Unified Communications, or UC, is proven to help businesses with everything from efficiency and productivity to finding cost savings within the business and enhancing the morale of teams. Businesses that invest in UC gain competitive advantage, and do so with a relatively minimal IT investment.

What is UC?

As the name suggests, UC is a platform of technology and solutions designed to facilitate and enhance communications, both within the organisation, and from outside in. To do this, UC leverages a business’ IT infrastructure and internet connectivity, compared to using traditional, separate telephony connections.

Many people then think that UC is a fancy word for “Skype” or “Google Hangouts,” but in reality a proper UC solution is much greater than that. A proper UC solution integrates technologies, the network infrastructure (switches, routers, firewalls, and so on), and applications such as VoIP, instant messaging, email, voice mail, CRM tools, mobile applications, social media and video conferencing.

The ideal UC solution is one where your coworker, client, or customer is able to instantly get in touch with you, no matter where you are. If you’re not at your desk, a UC solution will route calls from your landline to your mobile phone instantly. When a coworker needs to get in touch with you, they’ll be able to see – via the presence application – if you’re available, and whether it’s better to call or set up a video conferencing session. This is far beyond what you’re able to do with the likes of Skype.

The benefits of UC for the individual

For each employee on a UC solution, there are real and immediate benefits to how they work.

1. They work more efficiently

There are fewer missed calls, and clients or other stakeholders are not left waiting for an employee to get into the office in order to return a call or notice a message waiting for them. The employee can get more done and organise their day more efficiently, which helps to keep stress levels down and prevent overworking.

2. The employee is freed of their desk

Suddenly there’s less of a need for an employee to keep returning to their desk at work. They’re able to access all of their communications while on the road. The benefits here range from being able to spend more time with the clients, to being able to work from home without compromising productivity, and therefore realise a better work/life balance. This in turn can assist with employee retention.

3. Better collaboration with co-workers

Because it’s easier to be in constant communication with one another, there’s less risk of communication breakdown when everyone has access to a UC solution. Communication flows are easier to access, trust and respect is built among team members, and there’s greater transparency in what each employee is doing.

4. Better job satisfaction

In addition to being able to preserve work-life balance, UC solutions also improve customer service by making it easier for customers to communicate with the business, and get resolution. This, in turn, improves job satisfaction and the impression that the employee is doing a good job.

The benefits of UC for the business

There are also a significant number of benefits for the business itself when it comes to UC solutions.

1. Improved sustainability

By enabling remote working and reducing the need to employees to be constantly travelling around, UC for business helps to reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint, which is great for the business, both in terms of overall cost savings and the reputational benefits of being seen as a responsible corporate citizen.

2. Greater security

A good UC solution will make heavy use of encryption for phone, video or text-based communications, making it more difficult for hackers and others of malicious intent to “tap into” communications, or otherwise gaining access to the company’s critical data.

3. Cost savings

In addition to doing away with local and international call fees (as you’ll now be using VoIP for calls), UC solutions are generally provided as a service – meaning that there’s no up-front costs for the purchase of equipment. Instead, you’ll have a monthly fee that will scale as your business does, making the cost of UC manageable for organisations of all sizes.

4. Easy to manage

This point is especially relevant to smaller businesses that generally have quite limited IT teams and capabilities – UC solutions are easy to manage, even for those without IT skills. As a secondary benefit, because UC solutions are provided as a service, the business gains access to specialised IT services, as provided by the service provider.

When is the right time to move to a UC solution?

There can be any number of triggers that can be the perfect catalyst to swap over from the existing telephony system to a UC solution. Such a project is relatively quick and straightforward to implement, but it does nonetheless take some project management, so finding the right conditions to justify the change makes it easier to sell up to the managing director and/or board.

1. A recent merger or acquisition

When an organisation acquires another, unifying the communications infrastructure when one or the other organisation is using traditional telephony can be a painful and protracted process. Using it as an opportunity to implement a UC system across the business can save a lot of time, energy, and headaches.

2. Replacing outdated equipment

When older equipment starts to age and becomes unreliable, you have two options. You can replace the expensive hardware with new, expensive hardware, or you can use it as an excuse to tear out the existing communications infrastructure and adopt a UC system.

3. A chance to improve customer satisfaction

One of the most common complaints about a business is its call centre. If customers spend too long on the phone, or can’t find someone to help them with their query, they will tend to be critical on the customer satisfaction surveys. A UC system’s ability to provide better customer engagement can be a compelling opportunity to make the investment.

4. You take on remote workers

Once your business grows to a certain size, it may become necessary to recruit workers from afar who have particular skill sets that aren’t available locally. To properly integrate these workers into the organisation, you’ll really need to invest in a UC system.

5. Significant change in staffing numbers

Whether you’re rapidly hiring or downsizing, adjusting the telecommunications systems using traditional telephony can be a painful and expensive process. You’ll potentially need additional hardware, or you’ll have hardware sitting around unused. Provisioning new numbers for new staff, or staffing reshuffles, can be time consuming, and then there’s the inevitable troubleshooting when something doesn’t work as it’s meant to. One of the greatest benefits of UC is that it scales up and down as the business’ numbers do, and the monthly bill adjusts in kind, so there’s no wastage. And, as an added bonus, it’s easy to provision new users.

6. Moving office

Sometimes the most simple trigger of all can be the most effective. When a business moves offices, it (obviously) needs to set up all its technology at its new location. This makes for the perfect opportunity to refresh archaic infrastructure and set up new systems where needed.

7. As part of a disaster recovery strategy

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of just how at risk they are in the event of a disaster. The amount of data that could be lost if it was all stored locally and there was a fire or flood could very well end the business. So many businesses are looking to cloud solutions for backup and storage purposes, and are willing to make these investments where they appear to be prudent. Keeping the communications data in the cloud, in this context, is a very good idea.

There are very few downsides to adopting a UC solution in your business. It’s more comprehensive than what standard telephony services can offer, and it introduces a number of opportunities for the business to find competitive advantage.