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The Crying Need for Unified Communications
How to improve business productivity with IP cloud based unified communications solutions.

By: John Shepler

Time was when there was only one method of electronic communication. It was that heavy black phone on your desk. Now look what we have. Sure, there’s still a black phone on your desk, but it’s a lot lighter thanks to modern plastics and solid state electronics. There’s also a raft of other ways we communicate electronically. How many of these do you use: email, text messages, mobile phone calls and video chats? How about the platforms: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and soon… a watch?

One of the biggest communications issues, especially in business, is that all these different platforms and applications don’t necessarily play together well. One solution is to just make sure you have them all with you. That used to mean a pager on the belt, a cell phone in the pocket, a laptop in the briefcase, and somebody to forward you messages from your office when you were in the field. A better solution soon became a crying need.

Let’s Combine Everything into One
The answer that you might expect is to integrate all of these communications systems into one. That won’t really do. There is no one platform that can handle everything equally well. The desk phone is tethered, as is the desktop computer with the nice big screen. The smartphone screen is way too small for a lot of serious work. The tablet makes a ridiculous telephone held up to your ear.

There are forces still pulling in that direction. Enter the “phablet.” It’s a giant cell phone that’s almost, if not really, too big for your pocket. Tablet computers now have clip on keyboards so you can touch type from the coffee house. Laptop computers are shrinking, getting lighter and some have screens that detach from the keyboard and act like tablets. If there was only a way to get a great big screen that you can actually see along with keys that fit your fingers along with a telephone that lets you take calls privately, handles email and text messaging, and all fits neatly in your shirt pocket.

Well, there isn’t. There isn’t even anything on the horizon that fits this description. Someday, the QWERTY typewriter keyboard may become as quaint as the crank telephone. Siri might actually become your best friend and be able to read your mind as well as understand everything you’re mumbling. Something akin to Google Glass may project that big screen in front of your face anywhere. That’s not today, though. Today we need a solution that let’s us communicate anyway we like anywhere we happen to be.

It’s Called Unified Communications
The development that takes what we have and makes it into the closest approximation of what we really want is UC or Unified Communications. The “unified” part means doesn’t mean trying to get one platform to do everything. It recognizes that each device has its strong points and weaknesses. The master solution is to make all of this stuff play together well. In fact, so well that you needn’t be afraid that you are missing out just because you don’t have a particular platform with you at the moment.

A simple example is the lowly telephone call. Every business is still dependent on the telephone simply because it is the only universal medium of voice communications. For a long time, this meant having a business number that you printed on your business cards and a separate home phone number that was printed in “the book.” If you were at home you didn’t get your business calls unless you had a secretary working late to give the caller your home number or forward the call. You came in the next morning and found a raft of pink “while you were out” call sheets on the your desk.

The introduction of the cell phone only made matters worse. Now you’ve got a third phone number that only certain people know. What if they call the office instead of your cell when you are out? Will you miss the sale? Could be.

Unified communications starts with voice mail to replace the secretary and the telephone message sheets. You don’t have to fear missing a call because they’ll leave a voice message you can pick up anywhere. Even better is a “find me follow me” service that routes your calls to wherever you happen to be. With this type of automation you can hand out a single phone number and have it try your office phone, your cell phone or go to voice mail. You can even have it send you an email with the audio file of the call. Toll free number? Just have it routed to your unified business number.

The Technology Behind UC
The most popular platform for implementing unified communications is the cloud. Why? Because the cloud provides a common place to collect and distribute everything with near-infinite resources. All that processing power can easily handle everything from an independent professional up to the largest corporation. You don’t need to make a big capital investment or try to keep up to date on installing the newest features. The cloud provider takes care of that.

Cloud UC is driven by computing power and that computing power understands IP or Internet Protocol. The “Internet” part of IP doesn’t necessarily mean the public Internet. It just means the technical protocol that is also used by the Internet. For security and highest voice quality, you may not want your internal communications on the Internet at all. You will, however, want access to the Internet both in the office and on the road. That can be done carefully so that you use the Internet when you want to but private channels when you don’t.

What UC Can Do For You
Unified communications can be a gateway to both productivity improvement and cost reduction. It augments or replaces your in-house PBX phone system with a more powerful VoIP system that uses a common network with your computers and other digital devices. You can get tools for ease of collaboration among employees as well as the obvious single phone number benefits. Your laptop becomes your desktop with remote desktop access. Voice and video conferences can take place anywhere with a diverse group scattered in offices and hotel rooms around the globe.

Will all this cost a fortune? It’s probably cheaper than you think and may even offer all the new benefits at a lower cost than you are paying now. There’s only one way to find out. Get a set of competitive quotes for unified communications solutions and review the benefits and costs specific to your situation.

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