The days of the busy signal and answering machines are over. Communications, like computer technology, continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. Today, technology is sophisticated enough that a single message can follow the intended recipient to any number of outlets including voicemail, e-mail, iPods, BlackBerrys and Bluetooth devices. “The Cisco Unified Communications System enables all communications to be single-focused through a common platform built around a call manager IP PBX,” says Paul Moncrief, sales and service manager of Berbee’s Cleveland office.
Smart Business talked to Moncrief about how new software and other technology are changing the way companies communicate.
What is unified communications?
In a traditional system, a PBX (private branch exchange) handles routing calls to the correct telephone line. With a conventional PBX, companies need separate networks for voice and data communications. One of the main advantages of an IP-based PBX is the fact that it employs converged data and voice networks. This means that Internet access, Voice over IP (VoIP) communications and traditional telephone communications are all possible using a single line to each user. This provides flexibility as a company grows, and can also reduce long-term operation and maintenance costs. Out of that core come products that provide users a common platform to access all communications, including voice, video and collaboration. This total package of solutions, from the IP PBX to the products running on the converged network, is what unified communications is all about.
One such unified communications product running on the core is Cisco Unified MeetingPlace. This complete conferencing solution integrates voice, video, and Web conferencing. It is deployed on the network, behind the firewall and integrated directly into an organization’s private voice and data networks and collaborative applications.
Another component is exemplified by Cisco Unity Unified Messaging, which delivers unified messaging across e-mail, voice, and fax messages sent to one inbox. If you send me a voicemail, this solution takes that message and deposits it into my Outlook or Lotus Notes e-mail as a waiting media file. I can listen to it in my inbox or through my phone, and save it to my own computer. This solution improves communication, boosts productivity and enhances customer service capabilities.
Unified communications also includes capabilities for customer contact and call centers. With these technologies residing on the converged networks, users can readily handle large volumes of customer interactions (phone calls, e-mail, or Web-based communications). With voice self-service solutions using automated speech recognition and text-to-speech, customers can, for example, pay bills, order products and track deliveries all without the costs of interacting with a live agent.
The next phase is presence capabilities. Products like Cisco Unified Presence Server use dynamic presence information to allow users to check the availability of colleagues in real time, reducing phone tag and improving productivity. They also provide a standards-based presence service. Support of open standards enables integration to other systems such as IBM Lotus and Microsoft Office Communicator clients.
All told, unified communications really enables businesses to communicate more efficiently. They are able to stay connected with employees and employees with customers regardless of where the employees are located. Think of a call manager IP PBX as the hub and the user’s location as the spoke. A spoke that can now be anywhere the end-user is located on the network.
When IP communication first burst onto the scene, it was all about how to reduce communication cost, which made it a purely ROI-based decision. Today, with all of the convergence that unified communications offers, an organization can build a solid infrastructure that can transport data, voice and video on the same network. This means lower support costs, fewer people needed to maintain separate networks, and better tools to manage the infrastructure. Once you’re converged network is up and running, you can start to look at ways to improve productivity through things like Web-conferencing and call centers. It drives new business and strategies that were never possible in the past.
For more information about the topics discussed contact Chris Ashcraft, Berbee Cincinnati regional manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org