call, or even a video chat.”
Cloud-based UC is an excellent choice for those without large IT budgets. Because there is little or no initial hardware expense, UC can be procured with just the monthly fee times the number of users. Another advantage of cloud-based solutions is that they are typically scalable. This means that you can buy only the service that you need now and easily add more users as your company grows. With premise-based systems, often you have to guess at your anticipated maximum capacity over several years, and this can add to the initial expense.
So how does UC work in the cloud? Valentine pointed out that cloud-based UC is delivered as a hosted service. It is usually sold on a per seat/per month model. “Unlike a premise based solution, no hardware installation is required and business continuity and a consistent service experience are built in,” he said. “Providers also usually include all future updates to the software as part of the monthly fee, so users are guaranteed that they always have the latest and coolest technology without additional investment or a major upgrade to manage.”
Administrative applications are typically web-based are among the best tools for UC in the cloud. “Even entry-level systems provide some integration with UC features like presence management,” said Sean Finney, owner United Data Voice. “There are also PC applications that deliver conference center management and other features. Some systems provide mobile phone integration to the extent they have the ability to use a soft phone that integrates with the phone system using a Wi-Fi connection so you can make calls through the cloud and conserve your cell phone minutes.”
For a small- or medium-sized business there are phone systems with highly integrated unified communication features made specifically for these smaller organizations. The systems are easier to manage and configure and once installed, any authorized end-user can be the day-to-day administrator for creating users, routing forwarding preferences and other simple tasks.
UC can be used to its best advantage with it is part of the underling phone system. This allows for the tightest integration and after all, voice communication is still at the heart of how business gets done. Choosing a cloud-based business phone system that offers UC features helps apply all of the cost advantages of the cloud (less up front expense and easy scalability) to the entire corporate communication infrastructure.
About the Author: Sue Poremba is a freelance writer focusing primarily on security and technology issues and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting.