Unified Communications

A few months back I wrote about getting leverage from your investment in the technology platform.  In this column, I will cover one specific topic that demonstrates this.  One of the most notable inventions of the late 1890s was the telephone, it allowed people to communicate over long distances instantaneously.  Over the last few years a variety of new mechanism to communicate and collaborate has materialised.  People can now communicate through email, instant text messages (through computer or through the mobile phones), voice and video over the Internet.  However, these methods of communication are still limited to private use due to the slower adoption of these technologies in the corporate and government area.  

Technology adoption occurs in stages, as many in the IT industry are aware.  A particular technology becomes pervasive when the majority of the people started to use and adopt it, this usually occurs when the technology has manifested in a way that allow people to use it as part of their day to day life.  In the next few years the convergence in communication will proliferate because the accessibility to the way we use these technologies is becoming more integrated with the way we do our business.  Today, all government departments in developing and developed nations are equipped with a telephone and a significant majority are using email.  However, we still see a divide in our phone system and email system.  We also see a divide in our instant messaging system.  Why couldn’t we access our emails and calendars through the telephone, why can’t we access voice mails through our email system and why can’t we be reached on the same telephone number even while we are travelling.  Well actually, you can do all of these today, we call it unified communication.

Unified communications bring many benefits; one of the most interesting benefit is having the ability to detect presence or the status (busy, away, offline etc) of your fellow colleague or friend.  This information can help determine the method of communication that you can use to interact.  If the person is busy you may decide to send an email instead of calling or using instant message.  A more interesting capability that can be delivered using this information is a tighter integration into an organisation workflow.  As an example, imagine in your department you have one person in charge of approving a certain type of document.  Current automated workflow usually has a static list of approvers, without regard or knowledge on the availability of that individual. Imagine if your workflow can now automatically detect the user presence status (away, on annual leave etc) and then automatically re-route the document to an alternative person.  This status information is constantly updated using current knowledge of the user schedule on their calendar and it can also be set based on their current work status (they may be busy processing a document).  We have integrated these disparate technologies into a coherent, consistent and smart experience for the end user.  This is a true example where a platform can be leveraged by the whole organisation and allowing various departmental applications to leverage the capability once deployed.

Another more obvious benefit of unified communications is cost savings and convenience that can be derived by organisations.  If we look at the diagram, (point 1) organisations generally need to deploy a computer and a handset to each of their employees.  There are costs associated in doing this, there is the telephone handset cost and there is also the maintenance cost for the back end system, costs with moving the numbers around and costs with having to employ individuals with the telecoms skills.  If at the user end (point 2) this is converged on a single device (the computer), the company can combine the costs of maintenance into managing the computers and leverage greater economies of scale and can also reduce the skill set needed to maintain the equipments.  Organisations that have multiple offices, especially those that are located in different countries or states will be able to realise greater cost savings on communication bill by communicating over the Internet (point 3).

If your employees travel or move around a number of times a year, the benefit of unified communication is amplified greatly.  They can literally be reached anywhere they are connected to the Internet on the same telephone number while saving the company on long distance charges (point 4).  Another important aspect is the ability to be reached by customers on a single number.  How often have the people in your organisation become unreachable because they are travelling and to make matters worse they did not receive important voice mails or were even aware they were called by the customer? 

Communication convergence is happening, the unification of communication and collaboration into the day to day tools you use for business is happening. 

Find out more about Microsoft Unified Communications: http://www.microsoft.com/uc

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