Unified Communications: Beyond Skype, Gmail and Facebook

Last week I was insanely communicating through Skype, Google Chat Talk, email and Twitter at around the same time. It was a harrowing experience. For many of you, that’s the extent of united communications. However it’s so much more. For larger, small businesses, who are out of the startup and entrepreneurial stage, considering unified communications, as your business grows, is critical.
Louis Hayner Headshot.jpgLouis Hayner, CSO at Alteva http://www.altevatel.com shared his in depth insight on what unified communications is and why it’s important.

What is unified communications?

There is a wide disparity in perceptions in the marketplace of what Unified Communications (UC) really is. The big picture is that a UC solution integrates the isolated communications systems that businesses use each day, such as messaging applications, voice, video, workflow applications and conferencing for users to access through fixed and mobile devices.
As the hosted IP communications market continues to grow, more service providers are integrating more capabilities to traditional hosted telecom solutions – including UC integration with the full suite of Microsoft products that allows for a truly hosted UC environment where an IP phone system fully integrates with your email, voicemail and OCS – all in one model. UC takes your basic business based technology like your voice communications and combines that with office communications (instant messenger, video conferencing, desktop sharing, telepresence, etc.). Alteva was the first hosted VoIP provider to provide a completely hosted UC platform powered by Broadsoft and Microsoft. These hosted applications which include Microsoft Hosted OCS, Microsoft Hosted Voice Exchange, Hosted SharePoint, and Hosted VoIP have been completely integrated for voice, presence, video, application collaboration, click to dial, and other features.
By allowing for easier, more direct collaboration between co-workers and with suppliers and clients, a UC solution helps businesses of any size to streamline communications, reduce costs and minimize delays to assure faster interaction with anyone important to the organization, even if they are not physically in the same country, state or building.

Why is United Communications important?

If you don’t believe that your computer and phone should be aware of each other, then you do not believe in UC. I believe that because Microsoft has entered into telecommunications, the business world is changing and eventually the awareness of Hosted UC solutions will be as ubiquitous as voicemail. Eventually, your computer WILL be integrated with your phone and act as a single communications device – the question is whether this will be accomplished with hosted UC solutions or on-premise based solutions.
There are a many players who provide enterprise grade Hosted Microsoft Services (OCS, Exchange, and SharePoint), and a few who provide enterprise Hosted VoIP through Broadsoft switches. On a global level, the significant differentiator that Alteva plays in this market is the integration between Broadsoft & Microsoft Hosted Messaging Collaboration (HMC) platforms. Other UC solutions largely depend upon premise based services and technologies and scalable premise based solutions are limited by cost, resources, and space.
With a completely hosted UC solution, communication is circular rather than linear. In other words, a user can determine the most efficient form of communication for each situation. A user can instant message, call, email, video chat, or use on-line collaboration within a single solution. No longer is a phone call just a phone call. Easily start a videoconference call with a coworker and have a question asked and answered in seconds rather than minutes by not having to walk over to their desk or another floor, exchange the usual hellos and short talk and then get to the task at hand. By using these robust communications all of the “fluff” is no longer needed and it creates a more efficient worker. Things that would’ve been more difficult to explain over the phone are much easier to share via face to face with video conferencing, sharing boards, etc. UC offers efficient use of employee time and less distractions outside of the traditional business requirements.
Organizations should educate themselves on the features and benefits of a Hosted UC system in order to determine if it’s a right solution for their company. It is important to ask yourself questions like – What does my company want to accomplish? What prior obligations does my company have (telecom contracts)? Is hosted (cloud based) UC or an on-premise based UC solution right for me?
There is actually very little difference between the feature sets. A potential drawback for a small to medium-sized enterprise is the cost of deploying a premises-based solution over a hosted solution. With an on premise based UC solution, it’s a $2,000 per user one time fee (the phone system, the phone, messaging system, etc.), but with a hosted or cloud-based solution, deployment time is cut by 75%, management time by 90% and TCO by 25-30%. This also brings the costs of new systems from $2000 a user (with on-premise) down to $250-$350 per user (in a hosted model). Hosted services mean that the hosting company will deploy, manage and monitor your applications in less time, for less money because the technology lives in the cloud. With on-premise, you are responsible for managing and maintaining the system which usually means having an IT person/staff on hand and all for a higher fee. With hosted UC, you can buy phones, email or OCS individually knowing that they have already been integrated without any of your IT resources because the solution is hosted in the cloud. With an on-premise solution, the customer must pick all or nothing because the option to buy what they need, when they need it isn’t there. An on-premise solution integration takes on additional IT resources — either the company that is purchasing the solution or the company that is selling the solution. An additional obstacle with on premise solutions is the time to deploy the solution, due to the fact that the initial purchase needs to account for all aspects of UC.
Unfortunately, companies are still hesitant to jump on board with UC, especially hosted UC, since it’s so new. Many companies are still choosing to buy VoIP systems because they do not yet realize that a “true UC” solution will still let you just buy a new phone system, or just the OCS portion, or vice versa during the initial purchase. It’s possible to only get a new phone system and still realize true UC. An on premise OCS solution can be deployed but will not be integrated with your company’s phone system – so you can get the instant messaging platform, but will not have phone presence. With hosted solutions, if you decide you need Hosted Microsoft Exchange, but later decide you also need Hosted VoIP, there are no massive infrastructure changes – simply call your UC service provider and they turn it on. This is the power of the cloud.

What are some of the specific features UC can bring to a business?

A voice-enabled UC solution can quickly help organizations save money by reducing a variety of costs, including service fees and charges, travel expenses, messaging costs, telephony and audio conferencing charges, operation costs, communications system costs and disaster recovery capabilities.
Additional benefits of Hosted UC include:

  • Hosted or cloud-based solutions average a 75% reduction in startup expenses, management time by 90% and TCO by 25-30% compared to an on-premise PBX system – bringing the cost of a new system from $2000/user down to $250-$350/user.
  • Business Continuity: Direct access to redirect calls or relocate your entire business in the event of a storm or disaster
  • Mitigate Technology Obsolescence – New features and functionality made available without costly upgrades, elimination of maintenance fees and costly moves, adds and changes.
  • Scalability: Easily add and remove users as your business expands and contracts to fit you business needs.
  • Consolidation: One vendor to manage and one bill to pay for Local, Long Distance, Exchange, OCS, SharePoint & Internet.
  • Improve Employees Efficiency and Customer Satisfaction: salespeople, remote workers and mobile executives can do business from any location and never miss a call or message. Features such as messaging and collaboration, answering your office phone from your cell phone, have voicemails show up as an emails, find me follow me, call accounting, etc. drastically improve productivity.

Mr. Hayner has over 10 years of management and sales entrepreneurial experience in Telecom Services. He was one of the founding members of the nation’s first organization to specialize in telecommunication continuity planning and restoration. In 2005, Mr. Hayner joined Alteva as the Director of Sales and grew its revenue by 62% within the first year as has recently been appointed Chief Sales Officer. Mr. Hayner is considered by many to be an industry expert and has been published numerous times, most recently by Communication News. In 2006 he was elected to serve as the Director of Education for the Association of Contingency Planners. He was also included in the Philadelphia Business Journals Who’s Who Executives and Professionals.