Are you puzzled about what unified communications features your small business should employ or add to ones you’ve already adopted?  Unified communications, as I’ve described it before, is not one product but a set of capabilities to integrate real-time communication services. It enables you, among other things, to send a message on one medium and the recipient to receive it on another. For example, I can leave someone a voice message and they can receive notification or even a speech to text transcription in an email.

Each UC vendor offers a host of features to differentiate their platform, which can make getting your arms around UC even more complex.  However, there are several features that are considered the foundation of any UC system. Compare Business Products did a nice roundup of key UC features a few years ago in “10 Must Have Unified Communications Features.”  They include:

  • Presence
  • Unified messaging
  • Integrated audio/web conferencing
  • Instant messaging/chat
  • One number reach
  • Click to dial
  • Corporate phone books
  • Extension dialing over all locations
  • Screen pops
  • Disaster recovery

UC essentials enhance communication and collaboration

laptop, smartphone and tabletThese basic UC capabilities can help improve communication and collaboration among your team. In this post and one next week, I’ll review how.

Presence: Some people consider presence one of the most essential of all the UC capabilities because it lets you know when someone is available. After all, you can email someone in your company who works remotely or even in another part of the building, but you have no way of knowing if they are on or offline to get your message. Presence changes that. It lets you know the status and availability of the person you are trying to reach – and vice versa. If you use  a softphone like Skype,  you know how it works. A little notification pops up when someone in your contact list goes online.

In a UC system, presence can be integrated across all your communication devices, including IP (over the Internet) desk phones, email, IM and IP softphones.  Some UC capabilities also let you know when someone’s mobile device is turned on or off. Presence not only enhances communication and collaboration; it increases productivity. If a call from a customer comes in that requires customer service to check with sales or a technician, presence indicates if that person is available. If not, customer service can try someone else.

Unified messaging: Think how much more efficient you would be if you didn’t have to check all your communication devices for all the messages you receive – email,  voicemail, video messages, SMS, and more — but could go to one inbox to retrieve all of them from anywhere. That’s unified messaging. For example, unified messaging could send a voice message to your universal inbox where you could play the message directly from the email; play an audio file attached to the email; or read a transcribed text of the message sent in the body of the email. If you want to share the message with someone, you can easily forward it on.

Integrated audio/web conferencing:  Web conferencing enables you to share a presentation between meeting participants, conduct training, give a lecture or hold an event. By integrating audio conference capabilities with web conferencing – and increasingly with video conferencing – you make it easier for everyone involved to participate since they don’t have dial in and join online separately. You also can call out to someone else to join the meeting if a question or issue comes up. By adding a screen sharing application to your integrated conferencing, members of your team in different locations can even work together to develop a presentation or document.

Instant messaging/chat: Sometimes the terms IM and chat are used interchangeably. Chat often occurs in a virtual room where participants focus on a topic and text comments to the group. You could use chat to bring your team members together, wherever they are, to discuss a new product or service or marketing campaign, for example. You even can add video to your chat session.  IM is more suited for one-on-one communication with someone. For example, if presence tells you someone is on line, you can send off a quick IM to ask a question.

One number reach: Often called Find Me/Follow Me, it’s the capability that lets you choose one number to give out – it can even be a virtual number.  When someone dials that number, the IP telephony system routes the calls to numbers you have selected – office phone, mobile number, home phone or other — at the same time or sequentially.  If, after routing the call to all the numbers, you still don’t answer; the system will leave the call in your voice mail.

Next week, I’ll cover the other key UC features. If you are using any of the above, how has it improved communication and collaboration in your small business?