What on earth is unified communications anyway?

By: Leon Penny

Date: 3 May 2012

You can't read about business communications these days without seeing a mention of unified communications. It's a great bit of jargon, but what on earth does it mean?

As business technology continues to develop, more and more communication channels are being opened. Tools like instant messaging, email and mobile phones make staying in touch more efficient and practical, regardless of distance and budget.

In the past, you'd have had to switch between different devices and channels to keep in touch with clients or partners. As the number of possible communication channels has grown, that's started to become unmanageable and complicated.

Step forward unified communications, which combines these different tools into one system, so you can stay in touch more easily.

Elements of unified communications

The very nature of unified communications means it's flexible – and that's part of the problem when it comes to defining what it actually does. However, it covers five broad areas:

  • Messaging. This brings together main forms of communication – like fax, email, voicemail and text messaging – and integrates them with your calendars and contact details. All these different things are grouped in one ‘inbox', which you can access from your computer or mobile phone – so you don't have to switch devices to use different communication methods.
  • Instant messaging. In essence, instant messaging is online chat. You communicate with others by sending and receiving short text messages in an online chat window. Instant messaging can be fast and secure, and you can set your instant messaging system up to keep a record of all messages sent.
  • Presence. This is becoming an increasingly important part of modern business communications. Presence technology enables you to see if your contacts are available or not. For instance, you can see if a colleague is in a meeting or away from their desk. Presence information ensures attempts to reach other people aren't wasted, and makes it easier to keep in touch with remote workers.
  • Conferencing. Reach employees, customers and partners without having to travel long-distances. Conferencing systems can be voice-only, or include video too, so you can see the different people taking part. Conferencing is a good way to hold remote meetings and build closer links with people outside your business.
  • Voice over internet protocol (VOIP). A little more jargon for you here, but VOIP simply means that your telephone calls are sent over the internet as digital 1s and 0s, rather than down ordinary phone lines. This can dramatically reduce your costs and makes things much more flexible, allowing your telephones to be linked with the other elements of your unified communications system. Learn more about VOIP >>

A unified communications system will be flexible and modular, meaning you can combine these core elements – and some others – however you want.

Other elements include mobile access, collaboration tools to aid document sharing, speech recognition and call control. A good IT supplier will be able to help you understand the benefits and create a system that's right for you.

SynergyPlus provides telephony and technology solutions for businesses.

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