What Does Unified Communications Mean?
Ask around and you’ll probably find that there are more definitions for unified communications than there are unified communications vendors. Some definitions focus on technology, others on access, others on identity, and the list goes on. But what is common through practically every definition of this often-debated term is the idea of making communications easier and more seamless to make life better for companies, their workers, their vendors, their customers and everyone in between.
So instead of trying to offer up our own, singular definition of unified communications, we thought we’d take a different approach. Below, you’ll find a survey of definitions analysts, crowdsourcing, major publishers—and uniquely personal perspectives from individual people that span life-long telecom insiders to the newly initiated.
Have a definition of your own you’d like us to consider including in this post? Email us at Info@townerkc.com or tweet us at @townercomm.
Perspectives from the web
As one of the most influential analyst organizations, Gartner offers what is probably one of the most widely accepted definitions of unified communications:
“Unified communications products (equipment, software and services) are those that facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods. This can include control, management and integration of these methods. UC products integrate communications channels (media), networks and systems, as well as IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.”
Webopedia focuses on the idea of a single platform:
“United communications is a phrase used to describe any communications system, usually a business system, that encompasses a broad range of technologies and applications that have been designed, sold and supported as a single communications platform or as one entity. Unified communications system generally enable companies to use integrated data, video, and voice in one supported product.”
Wikipedia is not convinced that unified communications has to be a single product, but does emphasize a consistent experience:
“UC is not necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user-interface and user-experience across multiple devices and media-types.”
PCMag thinks the key is in properly routing communications in real time:
“The real-time redirection of a voice, text or e-mail message to the device closest to the intended recipient at any given time.”
And Your Dictionary emphasizes availability and preferences:
“The ability to communicate in real time in the preferred mode (i.e., landline, cellular telephone, e-mail, or fax), unified communications incorporates presence technology, thereby allowing the user to indicate availability (e.g., available, unavailable, or out to lunch) and communications mode preference (e.g., business phone, cellular phone, text message, or instant message) to prospective callers.”
Some more personal definitions of unified communications
The web is an interesting place to gather definitions like this, but for some, it’s a bit impersonal. I can’t have coffee with PCMag. Wikipedia doesn’t have a nine-to-five office gig. They’re entities—not people. So decided to give you some definitions of unified communications that you could relate to. Not just a sequence of words, but the stories and experiences behind them. Here’s what some real-life humans had to say.
Taming collaboration tool overload
Nichole Paschal, Enterprise Product Marketing Manager, Cloud Division, Mitel
This is my second week working at Mitel as a product marketing manager. If you had asked me two weeks ago what unified communications meant to me, I would have given a very different answer than if you asked me today.
In my previous position, I used over 10 different software services and programs to communicate and collaborate with co-workers, partners and customers daily. I had separate platforms for e-mails, shared files, instant messaging, project management, video conferencing, webinars, screen-sharing, customer support service, business analytics and more. I also had all of the accompanying mobile apps.
At that time, did I think that all of these programs, services and apps provided me with a unified communications experience? Yes. Sure, it took a lot of education and resources to connect all of these services, not to mention the time to monitor and use them—but in the end, they worked for us. And that’s what matters, right?
Now I know better.
What I’ve learned is that unified communications is not just the ability to communicate and collaborate, but also the simplicity, ease and timeliness of that communication.
For the last two weeks, I have used the MiCloud platform for all of my communications, including chat, phone, screen sharing, file sharing, screen recording and more. Integrated across all of my devices, it has given me a seamless way of communicating and collaborating that I’ve never experienced before.
So what does unified communications mean to me today? It’s the idea of providing a communications solution that helps people get their jobs done more effectively by freeing up time, increasing productivity, and allowing more resources to be given to what needs to be communicated versus how that’s going to happen.
Find out more about team collaboration software >
Working more efficiently and effectively
Miriam Spies, Senior Technical Course Developer, Cloud Division, Mitel
As a Technical Course Developer, my role requires me to collaborate with many engineers and subject matter experts in order to produce technical documents, job aids and training courses.
Without unified communications, my work would be filled with even more emails with endless attachments.
Unified communications provides me with the ability to meet with people in real time to design, edit and adjust materials in a forum that everyone can view and participate in. This saves time and effort with the ability to effectively control versions, add and edit ideas and actively discuss important content.
Having a central repository has proven to not only be convenient, but helps to coordinate materials by project. It has been a simple solution to more easily manage a complex amount of materials.
Uncovering unexpected benefits
Ryan Smith, Product Marketing Manager, Cloud Division, Mitel
Howdy! I’m Ryan Smith and I support Cloud Marketing efforts for Mitel. I’ve been using unified communications systems for as long as I can remember, and quite frankly, I never appreciated it until recently.
Like most people, my primary mode of communications was email.
I used my mobile phone for most calls, and I only used my desk phone for long conference calls or if someone called me at my desk. Even when I could ring all phones, I usually just forwarded my desk calls to my mobile phone using the hardware. Instant messaging was my communications method of last resort, after emails, phone calls, and text messaging had failed. I used presence to see if I could catch a person at their desk and I sent them an instant message that usually said, “Did you see my email?”
Now, I’m using unified communications differently.
I recently had a video project where I needed to bring a collaborator on the project from outside of the company. I sent an invitation to join my project work stream and uploaded my script and multimedia content to the UC client!
We communicated mainly via text-based chat. My contact uploaded video proofs to the UC client as well. Because we were time-shifted by two hours, I often got updates after I had left for the day. I was able to watch the video proofs on my mobile UC client, and offer comments on the file without ever booting my computer.
We got the entire project done and never made a single phone call.
So for me, unified communications is all about getting work done collaboratively. I have the entire gamut of communications options available to me on one screen, and I choose which methods work best for me.
Check out our cloud-based unified communications platforms >
Making communications technology invisible
Hal Werner, Global Content Strategist, Mitel
To me, unified communications means that everything is simple and easy. It means I don’t have to deal with several different communications vendors that may or may not work well together. It means that I don’t have to worry about different usernames and numbers for different devices. It means I don’t even have to think in terms of devices.
It means I can think in terms of people, and the technology just becomes a sort of invisible enabler.
Isn’t that true of all the best technology?
- The best entertainment systems are the ones that transport you into the story, whether that’s a movie screen with surround sound or a 3-D virtual reality system.
- Good transportation helps you forget the vehicle and enjoy the ride.
- The best phone call is the one that’s got such good quality that it sounds like the person is in the room with you.
- The best collaboration software is the one that lets you forget you’re using tools to transmit data over hundreds, maybe thousands of miles and just interact much like you would in person.
As consumer technology converges, it’s driving a similar convergence in business communications as well. Much like I want to be able to put down a movie streaming to my TV and pick it up on my tablet, I also want to easily be able to hand off a video call from my laptop to my mobile. And I don’t want to push some arcane 12-step sequence of buttons and stand on my head for it to work.
I think unified communications probably started out as an effort to unify the back-end systems behind the scenes so that things worked together from an IT perspective. It was a noble pursuit and aside from patching together systems from different vendors, I think most would agree this part of the unification mission has been accomplished. But as consumer companies have pushed for persistent experiences that mirror across devices in real-time, I think we’re moving to the idea of unified identity.
That is to say that I think we’re entering an era where it’s not the system or even the device that’s the central component of communications systems, be they consumer, business or both (goodness knows the lines between the two have been blurring).
Instead, a person’s identity becomes the central point from which all things flow, and the technology finds ways to recognize that person and bring that individual’s full context along with every touchpoint regardless of device, location, or other physical or technological reference points.
A big reason this is possible has to do with cloud technology. The same concept that lets you access your files anywhere through a service like DropBox or view your pictures anywhere through a service like iPhoto has been applied to communications as well. Moving data and functionality to a cloud-based model is a big part of what makes that data and functionality portable, adaptable and mirror-able (if that’s a word).
All this together adds up to a paradoxical, but promising era where the technology behind unified communications becomes so advanced and useful that it appears to become invisible to users and let them focus on what they were trying to accomplish in the first place.
Discover the benefits of our on-premises unified communications platforms >
Getting work done with multiple stakeholders
Saad Abughazaleh, Demand Generation Manager, Cloud Division, Mitel
As a Demand Generation Manager, my role is to drive awareness and business to our cloud communications portfolio by managing the website, initiating campaigns, and launching programs. This requires me to interface with countless teams both internal and external, across departments as well as countries.
Unified communication plays a huge part in my day-to-day activities when I manage projects that have numerous stakeholders and contributors.
In the past, I would rely heavily on emails and locally-saved folders in order to keep up with what everyone was doing, where we were in the project, and what deliverables were owed or disseminated. It was extremely difficult to keep track of everything and maintain communications.
But with our unified communications platform, I can maintain all the work relating to a project in a single screen pane.
Whether it’s listing action items, uploading files, communicating, or screen sharing, I can manage the project and inspect my expectations in one location.
Not only that, but if I’m traveling or away from my computer, I can use my mobile phone to access all the files and details of the project easily, just like being on my computer. This is how UC changed my daily work life. It’s minimized my wasted effort in searching and allowed me to spend more time doing.
The definitions change, but the goal remains
Dave Hancock, Digital Marketing Manager, Mitel
Having been in telecom for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen the definition of unified communications change about 20 times. To me, unified communications means giving a company a consistent and secure way to communicate using the channel that best suits the conversation.
This includes employees communicating to each other as well as their external vendors; customers trying to tech support or place a new order; channel partners trying to get the information they need to sell more for your company.
Unified communications users need it to be simple, intuitive and accessible. It should be inserted into their days (or nights), not disrupt them. UC should allow users to get the answers they need as soon as the other side of the conversation replies, regardless of the devices they use.
These sound like lofty goals, and utopia usually is.
In reality, no two companies are alike, so no two unified communications deployments should be the same.
If your company is chalk full of road warriors, a mobile focused strategy may make the most sense. If your company is dispersed to get the top talent in every market, then a video-based solution may help bring them together better.
The great thing about unified communications is that it allows companies to implement a structure that is best suited to their needs and the resources they have available.
Gaining new appreciation for seamlessness
David Nguyen, Marketing Manager, Cloud Division, Mitel
Having started with Mitel a few weeks ago, I never truly appreciated the importance of unified communications until I was surrounded by it.
I work closely with master agents, sub agents, and other internal employees and being able to communicate to them is imperative to my success. Not only do I use emails to communicate, but I tend to see myself using messenger, my desk phone, my mobile phone, my mobile email, and the list goes on. There were so many different ways I was communicating with others.
That is when I realized the importance of having unified communications.
There was a unified communications application that was better fit to communicate, so we were able to chat and share files. For example, I was working on project where I needed to send an eight-megabyte file. I began to write an email to send to my co-worker, but realized we have the tools to be more efficient on file sharing. So I jumped on our unified communications application and began to share the file with my peer.
We were able to make edits on the file and also chat about the file, all on the same communication tool.
That was my ah-ha moment.
Instead of bogging down my email inbox and her inbox and waiting for this large file to come through, I realized this platform was the right way to communicate, so that we could be more productive in our day.
As my journey continues through the unified communications technology world, my thought process is that communications will have a heavier impact on how to communicate more efficiently and effectively.
The benefits of a unified experience
Mats Perjon, Product Marketing Manager, Cloud Division, Mitel
I have always been interested in different communications solutions that could improve the way we work. In the past, I have tested a vast number of communication solutions and by doing that, I really understand the importance of information, usability, robustness and connectivity in the tools.
With all the nice tools out in the market today, you can easily spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each meeting just agreeing on what tool to use and learning if everyone has implemented the necessary plug-ins. Usually, it turns out that the last person trying to connect is on the road, calling in from his or her mobile—so the selected tool doesn’t work out for everyone after all, which really illustrates the importance of mobile-friendliness for mobile workers.
It’s really ground breaking when a company uses a comprehensive unified communications tool that works in all different environments.
Here at Mitel, I can set up a meeting on any device and invite both internal and external user using any media. But sometimes, all this flexibility also comes with unexpected people-based issues.
Yesterday I was booked for a conference call and I planned to take the call in my car. During the meeting, attendees decided to add screen sharing to the meeting, so I had to stop and park the car and bring up my computer.
The flexibility to quickly add screen sharing to the meeting was a great capability, but it also illustrated the point that sometimes complications come from the human side of communications. The technology here did its job, but the meeting holders failed to consider the devices and media available to all of their meeting attendees. Fortunately, this sort of thing can be avoided with good planning and setting of expectations.
Five factors behind the hype
Hope Davo Hope Davo, Marketing Manager, Cloud Division, Mitel
To begin, let’s quickly clarify the meaning of unified communications. To me, what it really means in laymen’s terms is a variety of features and tools that provide users a more effective and efficient way to communicate. There are plenty of tools out there which help enable communications, but like many companies today, you can have multiple vendors from which you source tools like chat, video, web conferencing, document editing tools, and many more.
In a previous job, my company did just that. We hired companies from across the industry to source our tools.
Although the goal was to enable us to communicate more effectively, it wasn’t very unified.
I can’t imagine the loads of time wasted that could have been reduced if we had a true unified communications solution.
I am a huge fan of unified communications and LOVE the benefits I experience daily because of my unified communications tools. Here are my top 5 reasons:
1. Phones aren’t enough—In most of today’s work environments, just having a desk phone and email isn’t enough. The most critical piece of each for me involves communicating with colleagues and customers.
2. Saving time—Unified communications helps save time and speed the decision process. You can significantly cut down on the countless hours of waiting for email responses or voicemails to be returned. Having the tools to identify who is available and quickly reach out for resolution on important items means you don’t have to play the waiting game.
3. Serving customers—Just like our customers put their customers’ experience as top priority, I do the very same in my position at Mitel. My internal customers are often sales teams, partners, and colleagues. I support teams across the globe and even though we’re dispersed, I’m able to provide the better level of service because of the unified communications tools I have access to. If an urgent matter arises they can easily send me a message, whether I’m in the same office or across the country in meetings.
4.Work anywhere, anytime—I’m a mom of two toddlers. Sometimes that means taking a conference call on the go so I can make a special event or logging back on to get some work done after the munchkins are down. No matter what the day brings, I can easily pick back up and continue working from home, remotely or really from wherever I choose. I remember a time when that would have been virtually impossible.
5. Less meetings—This is pretty self-explanatory, but ultimately collaboration is so much easier using tools like MiTeam where I can have an entire project team engaged on one work stream and we can share documents, interactions, and feedback—and ultimately limit the meetings.
Phones just aren’t enough in today’s workforce.
Businesses are turning to cloud-based communications solutions so they too can benefit from unified communications tools. I can’t imagine a day without my unified communications tools, and if you’re a business looking to find ways for your employees to connect more easily and collaborate more effectively, you may want to explore how you could benefit from unified communications.