Parallel Lines: Fuller unified comms

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The true unified communications experience will be driven by seamless integration into business applications running on a range of devices.
We all read about IP PBX solutions, handset functionality and networking, but these are only the basic components that unified communications can and needs to offer.

The true unified communications experience involves not only the seamless integration of real-time and non-real time communications, but it will also be embedded in desktop and mobile applications that hold contracts and other business information that users need to communicate or share.

The power of presence adds another important element to the interface and it will extend to key business contracts and customers.

Also, true unified communications provides for the simultaneous transmission of ideas through real-time and fully integrated collaboration applications.

This is convergence at its best and we are already seeing the next generation of solutions emerging. In the SME market, these solutions can all be hosted, even if complex integration with no-premise applications is required.

Business applications are far smarter than any IP handset and the future for the desk-based handset, which is dumb by comparison, is bleak.

Business information is stored in, and processed by, applications, and smartphones are now as powerful as laptops were only a few years ago. The days of communicating using an email address instead of phone numbers is not far away and, in our organisation, extension numbers are already a thing of the past.

Software such as Outlook, CRM, SharePoint and OCS can be customised and integrated to create powerful solutions. When we are working with a customer to specify a multi-million pound professional services project, they are increasingly asking about the extent to which communications can be integrated.

They want customer or prospect records to pop up when they call or want an automatic knowledge search to show which colleagues with the right skills are available by way of presence in a SharePoint application linked to CRM.

They want full click-to-call functionality so that they can initiate calls from a website, Outlook, CRM or company intranet. They want one communications and application interface and toolbars in Outlook to reduce the need for training and to empower each user to manage how and when they can be contacted instead of relying on centralised administrators.

They also want to be able to escalate an instant messenger conversation to voice or video and bring in colleagues and external contacts to a conference or document sharing workspace. They want to use OCS as their internal and external conference calling solution. They want to be able to initiate calls from applications when they are in the office or on a laptop or from a smartphone.

There is little point in comparing on-premise PBX functionality to what can achieved with unified communications as they should be worlds apart. It is also important that solutions have an overlay option to enable early adoption by avoiding the cost, barriers to sale and disruption of a completely new solution.

Channel partners can introduce approach also means that our  solutions to their customers as and when they need to grow or to add functionality and integration on an extension basis if required.

Hosted applications allow extremely powerful solutions to be delivered to SMEs cost-effectively without expensive training or maintenance overheads. We have sought to ensure that all solutions are hosted yet managed from one control panel with multiple layers of access.

Unified communications should be extremely flexible as it is very difficult for a solution provider or an administrator to predict how individual users will want to use this new technology as the nexus of communications and software.

We will see rapid growth in the adoption of SIP clients on smartphones as the use of IP PBX solutions grows and better SIP clients become available with support for a wide range of smartphones. Customers that are now looking at deploying OCS or unified communications solutions always want to know why they need to pay for comparatively expensive IP handsets.

The day will come this year when we can give our customers the option not to have them. They can effectively take their desk phone with them as well as the benefits of hosted solutions and VoIP. Also, as applications such as CRM are mobilised, the same integration and the key aspects of the experience enjoyed in the office will be expected on the move.

Hosted unified communications is a leveller in that companies like ours will soon be able to provide extremely powerful solutions that integrate communications and software applications to small businesses, as well as customised hosted solutions to large corporates that many large systems integrators are unable to compete with.

Further, everything will be made available to reseller partners with a core business in either software or communications as they become increasingly comfortable with convergence and the benefits it offers their customers.

This article originally appeared in Mobile News issue 458 (March 15, 2010).

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