Unified Communications (UC) is by no means a new concept. In fact, it’s become a much-touted phrase, with analysts, vendors and IT commentators reporting on the growth potential of this market and benefits offered through an integrated, real-time communications service. 

But what does UC actually mean for business? Can it really offer a unified approach to organisation-wide communication that delivers value? This paper explores why IT departments and business decision makers are now starting to put UC on their agenda.

What is unified communications?

Put simply, UC is a communications platform that connects users across a wide range of channels and devices, regardless of their physical location, across a single user interface. Typical features include:

  • Enabling users to quickly and easily launch a web, audio or video conference from any location
  • Integrating email, voice and instant messaging into a more cohesive communications experience
  • Making all the data that users and organisations need available on any platform or device.

UC: why the time is right now for the enterprise

The reality is that for most organisations, teams are far from optimally connected and the enterprise is already using all the technologies brought together by UC platforms but just in disparate forms.

Furthermore, a number of market dynamics are now working together, driving a need to find a way to collaborate and communicate with ease, from any location, and any device, providing the ideal ecosystem for UC to thrive:

  • Changing working practices – flexible working, home offices and dispersed offices are changing the way users communicate and collaborate
  • Consumerisation of IT – consumer demand for the latest mobile devices and applications is bleeding into the workplace, accelerating the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) culture
  • The global marketplace – economic austerity and growing competition is motivating businesses to find sustainable ways to expand and operate on an international basis
  • Mobility – research from multiple analyst houses shows that mobility has passed the ‘tipping point’, with the number of mobile workers globally approaching one billion, and investment in mobile enterprise applications increasing by around 23 per cent year-on-year
  • Data explosion – today’s enterprise places voracious demand on bandwidth, as video, high definition and high-bandwidth communication grows in popularity

UC: the IT department’s nemesis or best friend?

With business dynamics changing, the IT and communications supporting organisations must adapt. While the wider organisation looks to drive initiatives that will target new customers, improve workforce performance and drive innovation, the IT department is facing the challenge of providing the infrastructure to support these – against a backdrop of cost cutting, investment in legacy equipment and skills shortages.

However, rather than being the IT department’s nemesis, UC is set to become the IT professional’s best friend, providing a centralised platform to control, monitor and secure the communications network from a single user interface.

Challenges will arise, but they will be typical of any move to adopting a new technology. The key for IT departments will be choosing the right vendors, service providers and partners that can ensure the UC deployment is effective and they have the right skill set to manage and support the UC platform.

UC: the business case

For businesses, the market dynamics and workplace ecosystem offer a compelling case for the adoption of unified communications, providing a way to improve employee productivity and ensure a platform for business growth. But the benefits also extend to the IT department, by driving efficiencies in the management and provision of a next generation communications network

Investment in unified communications solutions can result in long-term reductions in IT and business costs. These economies do not just apply to hardware, software and components. With data and communications running through a central platform, maintenance costs can be reduced and higher levels of efficiency achieved without additional investments in peripheral services.

A next generation communications infrastructure. Unified communications also provides a long-term solution that protects the interests of an ever-expanding business. With a unified communications network, it is possible to drive efficiency alongside expansion, allowing businesses to invest in new projects and operations without sacrificing quality of service.

The IT department faces a number of challenges as it moves towards a new age of communications, networking and mobile capabilities. Changes in working practices, the consumerisation of IT devices and the global workplace dynamic are all driving businesses to consider the next generation communications networks they need to underpin their strategies.

Developments such as flexible working and technologies that facilitate real-time communication offer a compelling case for adoption, promising cost-saving benefits, improvements in employee productivity and a platform for business growth. But these changing market dynamics present challenges for the IT department, which must deliver the network infrastructure and new technologies that the business is demanding, securely and effectively.

Unified communications presents IT departments with the platform to put in place an enterprise-ready communications and collaboration solution that will deliver benefits across the organisation. Now is the time to take a serious look at what this technology has to offer.