What is Unified Communications?

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An introduction to Unified Communications (UC)

As the demands of today’s fast-paced technological environment increases, enterprises must ensure the adoption of workplace applications is managed in the most effective way. As one of the most important aspects of a company’s infrastructure, it is imperative that its communications systems can support employees in their day-to-day activities. Legacy communication systems and PBX equipment no longer support today’s growing need for a simple, flexible and mobile end-user communications experience. Additionally, many people struggle from email overload that inhibits productivity.

The convergence of telephony, mobile, Big Data, and the Cloud is setting the stage for a new way of working, collaborating and leveraging business information. Unified Communications (UC), or Intelligent Communications (IC), are the terms used to describe this new wave of enterprise communication capabilities.

Tools such as instant messaging (chat), Voice over IP, web & audio conferencing, and desktop sharing are linked with productivity gains and should be accessed in a simple way to provide a seamless user experience.

Unified communications (UC) products — equipment, software and services — provide and combine multiple enterprise communications channels, such as voice, video, personal and team messaging, voicemail, and content sharing. This can include control, management and integration of these channels. UC products and services can also be integrated with networks and systems, IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.

Gartner Glossary - Unified Communications (UC)

Considerations for a Unified Communications solution:

Integration with productivity applications

Your UC solution needs to effectively integrate your communication applications into a single front-end interface. By combining apps like video, email and voice together, your organisation can leverage the increased productivity that UC provides through time savings and enhanced organisational agility. This is by giving your employees access to all their communication applications in one place, which can be accessed on any device in any location. Meaning that as long as your employees are connected to the internet, they are always connected to your organisation.

Ease of use and adoption

A vital part of a UC solution, and a major concern for UC, is how it is adopted by your organisation, and making sure it is simple for your employees to use. A complicated UC solution further discourages employees from embracing it. Ease of use can be improved by simplifying the access to all the applications in your desktop, where they work together to maximise employee output. With the result being that employees can seamlessly turn a chat into a call, video conference or collaboration space, in just a few clicks. Simplicity, combined with the user-friendliness of UC through the integration of your communication applications, will increase the adoption by your employees and allow your organisation to leverage the benefits of UC faster.

Accessibility to needed features

Your UC solutions needs to have the most up-to-date features so your users, and their organisation, can increase their productivity. This can be enabled through automatic updates of applications, so the latest features are easily available. Your UC solution needs to not only give you access to the features you need now but be able to adapt to the needs of your organisation as it grows.

Migration support

Organisations are all in different stages of their journey to a UC solution. You need to make sure you are fully supported in your migration, so that the best and most appropriate UC solution is put in place for the organisation. It’s necessary to plan what you want from your UC solution and how this is implemented and to find a provider who can guide and support your organisation throughout this journey.

Unified Communications Applications

Working from home (WFH)

Working from home is where an employee can perform their work activities from home, instead of at the office. UC enables WFH by giving employees access to the tools they need to perform their tasks outside of the office. WFH can be improved through Office 365 as this allows users to access their Microsoft applications and have their communication needs met through Microsoft Teams, all in their own home.

Currently, WFH is viewed by businesses as being simply a benefit for employees as it provides the option to not come into the office; however, the business benefits are often overlooked. WFH can improve productivity, as employees always have the latest files available and can eliminate unproductive travel time, and increases collaboration as employees are always able to connect with each other, no matter their location.

Organisations are starting to expand their ability to offer WFH to their employees to ensure business continuity, by increasing the scope of activities that can be performed outside of the office to encompass all employees. This is so they can all perform their duties in case of an emergency which prevents them from traveling to the office.

Desktop as a service (DaaS)

Desktop as a service is a method of delivering a complete virtual desktop environment to users, which integrates a variety of components, including operating systems, applications and files from the cloud. This allows access to your desktop on a range of devices (including laptops and phones) in any location. This can be provided through a subscription-based model, so your organisation only pays for what they use. This goes hand-in-hand with Office 365, which is a solution that enables a full end-to-end environment for many organisations.

Currently, there are still a lot of applications that are office-based which require physical installations. However, there’s a push to move to a landscape that is fully self-serviced, where employees can access their desktop from any location and from any device.

There are two major drivers behind this shift to DaaS. Firstly, the cost savings from DaaS are high, as organisations can reduce the amount of hardware they require, as well as the office space and desks they need. Because this solution is completely virtual, you only pay for what you need as it is a subscription-based model. Secondly, DaaS improves productivity as employees can access their desktop from any location at any time.

Unified Communications Technologies

WebRTC

Unified Communications, and in particular video conferencing, has been slow to get off the ground. Some of our readers will remember linking together 64Kb basic rate lines to get near the 256/512Kb bandwidth required for a jitter-free picture with continuous sound.

Later on, we moved to telepresence conference solutions, however, the cost, technology and on-going support requirements put them beyond the reach of most mid-market organisations.

Desktop video conferencing has existed for some time, but initially required an add-on kit, and to install local client software.

Today, instant and immediate video calling, along with screen and application sharing, is with us and readily available in the form of Web Real-Time Communications (or WebRTC). WebRTC has created a simple browser-to-browser communications market and remains a critical element of most Unified Communications solutions.

The Rise of SIP Trunking

Traditionally, voice network have run separately to IP networks, but as companies look to streamline costs, make their businesses more flexible and efficient, there has been a greater demand for moving to a single, converged IP infrastructure.

As a result, many organisations have implemented a SIP trunking service.  Additionally, as traditional voice line services are replaced by more mature IP telephony, many users are migrating from ISDN TDM telephony to SIP-based communications to benefit from new services such as unified communications.

Previous barriers to adoption have been primarily been the cost of access (i.e. providing bandwidth to the customer site where the PBX is located), and the maturity of technology vendors that support SIP trunking.

Whilst SIP is a standardised IETF protocol stack, the standards have been implemented by vendors slightly differently, and therefore service providers have had to adapt to vendor requirements by ensuring that their infrastructure can support them. Always ensure your preferred service provider has proven interoperability directly with major vendors such as Cisco, Avaya, and Microsoft.

Key Features of Unified Communications

Voicemails

Voicemails can be delivered to email, played on PC, phones, mobiles, delivering the same end-user experience from any device (SIP phone, laptop, smartphone and tablet) no matter where you are (in the office, at home or on the road) and with one single point of contact for UCC, voice traffic and connectivity.

Presence

Presence can be detected from your phone, calendar or individual activity enabled employees to navigate easily between messaging, voice, conferencing and sharing tools which provide rapid ways of communicating with their colleagues

Conference calls

Conference calls are now the norm and part of any standard Unified Communications solution. Use artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically remove background noise whilst on a group call.

Softphones

Software enables working over Wifi or broadband, using a headset, or routing calls to a convenient landline or mobile

Apps

Standard apps include Instant Messaging, Email, Chat and Voice, in addition to meeting more bespoke requirements such as Voice Recording and Contact Centre Solutions.

Video

UC has enabled businesses to move from purpose-built expensive video suites to the standard desktop, thanks to low-cost cameras, deployment of softphones and the reduction in bandwidth requirements and cost.

Cloud

Move away from dedicated servers on your premises, or datacenters, to leveraging a modern cloud computing environment with inherent resilience and future-proofing. Build on your own existing cloud infrastructure, or leverage Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) to for operational cost savings and outsourced communications services.

Virtual Whiteboards

Eliminate the neglect of remote participants through a digital whiteboard where people, content, and ideas come together. Allow meeting participants to draw, sketch, and write together on a free-form shared digital canvas.

Cost

Flexible commercial terms typically allow businesses to own and operate, or allow a supplier to and operate on their behalf. Additionally, per-person pricing models (or cost per user seating) provide businesses with cost control and a level of transparency previously unavailable.

If your organisation still has legacy PSTN communications systems, typically when completing a standard TCO analysis, the cost-benefit shows that transitioning to SIP trunking is a justified investment, particularly when there is a strategy to converge voice and data networks onto a common backbone.

Support

Get a guaranteed user-experience across Europe, with local language, in-country expertise where you need it. Demand an end-to-end Service Level Agreement (SLA), ensuring a consistent, high-quality user experience across your entire solution and business locations.

UCAAS

With cloud becoming the obvious choice for enterprise application delivery, the as-a-service model also seems natural to apply to Unified Communications (UC). Enter UCAAS, aka Unified Communications as a Service.

Despite security concerns, the reality, especially in a hosted environment, is that the practices, capabilities and requirements of a service provider often far exceed those of the customer.

Look out for certifications such as:

  • ISO/IEC 27001 - the only auditable international standard defining requirements for an Information Security Management System (ISMS) ensuring adequate and proportionate security controls have been established
  • SO9001:2008 - an internationally recognised standard for quality management systems, which is licensed to just over one million organisations worldwide and is accepted as the basis for demonstration of well-managed processes which meet applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.

UC Expo

UC EXPO is the largest Unified Communications and Collaboration event and exhibition in Europe. The two-day event encompasses the technologies that enable smarter collaboration and a truly connected business.

For more information visit https://www.ucexpo.co.uk/.

Our Intelligent Communications solution

At Colt, Unified Communications is referred to as Intelligent Communications, powered by Microsoft Office 365. We differentiate ourselves by leveraging our unique global voice, fully owned network and data centre assets to provide you with the best end-to-end experience.

Colt’s Tier 1 network offers reliable and predictable connectivity, with resiliency provided by premium service quality options. End-to-end support gives predictable system uptime and the assurance that we will be there to solve any issues, allowing businesses to effectively leverage workplace technology now and into the future.

Colt is certified for ISO/IEC 27001, which is the only auditable international standard defining requirements for an Information Security Management System (ISMS) ensuring adequate and proportionate security controls have been established. You can find out more about our Intelligent Communications solution on our product page here, alternative view a customer case study below.

Colt helps Shurgard increase annual turnover by €5 million

Masergy expands UCaaS service offering in Europe

Whether you’re migrating to SIP, managing a move to the Cloud, or transforming your customer service operations, our Colt team will be on hand to discuss your specific business needs with you. Discover the business transformation potential of UC, whilst simultaneously reducing both your capex and opex costs.

 

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