10 Must Have Unified Communications Features

Updated: September 10, 2010

Wikipedia defines Unified Communications (UC) as the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, telephony (including IP telephony), video conferencing, 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.

UC also refers to a trend to offer Business process integration, i.e. to simplify and integrate all forms of communications in view to optimize business processes and reduce the response time, manage flows, and eliminate device and media dependencies.

UC allows an individual to send a message on one medium and receive the same communication on another medium. For example, one can receive a voicemail message and choose to access it through e-mail or a cell phone. If the sender is online according to the presence information and currently accepts calls, the response can be sent immediately through text chat or video call. Otherwise, it may be sent as a non real-time message that can be accessed through a variety of media.

As a result of the many advantages UC offers businesses, there's a lot of hubbub about UC today. Whether you are considering solutions from Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, Google, ShoreTel, Interactive Intelligence, HP, Polycom or others, you will see UC features allow all employees to easily: collaborate from anywhere and in different ways, reach someone (internally or externally) in an instant and, generally speaking, get more done in a day. They also pave the way for more intelligent, intuitive and customer-focused experiences. We use many of the features of UC in our own business today. As a telecom consulting firm, we also are out and about in the marketplace where we get to see how lots other organizations are using, or looking to use, the features, functionality and capabilities of UC. The list of opportunities is growing, but here is my basic "10 Must Have UC Features" of today:

  1. Presence - knowing the availability of the other users
  2. Unified messaging - one inbox for emails/voicemails/faxes
  3. Integrated audio/web conferencing
  4. Instant messaging/chat
  5. One number reach - Call one number to reach the individual because the call could be routed to a desk phone, cell phone, home phone, etc.
  6. Click to dial features from Outlook and/or a web browser
  7. Corporate phone books across all locations - domestic and international
  8. Extension dialing over all locations - domestic and international
  9. Screen pops with specific, customized customer information
  10. Disaster recovery - calls can be routed to other locations to ensure no call is missed and data can still be accessed so that there is little to no loss of productivity

This list only scratches the surface, but it clearly illustrates some features that: save time, simplify daily activities, reduce costs and provide easy access to more people and more information. Furthermore, when organizations integrate the rapidly increasing capabilities of laptops, smart phones, iPads and other web-enabled devices, they extend these capabilities to people on the road and around the world.

With so many businesses reducing their payrolls, increasing the responsibilities of their remaining employees, streamlining processes where possible, increasing efficiencies when needed and mining specific customer data segments to target sales efforts; the inherent capabilities and the wide variety of UC options are making it a good fit for organizations of all sizes. Maybe that is why Network World states: "Despite falling or flat budgets for the vast majority of companies two areas continue to gain significant interest (and dollars): Unified communications and virtualization" and a new report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. predicts: "the Global Market for Unified Communications Products will Reach US$16.8 Billion by 2015".

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