If you are interested in becoming a cutting edge company with respect to communication, your phone system and e-mail have become old news. The latest and greatest trend around communication is what the industry refers to as “unified communications.”
According to Wikipedia, 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, e-mail, 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 discussed with Schuler the highlights and advantages of some of the key components of UC.
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 e-mail 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. E-mail 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: With many of the new UC products, video conferencing is available. In its simplest form, video conferencing can be two people talking back and forth using a small and 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 hi-bandwidth private lines that produce very crisp hi-definition video. Whatever the case, 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 it becomes 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 are doing. This can include the city or location that they are in, and whether they are available, in a meeting, on a phone call, traveling, or whatever categories you deem appropriate for your environment. 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 to say hi, unless of course it is 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): UM has been around for quite some time, yet many companies still don’t have these feature sets. Imagine getting your e-mail, 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 as well in the form of PDF documents.
Find me: Find me is a feature that allows callers to find you wherever you are. In my case, if I’m not at my desk, and I don’t pick up my phone, a greeting comes on that says the system will attempt to locate me. With my system, I request that the person calling give my system their name before attempting to locate me. Then, my system will call my cell phone, announce that so-and-so is looking for me, and give me the option of taking the call or sending the call to voicemail. This is a powerful feature in instances when you are out of the office and you want important callers to be able to get in contact with you.
In summary, unified communications, when used across the entire organization, can be a very effective set of tools to help workers be more productive and have an overall better communication experience. As an aside, the products that we use internally for UC are the ShoreTel Unified Communication system, along with Microsoft Lync.
Zack Schuler is the founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com with any questions about available UC technologies.