Unified communications (UC) means many things to many people, but one of the good descriptions, in my view, defines the technology by its impact.
UC results in “a seamless user experience across all communications, regardless of what network, device or PC you’re using,” Diane Shariff, director of unified communications at Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya Inc. once said.
A privately held telecommunications company, Avaya specializes in enterprise telephony and call center technology.
What’s the business value of such device-agnostic, network-agnostic communication?
What does it offer a company that’s striving desperately to increase employee productivity, retain valuable staff, slash training costs, reduce IT complexity and grow revenues?
These are issues another Avaya expert, discussed Monday at IT 360 Conference and Expo, an IT industry event held in Toronto.
Jamie Wong is practice leader for unified communications at Avaya Canada. His presentation was titled ‘A Path to Intelligent Communications.’
Wong’s presentation focused on the business case for unified communication – a case that he suggests revolves around four critical needs.
- Productivity and talent retention
- Business continuity
- Simplifying IT
- Environmental contribution
He noted that many UC technologies in Avaya’s portfolio are derived from the consumer market space. And this, he said, is part of a broader trend of consumer market phenomena driving technology adoption in the enterprise.
The newer, younger employees getting into the corporate workforce are accustomed to unified communications tools, he said. “So they expect to use it in the enterprise.”
He said businesses today are adopting UC, partly to meet the expectations of this younger workforce. “That’s one way companies ensure they retain valuable employees.”
Many of these tools also boost employee productivity, Wong said, citing the example of the Avaya Modular Messaging (AMM) – a system that combines e-mail, voicemail, fax capabilities.
Find me, call me, notify me
One of AMM’s productivity boosting features – particularly for mobile workers – is dubbed “find me, call me, notify me” – and Wong explained why the phrase aptly captures what the system actually does.
For instance, he said, the ‘notify me’ function kicks when someone leaves you a voice message on your office desk phone or sends you an e-mail or text message.
“The system notifies you through your PDA that you have a voicemail and displays the caller ID. So if you’re on the road you don’t need to keep checking for voice messages. Your BlackBerry will tell you when you have one.”
‘Call me’ lets you set specific rules to determine how your office voicemail is handled.
Depending on the caller the voicemail could either be left untouched or set to make an outbound call to a specific number.
Wong explains the benefits of this feature.
“Say you’re an IT help desk person. It’s 5 am and your vice-president of operations leaves you a voicemail. You could set it so this would automatically [trigger a] call to you on your BlackBerry or home line – and if you don’t pick it up for any reason, it would start escalating, by calling your manager, for example, and after that the CIO, and so on.”
Likewise, ‘find me’ allows the user to specify numbers and schedules so they can be “found” at different times. “When someone calls the system, this triggers a call to you at the numbers you’ve specified in the schedule.”
How to mix n’ match TUIs
Avaya Modular Messaging’s support of multiple telephony user interfaces (TUIs) is another advantage, the Avaya practice leader said. A TUI is a customizable application that offers standard and advanced IP phone functionality.
He said the AMM system enables you to mix and match TUIs.
“So if you have five users on Serenade, 50 on Intuity, and the rest using Aria that’s fine. You can use multiple TUIs depending on the needs of your organization.”
This ability to can significantly reduce costs, Wong says.
The system also includes a voice recognition feature – based on Nuance 8.5 – a third party speech recognition software engine from Nuance Communications Inc. in Burlington, MA, which allows users access to a range of voice mail, email and calendar functions.
Tests conducted by Network World found the capabilities of speech recognition capability superior “in terms of the natural-language flow of the interface.”
Likewise, one step recording – which works in conjunction with Avaya Communications Manager – allows users to record live conversations while they are on the phone.
Wong specified of how this could come in handy.
“Say you’re on the phone and get a threat, you can press `record’ and your conversation is recorded and dumped into voicemail. Because you have unified messaging, you can simply send an e-mail – with that voice message attached – to legal or HR or wherever else it needs to go.”
This, he suggested, this could be a great feature for government departments, and cost far less than purchasing specialized voice recording systems.
“Typically such recording software from Witness Systems or some other provider could be cost prohibitive. This is out of the box, requires a simple configuration (that would take just half a day), as long as you have Avaya Communications Manager or switch.”
Wong described how yet another Avaya product – that’s not yet available in Canada – can improve productivity.
Avaya One-X Mobile is a soft phone for mobile devices that’s available in the U.S. and slated for release in Canada later this year.
Essentially, One-X Mobile can be installed on any of four mobile devices: a Palm Treo, a BlackBerry, a Windows Mobile 6.0 device, or an or Apple iPhone.
“It turns your cell phone into an extension of your office phone,” Wong said.
For instance, he said, if installed on your BlackBerry, you can see who has called you on your office line, and make outbound calls using your office number. When you make the call from your mobile phone, the caller ID people see will belong to your office phone.
He said another cool feature of One-X mobile is its graphical user interface for voice mails, allowing you to listen to them in any order you choose.
He said the application simplifies the task of the IT department as it requires only one server that’s “simple to manage” and operates on multiple types of end user devices.
To illustrate the cost-cutting capabilities of unified messaging, Wong talked Avaya’s Extension to Cellular 500 (EC 500).
This application, he said, allows you to switch subtly and imperceptibly from your desk phone to a cell phone and vice-versa.
Apart from being pretty cool capability, it can save your company big bucks, he suggested.
He said an Avaya study on corporate cell phone usage done around 18 months ago found that 60 per cent of all usage was within the office building.
He said quite often users are right at their desks when they get a call on their cell phone, but hesitate to ask the caller to ring back on their landline, especially if the charges are being paid by their employer.
With this device, he said, you don’t need to ask the user to call back, and the company is often saved from whopping cell phone bills.
Wong described how it works.
“Say someone calls your landline when you’re some distance from your desk. Your cell phone will ring. You take the call on your cell, and on reaching the desk, you pick up the handset, disconnect the cell phone and continue the conversation on the desk phone.”
The other party doesn’t even know you’ve switched devices, he said.
And, the device transfer can happen the other way around too.
“Say its 5.30 pm and you’re in a long conference call. You need to go home, but don’t want to hang up on that call. With EC 500 as you’re listening to the conference call on your desk phone, you can press a button saying “send to cellular” and your cell phone will ring. You can put on your Bluetooth headset, hang up your desk phone, and listen to the call via your cell as you drive home.”
He said many Avaya employees who use this feature don’t need to publish their cell numbers on their business cards – just their office phone.
“Calls to the office automatically ring on their cell phone, and Caller ID and other information is transferred.”