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What is Unified Communications?

Published: May 8th, 2015 By: Lynn Greiner

In our tech-centric world, we have many ways to communicate with co-workers. There’s telephone, of course, — cellular and land line – as well as email, but we also can chat via multiple instant messaging solutions, as well as voice communications and video conferencing through Skype for Business and its ilk. The choices of media can be overwhelming, and remembering everyone’s ID on each service perplexing.


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Wikipedia defines Unified Communications as:

“the integration of real-time, enterprise, communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, voice (including IP telephony), mobility features (including extension mobility and single number reach), audio, web & video conferencing, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), desktop sharing, data sharing (including web-connected electronic interactive whiteboards), 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 necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user-interface and user-experience across multiple devices and media-types.”

In other words, UC lets users access all of their communications through a single user interface, often with a single ID. Voicemail can be retrieved from an email box and played back (or in some cases, converted to text for reading), and users can initiate chats or conferences with a click or two from within that same email program. Through presence information, users can see whether their colleagues are online, and what media they’re available on. For example, if someone is in a meeting, they may not want to accept phone calls. Rather than simply sending all calls to voicemail and hoping nothing urgent comes up, through presence, they can indicate that they’re only available for immediate communications via email or instant messaging. This ensures people get critical messages in a timely manner, and reduces the frustration of not knowing whether someone is available to respond.

UC lets users receive communication over one medium and reply over another. For example, a message may arrive in a voicemail, which the user retrieves through email, and be replied to with an instant message, all from the same user interface – perhaps Microsoft Outlook.

UC was made practical by the advent of IP telephony, which allowed voice communications to be handled as data. Once that leap was made, companies such as Cisco and Microsoft could link telephone systems to other digital communications, closing the loop.

It’s undeniably convenient, but it can lead to complexity for IT. As well as managing email servers, staffers also have to cope with voice systems, and the UC software that links them, as well as conferencing systems, instant messaging, and all of the plumbing involved in keeping them healthy and talking to each other. That’s why some organizations choose to have a service provider run their UC systems.

A telecommunications company such as Rogers can provide services that would be difficult for IT to offer. For example, it can give users a single phone number for all voice interactions through its fixed line and full mobile number unification and portability service. It can also manage conferencing services and other components, leaving IT staff free to manage mission-critical business applications.