Unified Communications For Dummies
Unified communications can link all of your messages and contacts into a single presence. You can see, hear, and communicate with colleagues and customers through any common channel, and route it to a standard interface.
Top Benefits of Unified Messaging
Unified messaging provides a number of benefits for users to manage their businesses with accessible, interfaced electronic communication systems, such as e-mail, voice, messenger services.
A single inbox. Unified messaging can deliver all types of messaging and communication to a single inbox. The single inbox is easier for administrators to maintain, and provides flexibility for users to manage and interact with all of their communications.
Efficient communication. Users can communicate more efficiently by having access to all communications at one time and being free to share, forward, or manage them in the way that's most convenient or effective for the given communication.
Cost savings. Merging streamlines the communications administration and consolidates the infrastructure onto fewer physical servers, saving money for the enterprise.
Access from anywhere. Unified messaging provides alternative methods of accessing communications. By merging e-mail, voice, and other communications, users can get voice messages in e-mail, have e-mail dictated over the phone, or access communications via the Web.
Key Unified Messaging Features
The concept of unified messaging and the features it delivers vary from vendor to vendor, but in general these are some of the capabilities you can expect:
Automated Attendant. An automated attendant is like a virtual receptionist or operator. The automated attendant may work on either touch-tone menu input or voice-response recognition and can make it simpler and more intuitive for callers to reach the department or individual they are seeking.
Receiving Voicemails. Rather than being stored on a separate phone server or system, voicemail messages are stored in a common inbox along with e-mail and other communications. Voicemails can be played directly from within an e-mail or may be attached to the e-mail as an audio file.
Receiving voicemail in the e-mail inbox also expands the options for accessing voicemail; it can be retrieved from a phone, from the e-mail client, through Web-based e-mail access, or even through e-mail access on a mobile phone.
Receiving Faxes. If you receive faxes on a standalone fax machine that spits out actual paper copies of the message, this won’t help you much. However, if you rely on a fax server, the faxes can be rerouted to a unified messaging inbox.
Old-fashioned faxing requires that you be physically present at the site of the fax machine in order to receive it; unified messaging faxes can be accessed anywhere, any time, in all of the same ways previously mentioned for accessing voicemail.
Voicemail Notification. Traditional voicemail typically relies on either a flashing light on the telephone handset or a stutter tone when the phone is picked up to notify you that there is a pending message.
With unified messaging, the user receives the voicemail in e-mail, making it accessible from anywhere in the world at any time, plus the softphone client generally has some sort of voicemail notification to alert the user that there's a new voicemail.
Direct Access to Voicemail. Some enterprise phone systems have this capability already, but it is still a cool feature. With voice tied into unified messaging, you can leave voicemail for a co-worker without actually ringing their phone.
If you want to leave messages for someone without interrupting that person or just want to leave a reminder without having an actual conversation, the capability to connect directly to voicemail can come in handy.
Route Playback to Phone. Even though unified communications and unified messaging can give you the capability to play your messages back on your computer either through the softphone client or by playing an embedded or attached audio file from an e-mail, you might not always want to do this.
If you are in a coffee shop or sitting in an airport, you may want your messages to be private. Unified messaging allows you to initiate playback of voicemail messages on your computer, but reroute them to your desktop or mobile phone.
Unified Message Viewing Tools
With unified communications and the convergence of voicemail with e-mail and with the PC desktop, you have new ways to interact with voicemail messages. You're probably used to some sort of light on your desk phone or a stutter dial tone when you lift the handset to alert you when a new voicemail message is waiting. Depending on the unified communications platform, those notifications may be extended to the desktop by either
Unified communications client. The unified communications softphone or instant messaging client application typically has some sort of notification to alert you when a new voicemail message is available.
Windows systray. The unified communications software may tie into the Windows desktop and provide some sort of message waiting indicator in the systray of the Microsoft Windows operating system.
Unified Voicemail and E-Mail
Voicemail is an essential unified communications feature to have for a phone system. The capability to leave a voicemail is certainly better than having the phone ring indefinitely with no way to reach the user. However, voicemail has its drawbacks.
Generally, users only receive their voicemail when they use the phone that the voicemail was left on. Most voicemail systems also provide some method of remotely retrieving messages by calling in to the voicemail system, but those features are rarely used unless someone is going to be away from the office for an extended period of time.
With unified messaging, voicemails are delivered to the same inbox as e-mail and other communications and can be retrieved using an e-mail client. Users often have e-mail delivered on their mobile phones and many organizations have Web-based access to the enterprise e-mail system, so the capability to receive voicemail in e-mail means that you have access to your voicemail virtually anytime and anywhere.
Some unified communications systems attach voicemail messages as an MP3, WAV, or other audio file format to an e-mail. Other unified communications platforms, such as Microsoft Unified Communications, embed the voicemail in the e-mail itself. In fact, when using Microsoft Exchange with Unified Messaging and Microsoft Outlook, voicemail messages have an embedded audio player so they can be played directly from within the e-mail without the need for any additional audio utilities.
With Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange voicemail, you can also click Play on Phone to have the voicemail system call you on your phone if you want to listen to the voicemail messages with more privacy than you may have by blaring them over your computer speaker. If you're in a coffee shop or other public area, this can be a handy feature.
Unified Message Sharing
Because unified messaging enables you to receive your voicemails and faxes embedded or attached to e-mails in a single, unified inbox, it also enables you to work with those message types any way you can work with an e-mail message. With unified messaging and a single inbox you have greater control and flexibility for sharing communications with others. Some examples of this flexibility include:
Voicemail can be forwarded to other individuals or groups that may be more appropriate to address an issue.
Voicemail can be escalated to management to resolve problems.
Faxed purchase orders can be forwarded to appropriate departments for handling.
Voicemail and fax messages can be backed up and archived for future reference.
Unified Remote Call Control
With remote call control (RCC), you can integrate your unified communications platform with your existing Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone system. RCC enables you to leverage some of the capabilities of unified communications without requiring you to migrate to a VoIP-based phone system. Essentially, an RCC integrated system ties the existing PBX infrastructure in to the unified communications environment:
When users make or receive a call using their desk phone, the presence status in unified communications is updated to reflect that they are on a call.
The unified communications softphone application can be used to make and receive calls and otherwise interact with the desk phone.
The functionality of RCC is dependent on the capabilities of the PBX system being leveraged, but may include
Initiating call waiting
Placing calls on hold
Viewing Caller ID
Accessing a missed call notification