Author: James Key, JKey@jackhenry.com
For the past several years, one popular "buzz phrase" that is consistently mentioned when discussing technology is that of "Unified Communications (UC)." UC can mean many different things to different people and if you were to ask 25 different people "What is your definition of Unified Communications?” you would undoubtedly get 25 different and diverging replies. This is particularly true with the various UC vendors who feel that their products offer the most definitive solution. Although Unified Communications is sometimes described as an "umbrella" term and can be difficult to define, the generally accepted industry definition is as follows:
Unified Communications (UC) is the integration of non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, short message service [SMS], and fax) with real-time communication services such as IP Telephony (VoIP), instant messaging (chat), presence information, and video conferencing.
It's important to note, that UC is not merely defined as any single technology but as a set of technologies that provides a consistent unified interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types. This can include (but not limited to) unified messaging, presence, instant messaging, video, and what may arguably be the foundation of UC, IP telephony (VoIP).
Let's take a brief look at these 5 areas which generally play an important role in any UC deployment.
1. IP Telephony (VoIP)
IP telephony is typically the building block in any UC deployment and integrates voice capabilities with other modes of communications such as integrating voicemail with email inboxes and extending telephony from standard desk phones to end user PCs in the form of various software applications (softphones for example). It can also provide end users with several telephony features such as individualized call control settings, unified corporate directories, conference calling, and mobility to name a few. One great example of a mobility feature often utilized is that of "Single Number Reach" (SNR). SNR allows a user to receive business calls to their designated direct inward dial (DID) number wherever they may want to be reached at any given moment, whether that be at their desk, at home, or on their mobile phone. In addition, this feature also allows the transfer of a call from a desk phone to a mobile phone, and back again, without anyone on the other end ever knowing this change occurred. With the growing adoption of IP telephony, UC is finally becoming a practical proposition for most businesses. For those businesses that have already implemented IP telephony, they are well on the way towards creating a UC environment since their phone system can easily join other forms of IP-based communications on an enterprise data network.
2. Unified Messaging
UC also incorporates unified messaging, which integrates email, voicemail, and faxes into one single inbox that can then be accessed from a client such as Microsoft Outlook. This can also include advanced voicemail functionality such as text to speech, speech to text, and visual voicemail.
Presence is one of the more significant features within any UC environment and can particularly be important to companies that have a widely dispersed and mobile work force. Moment by moment, presence will share an end user's availability, location, and possibly the preferred method of contact. Other end users can immediately see if the person with whom they need to connect is available and the best way to reach that person. Presence indicators can be delivered by different means whether that is software running on a desktop PC or on an end user's mobile phone.
4. Instant Messaging (IM)
Once the province of anonymous people "conversing" in chat rooms on the internet, IM has made its way to the enterprise and is now becoming a corporate mainstay. IM is usually integrated tightly with presence and is rapidly becoming a viable replacement for overflowing voicemail and email inboxes. If you need to get through to a busy co-worker, IM is becoming the fastest and most effective method of communication.
In a quest to try and slash travel costs, businesses have increasingly been turning to video for meetings with remote workers, training sessions, and more. UC solutions should therefore integrate with the various modes of video such as desktop webcams, video enabled IP phones, and video Multipoint Control Units (MCU) which are utilized in larger environments such as conference, training, and board rooms and where multi-site conferencing may be a requirement.
There are many advantages of adopting Unified Communications and one will certainly include cost savings, but a big part of your Return on Investment (ROI) will be realized through improved business processes, such as helping your employees work more productively and efficiently and will definitely give the potential to transform the way your company does business.
What advantages has your institution seen from adopting Unified Communications?
Author: Josh Horton, JHorton@jackhenry.com
Enterprise business communications has seen incredible changes over the past 10 years. It started with PBXs and Fax machines followed by email, Internet and Voice over IP. Today we enjoy real-time communications that include things like instant messaging, online meetings, online support queues, video conferencing, desktop sharing and presence information – all great technological innovations that open up communications not only for internal staff but also for customers.
Today’s unified communications solutions allow you to easily connect people and information to solve communication challenges, but did you know they can also help reduce costs? Let’s take a brief look at the history of communications solutions to get a better feel for where we’ve been, and then examine some solutions currently available that can help enhance the flexibility and effectiveness of your financial institution’s business communications while reducing overall telecommunication costs.
Private Communications a Decade Ago
10 years ago, PBX systems, wide area networks, email, fax and the Internet were all the rage as ways to greatly improve communications over the telco, postal service and courier services.
- Each branch has its own private key system or PBX.
- Calls between branches may require a long distance service.
- Fax and email replace memos, post cards and letters.
- Wide area networks are implemented to branches offices.
Next, Converged Communications Hit the Scene
A few years later, progress was made that allowed us to combine voice and data communications on a common network to save companies a lot of money. Voice over IP is common in many companies today, yet it really didn't come on the scene until almost 2004, allowing customers to combine voice and data networks into a single converged infrastructure. The result was improved features as compared to using separate data and voice networks, but the biggest factor in converting to a converged infrastructure was cost savings.
- Companies have a common phone system for all branches.
- Company-wide extension dialing improved interoffice communications.
- VoIP on the data circuits save on long distance charges.
- Video conferencing solutions save on travel costs.
- Unified communications combine voicemail and email in the same inbox.
- Faxes are converted to a tiff image and transmitted as an email.
- Call center agents can be physically located at any branch.
Today, it’s All about Instant Communications Gratification
The converged platform mentioned above is the foundation for today’s instant communications. The new communications landscape for the enterprise is instant and collaboration-focused. Ask yourself this question: How might it benefit my company if we could do the following within a private and secure communications platform?
- A Client could chat with a Customer Service Rep (CSR) instantly from a link on the company website.
- CSRs could have customer account information displayed instantly on their screen based on the customer’s phone number.
- Your iPhone or Android device could be integrated with your phone system.
- Your staff could participate in video calls from their phone.
- You could instantly know if someone is on the phone at another branch through an instant messaging client.
- You could Instant Message co-workers during conference calls in order to share information confidentially.
- You could share your desktop with co-workers and collaborate on a project regardless of location.
So you can see that we’ve come a long way, baby! Unfortunately many companies are still not aware of the myriad of possibilities available to help enhance business communications at the enterprise level. At one time, these features were only for the richest of companies. But the good news is that today’s technology advancements and hosted platforms have opened up this functionality – and all the many benefits – to customers with even the smallest of budgets. So I ask you…Can you really afford not to take a deeper look into today’s unified communications solutions?