These days, companies are increasingly expecting their employees to be able to communicate any time, anywhere. Unified communications technologies are providing this capability by consolidating a number of services onto a standard data networks. By integrating different methods of communication, such as desktop handsets, voice mail, fax, e-mail, instant messaging, conferencing, laptops and mobile devices, it becomes easier to manage all these devices and applications from a single point, and access them using common devices.
'Killer Apps' in Unified Communications
The presence capability in unified communications software lets users inform others of whether they are available and which method is best to reach them at that given time. It can also automate message reception and notification, and integrate with a calendar to automatically be activated when a user is away - whether he's on vacation, in a meeting or in transit.
Intelligent notification services make it possible for people to be contacted with important information, including instructions on the order in which to contact individuals, when someone is unavailable. Or in a customer service scenario, intelligent notification can be used to proactively contact customers with the latest account and service information, via the customer's preferred method of contact.
Benefits and Challenges of Unified Communications
Theoretically, unified communications technologies are supposed to help improve employee collaboration, productivity and customer service, and provide a way for IT departments to reduce operating costs.
However, research firm Gartner warns that in order to implement unified communications, companies need to go through both technological and organizational change - and those two things don't necessarily happen at the same pace. Organizational changes will have a tendency to lag behind technological change over the next few years, with many IT departments, for example, remaining organized separately around voice, networking and mobility.
Companies Offering Unified Communications Solutions
Avaya, Microsoft and Cisco are very well-known in the unified communications space. Nortel, NEC, Unison, ObjectWorld and Mitel are also on the list of vendors and traditional telecommunications companies that are offering solutions in this area for companies of various sizes.