Unified communications (UC) is a framework for integrating various asynchronous and real-time communication tools. The goal of UC is to enhance business communication, collaboration and productivity. Unified communications do not represent a singular technology; rather, it describes a strategy for integrating interconnected systems of enterprise communication devices and applications that can be used in concert or successively.
Some business communication tools - like Internet Protocol (IP) telephony and video conferencing - facilitate real-time communication, also called synchronous communication. Other enterprise communication tools, like email, facilitate asynchronous communication, which takes place at a person's convenience.
Increasingly, team collaboration tools have emerged to offer messaging-centric workflows and near-real-time communication. These tools also offer voice and video capabilities, API integrations and, ultimately, expound on instant messaging services by providing better UC features.
The goal of unified communications is to integrate the software that supports synchronous and asynchronous communication, so the end user has easy access to all tools from whatever device is in use.
A unified communications environment is typically supported by one or more back-end systems, often referred to as UC platforms, that facilitate integration among services, as well as the front-end clients that provide access. For example, a web conferencing system would make use of an audio conferencing system - which, in turn, would be built on an underlying IP telephony platform - and a unified messaging client would allow click-to-talk (CTC), click-to-chat or click-to-video functionality.
UC also supports users moving from one mode of communication to another within the same session. For example, a user may start communicating via email but then decide to escalate the interaction to real-time communication, transitioning the session to a voice call with one click and then to a video conference with another click without any disruption.
Unified communications systems and their components can be deployed on premises, in a public or private cloud, or a combination of all three. Cloud-based unified communications is also called UC as a service (UCaaS). An open source project called WebRTC, for example, enables real-time communications to be embedded into web browsers.
Historically, single-vendor UC environments have demonstrated the tightest integration and compatibility. Interoperability among vendors remains an ongoing challenge in UC, but it has also been mitigated, in part, by partnerships, common protocols and open APIs.
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F.A.Q. about Unified Communications
What technology do unified communications have?
Contrasting unified messaging
Unified communications are sometimes confused with unified messaging, but it is distinct. Unified communications refer to both real-time and non-real-time delivery of communications based on the preferred method and location of the recipient; unified messaging culls messages from several sources (such as e-mail, voice mail and faxes), but holds those messages only for retrieval at a later time. Unified communications allow for an individual to check and retrieve an e-mail or voice mail from any communication device at any time. It expands beyond voice mail services to data communications and video services.
With unified communications, multiple modes of business communications are integrated. Unified communications is not a single product but a collection of elements that include:
- Call control and multimodal communications
- Instant messaging
- Unified messaging
- Speech access and personal assistant
- Conferencing (audio, Web and video)
- Collaboration tools
- Business process integration (BPI)
- Software to enable business process integration
Presence — knowing where intended recipients are, and if they are available, in real-time — is a key component of unified communications. Unified communications integrate all systems a user might already use, and helps those systems work together in real-time. For example, unified communications technology could allow a user to seamlessly collaborate with another person on a project, even if the two users are in separate locations. The user could quickly locate the necessary person by accessing an interactive directory, engage in a text messaging session, and then escalate the session to a voice call or even a video call.
In another example, an employee receives a call from a customer who wants answers. Unified communications enable that employee to call an expert colleague from a real-time list. This way, the employee can answer the customer faster by eliminating rounds of back-and-forth e-mails and phone-tag.
The examples in the previous paragraph primarily describe "personal productivity" enhancements that tend to benefit the individual user. While such benefits can be important, enterprises are finding that they can achieve even greater impact by using unified communications capabilities to transform business processes. This is achieved by integrating UC functionality directly into the business applications using development tools provided by many of the suppliers. Instead of the individual user invoking the UC functionality to, say, find an appropriate resource, the workflow or process application automatically identifies the resource at the point in the business activity where one is needed.
When used in this manner, the concept of presence often changes. Most people associate presence with instant messaging (IM "buddy lists") the status of individuals is identified. But, in many business process applications, what is important is finding someone with a certain skill. In these environments, presence identifies available skills or capabilities.
This "business process" approach to integrating UC functionality can result in bottom-line benefits that are an order of magnitude greater than those achievable by personal productivity methods alone.
Unified communications & collaboration (UCC) is the integration of various communications methods with collaboration tools such as virtual white boards, real-time audio and video conferencing, and enhanced call control capabilities. Before this fusion of communications and collaboration tools into a single platform, enterprise collaboration service vendors and enterprise communications service vendors offered distinctly different solutions. Now, collaboration service vendors also offer communications services, and communications service providers have developed collaboration tools.
Unified communications & collaboration as a service (UCCaaS) is cloud-based UCC platforms. Compared to premises-based UCC solutions, UCCaaS platforms offer enhanced flexibility and scalability due to the SaaS subscription model.
Unified communications provisioning is the act of entering and configuring the settings for users of phone systems, instant messaging, telepresence, and other collaboration channels. Provisioners refer to this process as making moves, adds, changes, and deletes or MAC-Ds.