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Components of a Unified Communications system

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In an ideal Unified Communications system, there are 4 key building blocks which are shared across all the different communication tools:

1. One contact list. Instead of keep a list of people in your e-mail, mobile phone, desk phone, IM client, video client, etc, you have one list which is shared across all applications.

2. One in-box. Sometimes called ‘Unified Messaging’ (or UM, just to be confusing) all incoming messages are stored in a single in-box. This means you can access your e-mail, voice mails, instant messages, even faxes from a single client.

3. Shared presence. Presence is a simple idea, it just means that other people can see your availability. However to be accurate it needs to take information from a number range of sources that need to co-ordinated. In a Unifed Communications system this sharing of information is automatic. For example, your presence status could be made up of information from:

a. Your diary, for example are you in a meeting?
b. Your out of office status
c. Lack of activity on your PC – if there has been no keyboard or mouse activity, it can assume you are away from your desk
d. From your mobile – if you start using the IM on your mobile, for example, then it can assume you are working away from the office
e. User setting – a user can set whatever status they want, such as Do Not Disturb
f. Location – with more mobiles phones having GPS, then in the future your presence may be able to tell people where you are, such as which office you are in or if you are meeting a customer.

4. Common devices & software. A UC system will tend to use less devices and software than a traditional communications system because hardware and software is multi-functional. For example, a typical mobile device with UC software on it will be an e-mail client, a mobile phone, integrated with the office PBX, an IM client, and possibly even a video client. It will also have presence on it so you can see and share status information with other people.

Below are examples of tools today which can be incorporated as part of a UC system:

- Office Telephony
- E-mail
- Mobile Phones
- Instant Messaging
- Presence
- Video calling
- Conferencing
- PC to PC calling
- Desktop sharing for documentation collaboration

Note that the list will get longer as new ways of working and collaborating are developed and integrated into the system. For example, call centres and customer management systems are already being integrated with Unified Communications.

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