Unified Communications: The Layman s Guide

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1 White Paper Unified Communications: The Layman s Guide Contents Introduction....2 What can you expect in return?....2 How Unified Communications Works....2 Challenges Ahead....2 Are you ready?....3 About Ziff Davis B2B Ziff Davis B2B is a leading provider of research to technology buyers and high-quality leads to IT vendors. As part of the Ziff Davis family, Ziff Davis B2B has access to over 50 million in-market technology buyers every month and supports the company s core mission of enabling technology buyers to make more informed business decisions. Copyright 2014 Ziff Davis B2B. All rights reserved. Contact Ziff Davis B2B 100 California Street, Suite 650 San Francisco, CA Tel: Fax:

2 Introduction Unified communications is an integrated communications system that facilitates communication among colleagues and customers alike for an enhanced customer experience, improved employee engagement and better operational agility. The thinking is that, these days, people aren t communicating by telephone alone. Rather, they rely on a variety of devices, from cell phones and personal digital assistants to desktop computers and instant messaging tools, to relay messages, collaborate on projects and serve customers. Social networking capabilities, for example, help marketing departments deliver real-time promotional offers to smartphone owners. Advanced communications such as Voice over IP (VoIP) let companies cut back on long-distance communication costs. While video conferencing allows workers scattered across the globe to easily swap ideas on product development. However, this hodgepodge of communication modes, applications and devices can make it challenging for people to connect properly. Now, more than ever, organizations need to bolster their IT and communications infrastructure with unified communications tools and technologies. Unified communications attempts to tackle this challenge by letting companies manage voice mail, faxes, and video from a single inbox using a single set of management controls. Disparate communication systems are linked together, allowing users to interact independent of device or media. The upside is increased agent productivity, enhanced customer service and reduced telephony costs. Not to mention that unified communications allows people to collaborate efficiently for the sake of activities including product development and scheduling. For example, experts estimate that by increasing workforce efficiencies, and reducing the amount of lag time in daily employee processes via unified communications, a company can add an entire new sales cycle to its year, representing a sizable uptick in overall revenue. Tackling the inherent complexities of communications technology is another advantage of unified communications. According to a recent New IT Crowd report, around 56 percent of private sector organizations said that supporting a wider range of devices was the main driver of complexity in communications technology. By uniting all these machines into a seamless network, unified communications is proving to be an excellent strategy for simplification and reduced operational costs. Additional perks include: Reduced technology costs to support customer access Expedites enterprise-wide communication Integrates various communication devices and modes ziffdavis.com 2 of 6

3 Improves collaboration Streamlines business processes Increased business continuity What can you expect in return? According to a recent Harvey Nash CIO Survey, 46 percent of CIOs report increases in IT budgets in the last year to fund projects that improve the effective of their operations. While that s good news for traditionally budget-strapped tech departments, CIOs still need to build a compelling business case for investing in unified communications. Here s a shortlist of a unified communications system s potential return on investment: Organizations using unified communications clients saved an average of 32 minutes daily per employee because presence technology enabled staff to reach one another on the first try. Use of soft phones resulted in an average savings of $1,727 per month in cell phone and long distance charges. Mobile workers also saved 40 minutes each day, enjoyed greater business communications convenience, and generated annual productivity gains of 3.5 days per year through business continuity impact. Organizations using unified messaging reported that employees saved 43 minutes per day from more efficient message management while mobile workers saved 55 minutes per day. Companies using integrated voice and Web conferencing reported a 30 percent reduction in conferencing expenses (by making integrated conferencing capabilities available in-house and on-network) and an average savings of $1,700 per month in travel costs. How Unified Communications Works Unified communications integrates disparate technologies, including IP-PBX, VoIP, , audio, voice mail, videoconferencing, audio, unified messaging and instant messaging to create enhanced, enterprise synergies, efficiencies and cost savings. Furthermore, when united with common business tools, such as Microsoft Outlook, unified communications technology enables users to quickly and easily access people, tools and content at a moment s notice. Although unified communications essentially encompasses all communications systems and applications, the market can be divided into the following product categories: IP telephony: Transmits voice communications over a network using open-standards-based IP. Products consist of hardware and software including softphones, VoIP gateways, and multimedia applications. ziffdavis.com 3 of 6

4 Unified messaging: Lets users retrieve, respond to and manage all of their messages from a single device, whether it be a traditional phone, wireless phone, or Internet-enabled desktop computer. Not only does a unified communications system reduce the number of places an individual must check for incoming voice, fax, and messages, but it also grants users the flexibility and control to determine when and how they can be reached. Rich presence: By integrating multiple communication methods, rich presence allows users to communicate through their PCs, phones, and mobile devices with colleagues and partners alike. Such fluid and faster interactions can lead to enhanced productivity, reduced costs and increased customer satisfaction. Challenges Ahead For all its perks, there are challenges to deploying and maintaining a unified communications system. Here s what you need to know: The migratory path. Migrating from a traditional PBX system to a unified communications system is harder than you think. After all, juggling a steady stream of faxes, attachments and s across a variety of devices calls for a whole new level of technical sophistication. Fortunately, testing the introduction of a unified communications system via a pilot project can help ensure a system can sufficiently handle a company s telecommunication load. Security concerns. For years, IT personnel and voice administrators struggled to prevent threats such as toll fraud and eavesdropping from disrupting business continuity. That s because such threats often rely on unified communications-related protocols, such as SIP, to wreak havoc. What s worse, many traditional security mechanisms fail to perform detailed examinations of such packets, thereby allowing vulnerabilities to slip by undetected. In response, companies have introduced security products that address issues such as protection, privacy, voice security, call management, and the ongoing integrity of a company s IT infrastructure. The next phase in security, however, is ensuring that these security solutions scale with a company s ever-expanding infrastructure. It s not enough to simply throw a security solution at a system. With unified communications, it s critical that IT leaders continuously monitor system performance and examine the new vulnerabilities created by adding devices and layers of software. Customer experience counts. Streamlined business processes and operational efficiencies are wonderful upsides of a unified communications system but a new metric of success is fast emerging: customer experience. For example, an inefficient automated voice system can result in a poor customer experience, increased transfers to more expensive live agents and, as a result, higher overall customer service costs. Rather, to be successful, organizations have to tune their applications to optimize the customer experience. ziffdavis.com 4 of 6

5 Consider a contact center agent who is able to respond to a customer query immediately, armed with detailed information on his purchasing history, website experience, preferred mode of communication and buying behavior. Using this data, the agent can greatly enhance the customer s experience with tailored offerings, promotional deals and buying suggestions based on personal information. In turn, this enhanced experience is likely to lead to greater sales and upsell opportunities. Interoperability issues. Could you imagine not being able to send someone an simply because they re using another program? The ability to send messages back and forth seamlessly among various devices and telephony systems is critical to the success of an unified communications system. In fact, there s even a non-profit alliance, called the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCI Forum), that s dedicated to fortifying interoperability and defining best-practices that remove the barriers to widespread adoption and a quality experience. Hardware and software vendors, service providers and network operators need to work together to ensure their technologies can communicate with one another on a single platform. The good news is the unified communications market is still quite small. A recent study of 121 IT organizations conducted by Osterman Research on behalf of Azaleos, a provider of services for managing Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft UC environments, discovered that Microsoft and Cisco, followed by Avaya, are driving the majority of the market. Fewer options increases the chances of interoperability, which can, in turn, drive greater user adoption. Reach for the cloud. Managing a unified communications system is no easy task. No wonder an increasing number of companies are considering cloud-delivered unified communications. For one, cloud-based solutions remove the administrative burden of having to ensure the reliability and security of a system. And secondly, the cloud can significantly reduce operations and capital expenses. Nevertheless, experts warn that the cloud shouldn t be considered an easy fix. For instance, to reap the benefits of the cloud, companies still need to ensure bandwidth distribution, as well as have the proper I/O devices in place for the input and output of data. Users also need to ensure that a cloud solution can deliver business continuity in the event of an outage. For this reason, many companies are opting for a hybrid cloud approach as the most efficient delivery model for unified communications. In this case, new apps are slowly migrated to the cloud while some on-premise components of a system remain intact. Are you ready? According to Visual.ly, unified messaging alone can save an individual at least 40 minutes a day by providing one interface or application to access , voic and fax. And for a company with 100 employees or more, unified communications can save nearly 50,000 hours a year and $920,000 in productivity gains and operational efficiencies. But before jumping on the bandwagon, IT leaders need to ask themselves what they wish to derive from a unified communications system, how they plan to integrate it with more ziffdavis.com 5 of 6

6 traditional systems and how the system will impact growing trends such as social networking and mobility. Once armed with these answers, companies are likely to reap real business value from unified communications. ziffdavis.com 6 of 6

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