Unified communications (UC) is an approach to internal communications that ties together the various lines of communication used by a company, including instant messaging (IM), email, telephony, video conferencing, and more.
When collaborative tools are introduced, such as those used for sharing files and co-authoring documents, it’s known as unified communications and collaboration (UCC).
Unified communications also refers to the software that supports such an approach. It can be managed on premises or made available through the cloud by a UC as a Service (UCaaS) provider. In either case, a single suite of software allows for seamless cross-channel communications with intelligent integrations.
Unified communications boosts productivity in a number of ways.
Because all of a business’s communications pass through a single platform, there’s no need to mess around with multiple applications and user accounts. Employees deal with a single interface and can switch seamlessly between messaging, live audio, and video conferencing.
Plus, that interface is available across devices, from an employee’s workstation at the office to their laptop computer at home and the smartphone in their pocket. UC is ideal for mobile and distributed workforces who frequently move between devices and operating systems. As businesses continue to adopt more nomadic working practices, UC provides one solution for maintaining operations between farflung colleagues.
Finally, when paired with collaborative tools (UCC), conversations and meetings integrate seamlessly with live documents and shared files, meaning no more lost instructions or decisions.
It’s far easier to maintain security for a single platform and single user sign-on than for multiple applications and user accounts. Additionally, UCaaS providers have the technical and human resources to provide top-level cybersecurity at no additional cost.
Reducing the number of log-ins an employee is responsible for can also dramatically decrease the likelihood of their using a poor password—although having a company-wide password manager is another important step.
Unified communications can also help improve security by making it easier to follow communications and keep track of file transfers, not to mention enforce encryption across communications and collaboration.
Improve customer service
The same technology that smooths internal communications improves external ones, too. Customers expect a similar experience whether they call, message, or email a company. Unified communications also makes it easier for the same person to carry on a conversation regardless of when or where it’s happening.
Some UC software can also track employee availability, improving or even eliminating wait times. Pair that with improved productivity, and businesses can better satisfy more customers with fewer resources.
Advanced UC platforms can manage cross-channel communications. One person records a voice message and has it transcribed and delivered as an IM or email, while another responds in writing and has it delivered as an audio recording.
This enables businesses to better adapt to the visual and auditory needs and preferences of their employees, at no additional cost.
Of course, the same technology works just as well for customers, too, enabling businesses to reach new audiences and participate in an inclusive corporate and commercial culture.
Businesses that are hesitant about switching to UC should also consider the many financial benefits.
Or, perhaps more appropriate is to consider the financial drawbacks of ineffective communications.
According to a report by SIS International Research, an SMB with 100 employees could lose upwards of $500,000 every year to poor collaboration and communications. It’s no better for enterprises: businesses of 100,000 employees risk tens of billions in communication errors, including mistakes and misinformation of mission-critical information.
Specialized UCaaS providers offer big-budget infrastructure and expertise at affordable rates.
Unified communications can also help dramatically reduce operational costs, especially where IT departments are concerned. The unification of a business’s communications into a single platform means fewer technical problems from complex integrations and interactions between software.
The highly integrated nature of UC makes it easily scalable. This is especially true in the case of UCaaS, where cloud storage and computing provide a virtually inexhaustible supply of technical resources.
The Software as a Service (SaaS) model enables companies to rapidly increase and decrease as needed, with rates that are equally flexible. Businesses that opt for this approach won’t have to worry about purchasing and managing additional servers as they grow, and can add features as needed. UCaaS also provides a more agile platform for dealing with sudden, short-lived spikes in communication: simply scale up for the period needed, then scale back down.
Clear lines of communication are the lifeblood of a business, and all too often the limiting factor that inhibits growth. Switching to UC or UCaaS now can dramatically ease growing pains later on.
Integrate with company-wide systems
UC and especially UCaaS, is built to integrate with other company-wide systems, like content management systems (CMS), customer relations management (CRM), billing and accounting, and human resources and payroll. Most UCaaS platforms come with plenty of built-in integrations for cloud storage and office software, and API support for additional, custom integrations.
Indeed, the ability to easily and effortlessly share files within and between departments on a single, device-independent platform facilitates many aspects of a company’s workflow.
Imagine being able to track a file, for example, as it moves from CRM internal operations and on to billing and accounting, with a full history of associated emails, instant messages, and voice chats.
Most businesses have to adhere to a variety of local and international protocols that dictate how data is collected, transmitted, stored, and acted upon. Failing to do so can result in heavy fines and service interruptions.
Unfortunately, ensuring compliance becomes incredibly complicated when multiple platforms and user accounts are involved.
Unified communications, on the other hand, can help businesses ensure compliance by providing a single set of rules to employees and simplifying the auditing process. Many specialized UCaaS applications even have built-in regulatory features that facilitate compliance and generate alerts when a rule is violated.
Unified communications, UCC, and UCaaS enable businesses to streamline communications at all levels. This includes communication between employees and departments, at a company-wide level, and between a business and its customers.
Unified communications can transform a business by boosting productivity, improving customer service, increasing accessibility, reducing costs, increasing scalability, integrating with other company-wide systems, and improving compliance.
While enterprises may prefer to build a bespoke on-prem UC platform, SMBs can benefit greatly from UCaaS, which offers big-budget infrastructure at affordable, scalable rates. UCaaS leverages the power and extensibility of cloud storage and computing to provide a unified communications platform to businesses that may otherwise struggle to implement such sweeping changes.