Defining unified communications

Read how industry pundits are defining unified communications.

We recently polled nearly 500 readers and, not surprisingly, found that 81.2% of respondents admitted they need to learn more about unified communications (UC). Given that there is a lack of consensus among industry pundits as to how to define UC, I was not surprised by the high percentage of people unsure about what UC is, let alone how it can benefit their organisations.

To summarise the general working definition we use around these parts, UC encompasses several communication systems or models including unified messaging, collaboration, and interaction systems; real-time and near real-time communications; and transactional applications. It's worth clicking the link to read the definition in full.

Our very own Bill Trussell, who, in his spare time, also serves as the managing director of networking and information security with the TheInfoPro, explains that UC is more broadly defined than unified messaging (UM) and includes not only voice mail, but also data communications such as email and instant messaging, collaboration technologies such as web conferencing, and advanced voice and data calling features normally included in Internet Protocol (IP) PBX solutions.

Gartner defines UC products (equipment, software and services) as those that enhance individual, workgroup and organisational productivity by enabling and facilitating the control, management, integration and use of multiple enterprise communication methods. According to Gartner, UC products achieve this through the convergence and integration of communication channels (that is, media), networks, systems and business applications, as well as through the consolidation of the controls over them. UC products may be made up of a stand-alone product suite or may be a portfolio of integrated applications and platforms.

Frost and Sullivan explains that UC is the evolution of telephone, e-mail, conferencing and instant messaging functionality into a single service or application that provides the standard communications environment for the knowledge worker. Presence information is a core element in any UC application; the voice capabilities will most likely be VoIP, but may also include TDM voice transport. UC includes the ability to transparently connect to mobile colleagues; and UC supports communications-enabled business processes.

Nemertes Research describes UC as an umbrella term that refers to the assembly of various communications tools ultimately into a single user interface along with IT reporting, tracking, performance management and administration tools. These communications tools include: voice, email, voice messages, fax, IM, SMS, conferencing (web, audio, and video), presence, notification and personal assistance.

Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion, lists three main criteria to identify UC:

  • UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements based on presence capabilities, presenting a consistent unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types.

  • UC ties in presence, a unified or common user interface across devices, and integrates with back offices applications, systems, and business processes.

  • UC manages business transactions and projects across populations of users, providing an integrated, consistent communication experience for users, resulting in optimised business processes and results.

According to Fred Knight of BCR, what UC means for businesses is simple and can be broken down to what he calls The Four C's of UC:

  • Connecting
  • Communicating
  • Collaborating
  • Community

Essentially, UC combines old and new communication capabilities with business processes to vastly improve productivity, customer service and provide businesses with a competitive edge.

Do you have a UC definition you'd like to share? We'd love to hear it. Send your definitions to us.

If you have questions about UC, give us a bell.

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