Business owners have a wealth of communication tools at their disposal—in fact, maybe too many. Systems and software that enable teams to work together may be great as stand-alone products, but integrating individual systems into a cohesive whole can be frustrating. That’s where unified communications (UC) comes in.
Unified communications refers to a group of communication systems that function collectively and intuitively by using common and familiar interfaces. UC is not a single platform; rather, it’s composed of a full suite of interconnected systems. Put simply, UC creates a business universe where communication methods are easy to understand and, from a technology standpoint, work well together.
In the past, UC was used primarily to refer to telephone-based systems—for example, a system of interoffice lines, voice mail boxes, and call control. As high-speed Internet became a fundamental part of business operations, the definition of UC has expanded to include many more active systems: instant messaging, video conferencing, desktop sharing, data exchange, presence notifications for real-time customer service, mobile device technology, collaboration tools, and consumer chat services. Non-real-time systems such as email, SMS text messaging, and fax data are also components of a functional UC setup.
The end goal of UC is to optimize business processes, enabling users to work more efficiently. Clear communication combined with systems that enhance collaboration creates teams that can function remotely with ease.
UC strives to be an all-in-one solution that merges vital hosted services into a single, low-cost system through its foundation: unified messaging. People use unified messaging to access a variety of functions such as instant messages, audio calls, and video conferencing from a single interface to make their daily interactions more efficient. These systems can also sync voice mail and messages to mobile devices and desktops in real time to keep users informed and easy to reach. Teams can collaborate on projects and ideas from a common hub, and apps allow users to access this hub from a variety of devices.
And because UC takes multiple devices into account, workers can benefit from joining a video conference from their laptops or their phones—or they can easily access the recorded meeting if they weren’t able to attend.
Improving communication systems means there will be greater clarity when exchanging information, along with fewer mishandled issues or missed inquiries. Streamlining conversations means small misunderstandings can be instantly addressed without delay and ideas are put into action sooner and with more clarity.
Remote workers and telecommuters especially benefit from UC’s emphasis on mobile technology, because they can do their jobs just as efficiently as they could in an office setting—if not more so. The ability to work from almost anywhere is a great solution for users who thrive outside of an office environment or need to work odd hours.
The most popular and effective UC elements vary from business to business, but the core usually starts with a unified messaging or instant messaging program. These programs are available as desktop and mobile apps that look and function the same way across platforms. Video conferencing programs are often integrated into the same unified messaging program, though several dedicated video conferencing options offer real-time video display, higher-quality audio presentation, and the ability to archive meetings for future reference.
Smartphone apps give users access to all the features of their business phones, for example, or allow them to integrate existing elements of an established UC—including collaborative calendars, Kanban-style workflow programs, and task-based production apps. Notification systems can be as basic as email pop-ups or as involved as tracking specific call data or web-based analytics. Using presence modules can let users know when their teammates are available, if conference space is open, or if a teammate is currently on a call.
Put together, UC can help a business run smoothly and reduce mistakes, poor communication, and lack of accountability. The added benefit of a familiar interface means less time training employees on different programs, letting them jump into new communication realms with ease. Business communication will always be a challenge, but with the right UC, users can work together with increased accuracy and transparency.