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How ready is your business for unified communications?

Probably more than you think

Business security measures using SSL

Workshop Although unified communications (UC) still has some way to go before it achieves mainstream adoption, businesses increasingly understand what it is and what it can deliver in terms of benefits to the business.

Moreover, sentiment towards UC is generally positive, with a significant proportion of companies already having it on their agenda in some shape or form. Of course, having it on the agenda and actually moving forward with an implementation are very different things. While many businesses acknowledge the relevance of UC, and recognise its importance at some point in the future, what they are grappling with today is what makes it a ‘need to have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’.

To try and determine this, rather than look at the benefits that UC will bring to the business, we need to step back and look at what communications looks like in the workplace today, and consider how ‘fit-for-purpose’ this actually is.

At first glance, communications tools and methods in many workplaces may appear well-implemented, integrating seamlessly across the business. However, closer inspection will often reveal that this is an over-simplistic view, and that in fact the picture of workplace communications is a much more complex and unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Many companies will have started out with more traditional, broadly used mechanisms such as phone and email, and gradually extended their portfolio to encompass newer tools, such as instant messaging (IM), audio- and video-conferencing and mobile SMS, on a more selective deployment basis. However, these changes have tended to be implemented in a relatively fragmented and piecemeal fashion. And while they will most likely have delivered a better communications environment for staff, it is questionable whether they will have achieved the full cost and productivity benefits that they should. This is as a direct result of them having come on board in a very ad-hoc manner, and having been implemented in isolation.

However, this fragmentation on its own does not present a strong enough case for migration to UC, although from a technical perspective, managing a tangled web of communications channels is undoubtedly a headache, and one that IT managers would be glad to see the back of.

Where the argument for UC starts to become important is when we think about the impact that this fragmentation has on the business. Individuals will use a variety of communications tools throughout a working day – phone, email, IM, voicemail, audio-conferencing and so on. Because many of these systems are not properly integrated, working across them can be inefficient, and even discourage use of specific mechanisms.

For example, a user faced with a separate audio or video-conference system may be disinclined to log in to the system because he has to deal with a completely different and unfamiliar call initiation approach. In a UC context, this would result in a call being made through a recognisable interface with a couple of mouse clicks. What this shows is that implementation of UC makes the emerging mechanisms such as video-conferencing, web-conferencing and the like much more accessible.

Many businesses tend not to explicitly acknowledge this communications fragmentation and disjoint and will probably think that this doesn’t really apply to them. As a consequence, while UC is on their agenda, it can be put off for a while. However, the reality is that most companies operate in this inefficient and ineffective way. And as communications channels become increasingly convoluted, this will only be exacerbated further.

In a world where everything hinges on productive communications, the time for businesses to start seriously looking at UC, even if only in a partial way, is now.

If your company has already implemented UC, what made you take the plunge? If you haven’t yet gone down the UC road yet, what is driving your thinking in this area, and what sort of timeframe do you want to move forward in? Let us know your thoughts in the comments area below. ®

Business security measures using SSL

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