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How is Unified Communications different to what we have today?

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One way of understanding why Unified Communications is gaining so much attention is to look at the problem with existing IT systems:

1. Lost productivity
One of the most frustrating tasks is trying to get a decision made or just to get hold of some critical information. If you call someone, you get v-mail. If you send an e-mail, you will be lucky to get an answer within a couple of days. And the problem is exacerbated when you need to speak to multiple people in different locations. A central component of every UC is a feature called presence, which allows you to see in real time if someone is available to talk to you. For example it will tell you if the person is in a meeting, on the phone, on holiday, away from their desk, or even in fact available to speak to. You can also set a UC system to tell you as soon as a person is available so you can call them immediately. Presence alone to many users is justification alone for deploying an integrated UC system.

2. Missed messages
If you want to leave an urgent message with someone, do you e-mail them, leave a voice mail on their desk-phone, or leave a message on their mobile? Or maybe you will send them an instant message. A UC system has just one inbox that contains all your messages so that you only have to check one inbox, and you never miss a message.

3. Too many contact details
Look at a typical business card. It will usually contain several phone numbers (switchboard, desk, fax, mobile), an e-mail address, possibly an IM address, and some even include a conference number. You need to keep track of these, and also keep all your lists up to date across your computer and phone(s). In a UC system, you just click on a person’s name – which could be in your contact list, but could also be in document, e-mail, or web-page – and you are then connected. This is a part of UC as it requires co-ordination and commonality between different forms and communication and IT systems.

4. Multiple devices
Many employees are provided with a desk phone, a mobile phone and laptop to allow them to keep in touch. However there is no integration between them. For example, if you set your Out of Office in your e-mail, what happens with your phones? If you want to send an IM when on the move, you have to boot up your laptop, find an Internet connection, and type – even though your mobile phone is perfectly capable of sending text messages. In an UC system, your desk phone and mobile are interchangeable, and you can use your mobile like a PC when on the move for IM, e-mail, presence, etc.

In other words, Unified Communications is the integration of different existing IT and phone systems to make them simpler and easier to use.

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