Unified Communications: The way forward for enterprises?

With the increasing daily demand enterprises are experiencing it is important for them to look into a more streamlined and all-inclusive way to handle their communication traffic.

For most of the past decade enterprise customers have been migrating their communications systems from traditional circuit switched PBXs to those based on Internet Protocol (IP). Current generation IP communications systems continue to support traditional telephony requirements, but also offer customers a collection of more advanced communications services such as, Unified Communications (UC).

UC leverage the IP network infrastructure to enable enhanced configuration design, station user productivity, and business process benefits. Many customers confuse the terms IP telephony and UC, thinking they are the same, though they are distinct from one another. The role of UC is to facilitate and enhance the traditional telephony experience, not replace it. Implementation of an IP communications system provides the necessary framework to enable and support UC solutions, beginning with a shared network infrastructure needed for communications and control signalling requirements.

Justifying an IP communications system
Acquiring a new IP communications system could be expensive, but this expenditure should be viewed as a business asset, not as an expense item. As a business asset it should, of course, help reduce existing communications expenses, but it will also have a long term affect on how an enterprise operates and competes in the competitive market.

There are many justification factors for implementing a current generation All-in-One soft switch IP communications system; however it should be noted that many of the listed capabilities are not available with most first generation IP telephony systems customers may currently have installed without potentially costly hardware/software upgrades.
Some of the advantages an IP communications system holds are reduced hardware costs owing to: fewer common equipment hardware elements; use of non-proprietary third party hardware equipment (servers, media gateways, SIP telephone instruments); option of using of PC-based soft phones as an alternative to more expensive desktop instruments (typically accounting for a sizable percent of upfront total system costs). The support of third party hardware also provides customers with more flexible design choices.

The concept of home teleworking, using Internet or VPN leased lines connections to the centralised enterprise system, can translate into measurable enterprise real estate and overhead savings and also reduce personnel turnover and training costs. Furthermore, teleworking has an additional benefit for road warriors as it provides them with anytime/anywhere connectivity to the enterprise system using a PC soft phone, Web portal interface, or mobile smart phone.

The unified contact centre solution
UC tools are easily applied to contact centres: Presence helps agents identify status and availability of other agents or specialised “experts” when needed to handle a call; conferencing services facilitate connectivity among multiple call participants; mobile solutions support roaming or off-site agents not at a formal desktop; and teleworking options are ideal for supporting home agents on a full- or part-time basis.

There are many benefits enterprise customers can derive from an IP-based communications system than integrates full featured contact centre services, particularly if the software is co-resident on the same server supporting traditional telephony and UC services. A fully unified system design with shared hardware/software elements operating over a common network infrastructure is a lower cost solution than two systems operating independently (or networked). Such a system would also support a unified systems management platform for administration, monitoring, and maintenance operations across all functions, requiring reduced personnel support at a significant cost savings to the enterprise.

Next steps in enterprise communications
Finally, there are many enterprise communications innovations currently in their development stage likely to be mainstream offerings and services later this decade. Among the more prominent are Business Process Automation (BPA), enterprise social networking, and federated communications.

We are also beginning to see the emergence of social networking services in the work environment as companies adapt and modify consumer services, e.g. Facebook, for business processes. Personal system user pages, available to enterprise applications, will identify an individual’s business skills, include contacts, work calendars, workgroup and project assignments, and provide a variety of support of document management features. Communications processes and functions, such as click-to-dial, conferencing & collaboration, and messaging (IM, email) will be activated from the personal page, with presence management playing a central role. Today’s UC desktop client will eventually be embedded into a user’s personal page for managing and implementing most, if not all, enterprise communications processes. It is inevitable that the role and value of the full-featured desktop telephone instrument for dialling and feature implementation will continue to diminish over time.Moving to a UC system might be costly, but will most certainly pay off in the long run.

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Unified Communications: The way forward for enterprises?