When it comes to communicating, the frustrations facing employees seem to be universal. Regardless of user type, industry or company size, employees always rank their main complaints as being unable to locate people quickly, having to wait for information and dealing with “email overload”.

It’s obvious that the productivity of employees and the quality of their work directly correlates to their ability to access colleagues and information. Yet, it is also clear that the primary tools deployed by most businesses for internal communications – voice and email – are hardy the most effective. While the solutions that businesses deploy for their customers have adapted to the emergence of real-time communications and the cloud, internal communications systems have lagged behind, leaving employees asking “what’s next” beyond voice and email.

Unified Communications (UC) is often vaunted as the next step in addressing these demands. The expansion of UC services across enterprises is seeing rapid growth, despite the sluggish economies of the US and UK. By converging voice, video and software applications, UC can make for much smoother collaboration inside a business.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all UC solution, with companies tending to opt for a bespoke combination of mobile communications, video conferencing, presence technologies (i.e. knowing where intended recipients are, and if they are available, in real time) and instant messaging.

While a host of communications solutions can be deployed for a business, the goal of UC is to build a unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types. 76% of respondents recently surveyed in the US and Europe said they would be “very keen” or “somewhat keen” to adopt UC solutions, with mobile integration, instant messaging and presence, and web collaboration cited as the top three most desired UC services.

External influences are causing the working environment to change rapidly and UC will be a crucial tool in helping businesses adapt. With trends such as home working, flexible working and BYOD becoming more commonplace, businesses increasingly need to ensure that employees can be productive outside of the office and over a multitude of different communications platforms. Many companies are also looking for ways to improve communication and cooperation amongst teams spread across multiple geographies.

The pressure is also building inside IT departments. With business IT managers facing growing pressure to deliver concrete business value and cost savings, UC can actually come as a boon – allowing them to manage all communications systems more easily from one central hub. Deploying UC can lower capital expenditure on disparate hardware and software systems, while also reducing management costs and so positively impacting operational expenditure.

In deploying UC there are several things businesses should consider. Initially, companies should identify the features their UC solution will need to deliver, such as routing voicemail to email, VoIP and video messaging. Once the needed features have been agreed, businesses should aim to deploy a bespoke solution to provide them, rather than a generic solution that will charge for additional services that will not be used. Security considerations should also not be forgotten. With employees communicating through multiple channels and devices, corresponding security features are essential.

Companies should also consider how to adopt UC. The availability of cloud services has gone a long way to making UC solutions affordable for small businesses as well as large enterprises. Instead of being forced to make a large capital outlay for software licensing upfront, companies can now deploy UC services on a monthly subscription model. This cost can often be off-set by efficiency and productivity gains within the business. For example, a business might decide to issue all employees with mobiles and thereby negate the need for existing landline services.

Businesses should also ask who is best positioned to deliver UC services. Given how greatly business efficiency will hinge on any UC deployment, CIOs would be well advised to select an utterly reliable technology partner. For example, mobile operators are also well-positioned to deliver the superior Quality of Service (QoS) enterprise users will require in order to efficiently communicate, from anywhere on their desired device.

While business owners undoubtedly want to save money, that should not be the primary driver for the adoption of UC solutions. Rather, it is the clear business benefits UC provides: time savings, productivity improvements and enhanced customer satisfaction. The businesses that are able to realise these benefits will be those that survive and thrive in today’s tough economic environment.