Pipeline Publishing, Volume 5, Issue 5
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So What's the Big Deal About UC?

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By Peter Gilligan

Unified Communications (UC) has been around for some years now. When you strip away the hype, isn't it just about linking all the communications services already out there? So it's no big deal... right?

The answer to that question is not so straightforward. Before we get into that, I would like to put forward my definition of UC. It is important to do this, as several definitions exist and it is easy to get into a conversation on UC and discover you are talking about different things. In my mind, UC is the convergence of my many communications services onto my modest number of communications devices. To make this very clear, I am talking about:

  • Voice calls (fixed & mobile)
  • Voicemail
  • Conference Calls
  • Email
  • Instant Messaging (IM)
  • Video Conferencing
  • Presence

All being delivered to my device of choice: my PC, hand held, or phone.

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From an end-user perspective, the cool thing about UC is that it provides the freedom to move about while being as connected as we would be if were in the office. On second thought, maybe that's not so cool! I guess we could always turn our devices off... but we don't. From an enterprise perspective, the productivity benefits derived from this new level of accessibility may be useful, but are there financial benefits to UC? There could be. It depends on your current voice setup. If your enterprise is using traditional voice services connected through a number of geographically distributed PBXs, there is the

From an enterprise perspective, the productivity benefits derived from this new level of accessibility may be useful, but are there financial benefits to UC? There could be.


potential to save some real money. Converting your telephony to IP and utilizing soft-phones rather than desk handsets removes the cost of PBX maintenance, the E1/T1s that service those PBXs, plus the cost of all those desk phones. This can be a significant amount of money. Of course, against those savings you need to offset the cost of additional bandwidth required to support your voice traffic and additional equipment to manage that traffic, plus the implementation & ongoing support costs. You guessed it: there is a business case required here, but you may be surprised at how much you could save. For large organizations, the savings can be in the millions.

So the upside is some cool productivity gains and some real money savings. But is there a downside? Well, yes. There are some things that will make you wince. To state the obvious, soft phones rely on your PC being up. That means you can't walk into the office, pick up the phone and make a call. You have to boot up first (and if you are a laptop user like me that can be a time consuming pain), but you can use your handheld until you are online, so this isn't a killer.

Quality of service can be an issue, especially if you or your employees are working away from the corporate network. This can introduce issues generated by poor provider or home networks but probably no worse than your current situation. There may be a need to change phone numbers. Again, this is a pain but can be dealt with. The bottom line is that if the financial case and the productivity benefits offset the negatives, you are a candidate for UC.

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