While Unified Communications in some form is being broadly adopted by companies, very few actually use all available features.
as a concept, is broadly supported by enterprises at nearly all levels. The
idea of somehow integrating aspects of e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging
and other communication methods sounds like a good idea to nearly everyone. But
putting UC (Unified Communications) into practice varies widely in its level of
integration and its level of penetration into the depths of the enterprise.
In fact, the level
of integration for UC varies so much that Infonetics analyst Matthias
Machowinski said the term can mean whatever you want it to mean. "At a high
level, it is an integration between disparate modes of communications,"
Machowinski said. "To make it more tangible, ask yourself what are some of the
most common types of communications? E-mail, phone calls, you can expand it to
faxing and instant messaging."
Companies don't necessarily
integrate even e-mail and voice mail. Some have integration of conference
calling and desktop sharing as their approach to UC, he said.
"One challenge with
this area is that different companies have different requirements. We have this
different modality of communications. Is it a cohesive unit?" he said.
Depending on how
those companies are set up, they have varying levels of the need for
integration and communications.
"This doesn't even
consider presence," he said, "which many consider necessary. Some analysts will
require that. Some analysts will also say you have to have video
capabilities." Of course, few companies
have all of these features in their form of UC. Instead, companies tend to
build out those features they most need for their day-to-day operations, and
may let other functions remain unused, even if they're present in the UC
packages they're already using.
There's not agreement
in the vendor community whether a UC solution requires a PBX. Some users of
Microsoft Office Communicator, for example, don't have any sort of dedicated
phone switch and may not have telephone instruments, using soft phones that run
Still, in whatever
form it's being used, the idea of UC has been around for nearly two decades.
What has changed since then is the means of accomplishing a UC environment has
expanded beyond any single company and any specific function. As a result,
companies using UC are saving money, improving revenue and efficiency, and
choosing those applications, functions and methods that best fit what they do.
Effectively, the world of UC has become a cafeteria from which companies can
select the components they need to make their business better while leaving
behind the items that don't fit.
Colleen Jakes, director
of Information Services for TopLine Federal Credit Union in Maple Grove, Minn.,
said her organization bases its UC solution on a Shoretel PBX. "We're using
Shoretel Converged Conferencing," Jakes said. She said this includes instant
messaging, multiple conference lines and an online meeting application that
lets users share desktops and presentations. She said the Shoretel system is
integrated with Microsoft Outlook so that voicemails appear in users' mailboxes
and that the system is tied into the Outlook calendar, so their presence
indicator automatically shows when they're in a meeting or on a call.
collaboration piece helps with branch locations," Jakes said. "We have
presence, so we know whether someone is at their desk at a branch," she said.
Jakes noted that the presence indicator and the Web collaboration capability
have saved the credit union a significant amount of money in training. She said
the branch trainer can conduct training over the conferencing system and
doesn't have to travel between branches.
Jakes said the move
to UC also improved member services significantly. "When a member calls in
through the member service line, we can IM out to the group and see who has a
file," Jakes explained. "Our members like to call in and talk to someone, but
that person isn't necessarily an expert on what they want to know," she said,
but Jakes said the person getting the call can IM an expert and then answer
Jakes said right
now TopLine doesn't use video, although that can be integrated into the
Shoretel system the credit union uses. "We're considering getting a couple of
video capabilities for investment services," she said.