If you are interested in becoming a cutting edge company with respect to communication, your phone system and email have become old news. The latest and greatest trend around communication is what the industry refers to as “unified communications.”
Unified communications (UC) is the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, telephony (including IP telephony), video conferencing, data sharing (including Web-connected electronic whiteboards, a.k.a. IWBs or interactive white boards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, email, SMS and fax).
“UC is not a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group.
Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the highlights and advantages of some of the key components of UC.
What are some key features of UC?
There are some great aspects of UC that can improve communication at your company. These include:
Instant messaging (IM): IM has evolved from an Internet-based social tool, to a corporate collaboration tool. At Cal Net, we use IM to get a quick answer to a quick question. Rather than using email as IM, which many companies do, we choose to use IM itself. IM has to become part of the culture, and when you need a quick answer to a quick question, it’s our tool of choice. Email has a less critical response expectation than does an IM. To take IM a step further, if you implement what are known as ‘federation services’ you can connect to a clients or business partner’s IM system while still remaining in your IM interface.
Video conferencing: In its simplest form, video conferencing can be two people talking back and forth using an inexpensive Web cam. In its more elaborate existence, video conferencing can be a multiple camera setup in a conference room, connected to another conference room, over high-bandwidth private lines that produce very crisp high-definition video. The big value in video conferencing is to save time and money on travel, and to have a better communication experience with the ability to read facial and body language. Once part of your culture, it is a very effective tool.
Presence: Within many of our tools, such as IM and SharePoint, there exists a tool known as ‘presence.’ Presence is simply where a person is located and what they’re doing. This can include the city they are in and whether they are available, in a meeting, on a phone call, traveling, or whatever categories you deem appropriate. For example, when I look at our presence dashboard now, two of my employees have ‘do not disturb’ marked. Internally, that means ‘I’m working on something, so don’t IM me, call me, or stop by my office unless it’s an emergency.’ Presence is an effective tool for letting your coworkers know where you are and what you’re doing.
Data sharing or interactive white boards: These components of a UC system can prove to be invaluable when you are working with someone at a remote location. Let’s say that you’ve got a meeting with a coworker in New York and you are brainstorming on a work flow diagram. You can simply launch a Web chat through your UC client, and then through the client, one person can take over another’s desktop. You can share a particular document or you can bring up an ad-hoc white board and begin scribbling notes. This is a very effective tool for collaboration.
Unified messaging (UM): Imagine getting your email, voicemail, texts and faxes all in a single inbox. This is unified messaging. In my case, if someone leaves me a voicemail message, it arrives in my e-mail inbox as a .wav file. Double clicking the .wav file plays the voicemail back, which is far simpler than using my telephone to pick up the voicemail. If I’m out of the office, the voicemail is delivered to my mobile device, and once again, with the click of a button, I’ve got my voicemail. Faxes arrive in my inbox and in the form of PDF documents.
When used across an organization, UC can be a very effective set of tools to boost productivity and have an overall better communication experience.
Zack Schuler is founder and CEO at Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.
Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group