What is Unified Communications?

by Austin Herrington
November 13, 2018

“Unified communications” (UC) brings together disparate business communication applications – voice, chat, email, text messaging, fax, audio and video conferencing, collaboration tools, presence and more—across desktop and mobile devices to simplify and streamline user interactions. Common reasons businesses adopt UC include:

  • Improving employee productivity
  • Enhancing collaboration among geographically dispersed teams
  • Improving the customer experience
  • Minimizing downtime
  • Reducing capital and operational expenses

Diverse technologies give rise to the need for unified communications

When it comes down to it, the “U” in UC applies to applications and devices. Technology innovation, designed to improve workers’ lives and add convenience, can have the unintended consequence of increasing business environment complexity. This increase in dissimilar services and devices can create communication disconnects and productivity gaps.

Diverse Applications. Different communications methods are ideal for different situations. Real-time services (i.e. synchronous), such as video/audio/web conferencing, chat and, of course, traditional telephony enable live interaction. Store‑and‑forward services (i.e. asynchronous), such as email, voicemail, workflow management and a vast suite of offline collaboration tools are better suited for tasks that require individual contributions at convenient times.

Multiple Devices. The devices that access these services have also grown in diversity. Traditional desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones with inconsistent access to applications and services can disrupt productivity and decelerate business.

Unified Communications: voice, messaging, conferencing, presence, fax, email mobility, contact center

Unified communications corrects these issues by interconnecting both real-time and store-and-forward communications services and making them available on all communications devices. This enables, for example, call or contact center agents to have instant access to all of a customer’s previous call recordings, emails, and voicemails when that customer calls for support, and for mobile workers to enjoy the same productivity outside of the office whether using desktop equipment, smartphones, laptops, or tablets.

How unified communications works

Unified communications solutions typically include a back-end system that integrates communications services along with the client software in access devices. This enables the use of all media from a single point of access, including the ability to move from one medium to another within a communications session – for example, to switch instantly from chat to a live phone interaction. While early UC solutions often required all services to be from the same vendor, the advent of open APIs and shared protocols enables the integration of leading third-party services.

Unified communications solutions can be hosted on premises or in a public or private cloud (“Unified Communications as a Service,” or UCaaS). UCaaS is often favored for its ability to reduce overall costs while ensuring maximum uptime and availability.

Technology to support the increasingly mobile workforce

IDC estimates that by 2020, mobile workers will account for nearly three-quarters (72.3 percent) of the U.S. workforce. That transformation would not be possible without the ready availability of mobile computing devices and a broad array of communications services. Unified communications ensures that the mobile majority, and the organizations they work for, are not placed at a communications disadvantage.

By 2020, mobile workers will account for nearly three-quarter (72.3%) of the U.S. workforce

Businesses of all sizes adopt unified communications to enable employees to connect with customers and coworkers from anywhere, on any device, eliminating the need to say, “I’ll get back to you once I’m in the office.”

Giving employees full access to the applications and services they need for job performance from any device and location – including when on-site with a customer, traveling, or working remotely – enhances business continuity and avoids costly downtime. When mobile employees communicate with customers, UC can greatly bolster customer satisfaction by enabling more complete and immediate issue resolution.

Unified communications and the enterprise

Businesses of all sizes are adopting UC. Larger enterprises in particular, deal with the challenge of streamlining collaboration among employees at multiple locations or home offices. This can include, for example, viewing coworker availability with real-time presence and click-to-call; chatting live in real time using company-wide messaging/chat; and hosting interactive video meetings with any number of employees – all from the device the employee happens to be using at the moment.

Enterprise UC solutions are also often designed to meet the unique needs of vertical markets. Healthcare enterprises benefit from unified communications that improves care coordination among clinical team members and their patients, closing care gaps that can otherwise compromise care while compiling a more complete patient history. National retailers can deliver a more satisfying experience for all customers, regardless of the employee with whom they connect and whether they prefer to communicate by phone, email, chat, or text message.

To learn more about the many business benefits of unified communications, visit the Windstream Enterprise UCaaS page.