Nine nifty steps to unified communications

Perhaps you’re already using a form of it, rudimentary or at least potentially quite advanced. Or maybe you’re not sure where to start. Chances are you could use some help with realising the many benefits open to you in using this collection of collaborative and communication technologies.

February 7, 2012

By Bennie Langenhoven, Managing Executive, Tellumat Communication Solutions*

By its very composite nature, unified communications (UC) application platforms can be modular and exhibit evolutionary growth.

Perhaps you’re already using a form of it, rudimentary or at least potentially quite advanced. Or maybe you’re not sure where to start. Chances are you could use some help with realising the many benefits open to you in using this collection of collaborative and communication technologies.

Read on, because that help is close at hand:

1. Start with IPT – Internet Protocol-based Telephony, otherwise known as IPT or Voice over IP (VOIP), is considered by many to be the basis of UC. In truth, VOIP is just one of many UC applications, but an IP PBX is indeed an easy platform on which to start building a UC environment. With VOIP, you’ll need IP phones, from Polycom, Snom or another vendor of your choice, and your data network or LAN will have to be voice-ready. However, with most of the new data switches, this is no problem at all.

2. Next you will want some form of unified messaging – voice mail to e-mail, fax-to-e-mail, or fax from the desktop. This is one of the most rudimentary forms of UC; it could even be called a precursor. There are low- or no-cost possibilities within your current consumer-grade e-mail solution, such as Gmail, but for a better corporate image with more potential for extension down the line, try solutions allowing you your own domain, mailboxes and service level agreements.

3. At this point you may consider desktop productivity integration of your messaging solution. Benefits could include identifying incoming calls and responding appropriately (available, voicemail etc).

4. With IPT as the basis, remote and home extensions can come into play. Such workers can make or receive calls from their extension, as if they are at the office. Incoming calls ring simultaneously on their desk phone and laptop-based soft phone, smartphone-based soft phone client or remote IP phone.

5. The next layer of UC may involve directory integration – whether on their iPad, notebook or office phone, users can find colleagues and transfer calls to them remotely.

6. Since many laptops have integrated webcams – and can handle USB webcam if not – the company may consider instant messaging (IM) and peer-to-peer videoconferencing.  Desktop collaboration like sharing of documents while working remotely or from regional offices, can also increase productivity significantly.  Again, there are consumer-grade solutions that do this, but to guarantee a level of quality, it is best to procure a solution that is architected properly.

7. Here’s where it gets exciting, as presence management becomes the next logical option. Presence allows users of the system to set and see someone else’s availability and location, although the latter option may be considered a bit intrusive for some people. With calendar integration, it is also possible to see if someone is in a meeting.
 
8. With conferencing, participants can log into the conference bridge, allowing the organiser or participants to share video, desktop or server files and so on. Should the customer be smaller in size, a one-to-many solution may not be what is called for.

9. Finally, mobility allows users to manage their presence not just on their PC or laptop, but also on their smartphones, on any network. Not only can the remote worker make or receive calls as though physically present at his or her desk, but they can walk into and out of the corporate or home wireless LAN, and their call in progress will hand over seamlessly between the public GSM network and the WiFi network as required. With presence and directory integration, the smartphone warrior can transfer calls, set availability and otherwise enjoy all the other UC features that desk jockeys do.

No stress

Unified communications need not be a major disruption to your business. There is a logical order to how most people adopt new functional components, and each new module should slot in with minimal effort.

* Tellumat is the South African distributor of ShoreTel systems.