How to Use Unified Communications to Achieve Large-Scale Capabilities

As seen on eWeek, article written by Jonathan McCormick, COO

Unified communications is the integration of communication services such as e-mail, telephony, instant messaging, calendars, and directory services. Unified communications solutions that are hosted and delivered as a service can bring the capabilities of unified communications to small and midsize businesses, helping them to better compete with larger organizations. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Jonathan McCormick explains how unified communications improves employee collaboration while reducing the cost of delivering communications that are vital to the operations of small and midsize businesses.

While many small and midsize businesses say they need a unified communications (UC) solution to help their business achieve maximum potential and better compete with larger organizations, the term “UC” can bring to mind notions of IT headaches and complexity. Having to manage relationships with multiple vendors for various communications systems can be not only overwhelming but also time-intensive and challenging from an IT management perspective.

Additionally, SMBs want to decrease the time needed to make smarter business decisions across departments and people. In today’s competitive environment, employees don’t have the time and resources to check voice mails, hunt for contact information and look to see if other employees are present and available. Moreover, the installation and upkeep of traditional communications systems such as phone PBXs is expensive.

UC has far too long been a capability enjoyed by larger enterprises due to the complexity around the various vendors involved. But hosted UC solutions can bring the capabilities and benefits of UC to SMBs, allowing them to enjoy boosted business productivity with low cost and simplified management. To eliminate any misinterpretations, let’s define what UC actually means and outline how it can positively impact the operations, performance and success of a SMB’s core business activities.

Unified communications defined

UC is the integration of key communication services such as e-mail, voice, calendars and instant messaging (IM) into a single, more cohesive communications system. UC unites the following five core capabilities:

1. E-mail: A UC system should give you the ability to access e-mail via Outlook or a similar interface.

2. Voice: UC can amplify standard telephony capabilities by allowing calls to be made via desktop handset or an Internet-based software program where voice mails can also be accessed quickly.

3. IM: Businesses small and large rely on impromptu conversations between employees and fast decision making to ensure business operations and functions are being carried out well throughout the day. Because the IM program is built within the UC solution, SMB users no longer need to use consumer IM programs (where there are greater security risks involved).

4. Calendars: Schedules of SMB owners and employees revolve around work, specific work-related projects, as well as personal lives. UC solutions help SMBs combine all of these calendars and enable them to easily maintain multiple calendars.

5. Directory services: Directories such as lists of employee telephone extensions or key contacts are critical. UC solutions, which already allow for multiple calendars to be shared, allows SMBs to support various directories.

While most SMBs desire the capabilities just mentioned, many don’t know that they can get them under one roof via UC. To further clarify, UC solutions don’t require businesses to revamp their entire IT infrastructure or make drastic changes to the systems they have in place—all that is needed is an Internet connection, computer and IP phone.

But the combination of various critical communications systems isn’t the sole benefit. There are other benefits that have larger impacts on the short and long-term success of a SMB.

Benefits of unified communications

With UC come numerous benefits for IT decision makers and users within a SMB. For example:

Benefit No. 1: Long-term cost savings

E-mail and telephony—two most important and expensive capabilities—can be managed together, which reduces costs associated with hardware and software.

Benefit No. 2: Greater efficiency

Since the costs of and need for hardware and software are minimized through UC, the IT decision maker within your SMB has more time to dedicate to other tasks that can provide more value to your company.

Benefit No. 3: Boosted employee productivity

Instead of having to use numerous programs to check e-mail, schedule appointments and make calls, UC solutions help SMB users work more efficiently and effectively.

Benefit No. 4: Expanded flexibility

UC solutions are not limited to physical locations, so SMB users can work as productively as they can from the workplace—even when they’re in a remote location such as a hotel or at home.

Benefit No. 5: Green

Power savings come from the reduced number of hardware and software systems. Also, fewer employees are required to travel to work, which minimizes carbon footprints associated with commutes and minimizes the amount of employee floor space needed by a company.

These benefits not only represent how critical communications tools are to SMBs but also demonstrate the undeniable value that UC has for SMBs that want to focus on what they do best: their core business activities—not their communications infrastructure.

Hosted unified communications is better for SMBs

The smaller and more geographically dispersed a SMB is, the better it is for it to adopt UC delivered from a hosted service provider. Since hosted service providers generally cost less and manage all the relevant systems, hosted UC solutions yield even more cost savings and minimize management headaches.

Hosted UC solutions ensure that critical information reaches the right people faster and that better decisions get made so that revenue can grow. In addition, hosted UC solutions are simpler, only requiring an Internet connection, computer and IP phone in order for businesses to get started. Using hosted UC providers also means that there are no servers to buy or maintain, as well as no need to use or manage PBX or voice over IP (VOIP) telephony services.

All in all, the value and benefits of UC for businesses, especially SMBs, are undeniable. Look beyond the misconceptions that UC solutions are complex, and understand the role communications plays in the success and everyday operations of your SMB. With the help of hosted service providers, the promise of UC is even more attainable, affordable and strategic to your business success than ever.

About The Intermedia Team

Intermedia's Office in the Cloud™ delivers essential IT services for SMBs and the partners who serve them — including hosted Exchange, Hosted PBX, SecuriSync file sync and share, security, mobility and more.