Unified Communications Joins The Firm

Managers today have two powerful communications tools at their disposal – the telephone and the computer. Unfortunately, for practical purposes, these two remain worlds apart, at least until now. But that is slowly changing and the benefits promise to be enormous. Unified Communications, or UC, actually has the potential to alter the way we work in the 21st century in the way PCs did in the last two decades of the 20th.

Imagine a system that knows where you are and what you’re doing and can figure out the best way to contact you, depending on how important the message is and what kind of device you have at your disposal to receive and answer it.

A call is routed to your laptop where it leaves a text message for you to read at your leisure.  An important e-mail is read to you as you drive to work, leaving both hands free for the wheel.  Or say you need certain information for an important bid, and you need it now! UC can locate and reach the expert you need even if he or she happens to be in a meeting or at home mowing the lawn. You can not only reach that person, but you can do it in the way that will be least disruptive. Maybe he or she is online. Then you can just drag and drop information into the call so it pops up on the screen of that person’s PC, Blackberry or Portable Internet Device.

Now, instead of two powerful tools, you have many – and many new ways to get in touch whenever you need to.

Businesses today are still trying to cope with an inefficient mix of voice and data systems. As communication moves between the two worlds, vital information often gets lost in transition.

Just think: besides real-time voice (phone), real-time data (Instant Messaging, or IM), asynchronous data (e-mail), electronic written communication (fax) and multimedia (video) businesspeople increasingly rely on collaborative media such as wikis, portals or whiteboards in everyday communication with colleagues and business partners.

How they use their communications mix depends to a large degree on where they are at the moment. Location is becoming a crucial factor and must be figured into any good UC strategy.

Finally, the range of devices that must be part of that strategy stretches from fixed-line phones through mobiles, SmartPhones, videophones, PCs,  laptops, handhelds and an ever-evolving list of more and more specialized digital devices.

UC should provide a context-sensitive, location-aware communications system that offers a full choice between all these types of communication in a way that is both seamless and offers the most convenience to the user.

IP – Internet Protocol – is the key to true Unified Communication. As long as voice and data are carried over different networks using different technologies, there always was a gap. Thanks to VoIP (Voice over IP) telephony, calls can be handled like any other kind of digital data. They can be stored, manipulated, translated into text and back again and delivered in any desired format to a wide range of communications device, along with just about every other kind of digital data.

Sounds complicated, but it isn’t, really. Today’s VoIP-enabled communication architectures like those supplied by Siemens free you from the old world of voice and data silos to provide fully transparent and versatile communications systems. And since everybody understands IP, it’s easy to integrate these systems into existing communications architectures or to build a UC environment using components from various vendors.

However, experts agree that a UC system developed separately and cobbled together can cause your system administrators sleepless nights. Siemens’ offering covers the complete UC value chain and provides intelligent migration concepts to ensure that you aren’t left with a jumble of disjointed components which may prove difficult and expensive to implement, manage and upgrade. All this, of course, at very reasonable total cost of ownership.

Unified Communications is one of hottest topics going right now, and it is bound to get even hotter. Commfusion, a consultancy, expects total revenues for UC components to grow worldwide from $9.52 billion in 2007 to $15.9 billion in 2012, a compounded annual growth of 51.5%!

Wireless and mobility are the two keys to this truly astonishing increase.  As hot spots proliferate and new technologies such as 3G wireless networks or WiMax pick up steam, business professionals will change the way they communicate. Today, the typical road warrior carries a collection of adapters, chargers, gadgets and devices for each separate mode of communication with him on the road. Convergence and increased availability will allow him to shed most of this load, opting instead for small, simple, light-weight intelligent devices that connect to whatever kind of communication network they encounter in any given environment. This, according to the Economist, will eventually produce a new generation of “techno-Bedouins” who travel the globe like an Arab rides his camel through the desert – without the need to carry his water with him because he knows where he will find the next well or oasis.

Real mobility will be achieved when it allows us to fully communicate with whatever device we happen to have handy. It will give us a new degree of freedom and increase not only our accessibility but our ability to find the people we need quickly and easily.

Ultimately, Unified Communications will combine with video which enriches communications by engaging an additional important sense – sight. Until now, video conferencing is a complicated, high-maintenance tool that remains tied to special rooms or stationary systems. While the use of video communications is proliferating rapidly, it will not become a part full-fledged of UC until it is more widely adopted in the corporate world.

Video allows us to meet and interact on a more personal level than simple voice or data communications.  In order to make this vision become reality, we will need new technologies providing support for a range of resolutions, low latency and greater tolerance for network disruptions and dips in speed.

As video telephony and UC converge and come of age, they will change the way managers do business, cutting down on travel time and freeing them up to do what they are best at – namely their business.

As Unified Communications joins the firm, look out for intense, more personal and more productive communications unburdened by the restraints of space and time.  Also, expect new and innovative technologies to crop up in the near future to further expand the wealth of possibilities Unified Communications will bring. In the famous words of Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer”, the world’s first “talking movie”: Boy, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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