Unified Communications (UC) – Is It The Future Of Business Communications?

With the advances in technology throwing the door wide open for communications, organizations are facing a stiff challenge to keep up with the latest and to raise their communication level.  Due to the uncertainty reigning supreme in the business world, communications are becoming more and more crucial.

The idea for United Communication (UC) has been floating around for a while now. It provides businesses entirely new possibilities for improving their productivity. Manoj Menon, partner and managing director (Asia-Pacific), Frost and Sullivan (Frost) endorses this view. According to him, UC is an amalgamation of numerous applications and tools meant for communications, both within the organization and to link with business partners.

UC is gaining ground

Menon, while speaking at Frost and Sullivan’s UC Summit, places UC on the same pedestal as today’s other headline grabbers like US economic downturn and spiraling oil prices. He reiterates that UC is slated to become the standard communication tool among organizations by the end of the next decade. Even today, VoIP is being used commonly in many areas.

Menon claims that the reason for the emergence of UC solutions is the result of the increase in business collaborations and altering preferences in user communications. This has led to the UC-scene hotting up with new and established players vying with each other for the UC pie. Even software heavyweights like Microsoft have ventured into the UC market.

Value for money

Menon adds that the main attraction of UC solutions is its capability to bring down the total ownership cost and increase productivity. As an example to illustrate this point, the case of MacDonald’s US operations is perfect. By using IP telephony solution that is centrally hosted, MacDonald’s has reduced the work force required to handle the orders from customers.

However, he conceded that there are still many hitches in the solutions to be ironed out before it takes over the world. Two of the main drawbacks are security and reliability. It is still early days for the technology.

For complex requirements, interoperability is a concern. Comprehensive end-to-end UC solutions are not provided by a single vendor. The organizations are forced to go in for multi-vendor solutions to meet their needs.

Menon asserts that UC solutions are taken up in stages, with demand for conferencing and mobility solutions showing a steady upward trend. UC is the prime reason for the upgradation of IP telephony.

According to Menon, organizations should consider the entire field of UC vendors for the success of their venture.

Customer is the King

With Internet empowering customers with more and more information, they are slowly waking up to their potential as an evaluator. They are getting a chance to voice their opinions about various products and services on public forums, created with this express purpose. Customers on realizing their power are demanding better treatment and service from organizations.

Steven Tan, Regional Marketing Manager (Asia-Pacific and Middle East), Aspect Software (Singapore), is of the opinion that customers are becoming more hard-to-please with the information available to them. They want well-informed customer service executives and accommodating and easy-to-use self-service systems.

Customers demand fast and easy resolution of their enquiries and complaints. A selection of communication options and first-time resolution are the other customer demands faced by organizations.

UC solutions can change the present scene in a big way, bringing in better communication possibilities for customers. The customer care centers can be redefined by taking the help of UC. In future, customers can take matter into their hands, instead of explaining it to the executive who answered the call.

With UC becoming the norm, customers can contact knowledgeable service agents through phone, message, chat, mail or any other means of communication to redress their grievances or for enquiry. UC solutions offer the customers the choice of communication in a fast and efficient manner.

According to Tan, the time has become ripe for doing away with transactional communications and embracing real-time communications. The net result of all the communications through networks and open platforms has led to the emergence of the new UC image. It is altering the way the world communicates and collaborates.

Collaboration is the new catchword

Tan announced that Aspect is collaborating with Microsoft to speed up the R&D and delivery of UC solutions. Aspect and Microsoft, who made an equity investment in Aspect, will jointly fund the venture and cross-license the intellectual property. Aspect will be providing end-to-end service center solution to Microsoft. This will be based on Aspect Unified IP and Microsoft UC VoIP platform.

UC helps to raise the efficiency and lower the operational cost of business processes, which needs constant interaction with customers, adds Tan.

UC allows remote working

According to JALA International, UC makes it possible to have remote workers for operations. For the year 2007, it is believed that there were 150 million remote workers all over the world. More than three-fourth of them were working from home at least one day a week.

Having remote workers reduce the organizational cost drastically. This includes desk space and PC cooling costs, said Robbie Kruger, Chief Technology Officer (Asia-Pacific), Avaya (Singapore). Another advantage of having remote workers is that in case of break down of operations at HQs, they can ensure the continuity in operations.

Kruger acknowledged the utility of UC in facilitating remote working environment. This is done by providing the employees with round the clock access to the organization and business visibility in case of availability of work force. He explains the plus factor of UC by demonstrating his own example. When he travels across the globe, UC enables to let him stay connected by linking his cell number with the office number.

Winds of changes are blowing

UC is generally regarded as an unavoidable vice. The deficiency in the back up features is seen as the main deterrent. Some view UC as expensive instead of looking at the boost it gives to the business.

Avaya responds to these criticisms by pointing out the ultimate benefits UC offers to business organizations. The most evident gain for adopting UC is that it improves response time in organizations and the staff required to handle the day-to-day business will be fewer.

Another useful feature of UC is just-in-time manufacturing. This lowers the running expense of the organization. In the medical services sector, this means that hospitals can deploy the closest available nurse to an emergency patient. With UC, the rate of first-time call resolution will be high. This is achieved by connecting the answer-seeking customers to the right person.

In Asia-Pacific region

According to Kruger, many business organizations in the Asia-Pacific have embraced UC components like Unified Messaging. However, they are still reluctant to revamp the entire organizational set up using UC to derive the full benefits.

Small to medium organizations are usually struggling with their finances to make ends meet. UC provides ample opportunities for these businesses to reduce their real estate expenses that are bleeding them dry. To make it attractive to the businesses to adopt UC, online training programs are offered at different locations.

The future looks bright for UC, with many businesses adopting it. Instead of selecting specific UC applications for specific needs, organizations will be going in for the hosted UC services in future. Kruger adds that organizations should not view UC just as a solution, but concentrate on the business requirements instead and find the right one.

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