What is unified communications?
Digital technology is deeply entwined with every aspect of our daily lives. We can communicate with friends and family all over the world in a matter of seconds. We can do our grocery shopping without leaving the house. We can even conduct healthcare appointments from the comfort of our own living room.
As much as technology has made our personal lives more convenient, it's also caused fundamental changes in the way we work. We’re no longer required to work from an office desk, surrounded by phone wires and endless sticky note reminders.
The rise of remote work has given professionals the freedom to work from anywhere as long as they have internet connectivity.
This new style of working means businesses have had to reconsider their tech stack and find new solutions that cater to professionals looking for a more flexible way to work. Soon enough, businesses were signing on for business apps of all shapes and sizes. The virtual office was messy, overflowing, a headache. There had to be an easier way.
Enter: Unified Communications.
Here we’ll examine all things unified communications and help you understand how unified communications solutions can improve your business. Let’s get started.
- Defining unified communications (UC)
- What is Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)?
- Benefits of unified communication systems for business
- UC solution key features
- How to choose the best UCaaS provider
- RingCentral MVP: UCaaS for the digital workforce
- Trends shaping the world of unified communications
- What does the future hold for unified communications?
- FAQs about unified communications
Defining unified communications (UC)
Unified communications (UC) refers to a conceptual business and marketing framework that integrates various enterprise communications products including
- Voice over internet protocol (or more simply VoIP or Voice over IP telephony)
- Synchronous and asynchronous messaging services (instant message, SMS, voicemail, email, etc)
- Data sharing
- Mobility features.
UC doesn’t necessarily describe a single product, rather a high-level business and marketing strategy that brings together various products and services under a common user interface. UC means that end users have immediate access to relevant tools to form a consistent working environment that functions across multiple endpoints and seamlessly transition between them anytime, anywhere.
In the age of digital transformation, a growing number of large and small businesses are implementing UC as a business approach to streamline communications and collaboration across teams.
UC systems offer team collaboration tools alongside integrated audio and video, messaging workflows, task management, and file sharing.
In a digitally transforming world where remote work thrives, seamless unified communication and collaboration solutions have several business benefits (which we’ll come to later). UC ensures high-level interactions across remote workforces while breaking down the siloed approaches of enterprise teams.
With remote access, UC ensures that remote workers can effectively communicate and carry out business processes from any device with internet connectivity.
What is Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)?
Unified communications as a service (UCaaS for short) refers to a business solution that integrates several enterprise real-time communication and asynchronous business communication tools into a single unified platform. UCaaS systems typically feature:
- Internet telephony (voice-over-IP phone systems) - Voice call and phone services conducted over the internet that may include various functions including call routing, call forwarding, interactive voice response (IVR), and call recording.
- Instant message - Internal team messaging for individual and group instant chat.
- Web conferencing solutions - Video and audio conferencing tools that allow for real-time face-to-face communication.
Let’s break down what the different elements of Unified Communications as a Service involve.
- Unified Communications - Refers to the integration (as we’ve described above) of various communication tools and UC devices, including hosted voice calls, instant message, and video calling, for the purpose of boosting productivity and streamlining business team interactions.
- As a Service - Refers to a business solution delivery model for cloud-based software services designed for communication and APIs.
Put them together, and you’ve got Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)!
Companies of all shapes and sizes adopt UCaaS solutions to empower employees with communication and collaboration tools that make working from anywhere possible. These solutions offer functionality across various devices, including PCs (web browsers and apps), desk phones, and mobile devices (such as iOS and Android).
How does UCaaS work?
UCaaS solves the problems presented by disparate communication tools for businesses’ collaborative experience. Instead of relying on separate apps for business communications, business teams can benefit from one unified platform.
On-premises PBX systems are a thing of the past. Unified communications has its roots in VoIP technology, which is used to convert sound to data packets sent via a cloud phone service provider. VoIP, phone numbers, caller contact information, and voicemail information and notifications operate using Session Initiation Protocol trunks (known as SIP trunking).
With IP telephony, businesses don’t need to rely on analog phone lines or manage and maintain physical business infrastructure. Instead, the UCaaS system provider is responsible for security, telephony functions, and backend development and configuration. Moreover, UCaaS solutions run using the cloud so they offer increased flexibility and better business continuity in case of a natural disasters or any situation where data loss might occur.
Benefits of unified communication systems for business
The world is full of platforms, solutions, and tools designed to improve business operations in one way or another. How would you know which ones actually work? Unified communications works in so many more ways than one.
Unified communications platforms simplify communication, collaboration, and work. UC has numerous benefits for businesses, from boosting productivity to reducing costs—let’s take a look at how UC’s streamlined interface can benefit business teams of all shapes and sizes.
The cost of managing an office-based workplace environment or running an on-premises call center is pretty hefty. All the costs associated with hardware, technical support, utilities—not to mention the cost of rent—can quickly add up. Implementing a UCaaS solution can save businesses a huge amount of money and increase team productivity. With unified communications solutions, businesses no longer have to fork out extra for things like:
- Virtual meeting apps
- Instant messaging apps
- SMS text messaging
- On-premises hardware (headsets, desk phones, computers, etc)
- Helpdesk ticketing systems
- Cloud file-sharing software
With UCaaS, you get everything in a unified interface. The cost of managing on-premises sites isn’t the only way businesses can save money with UC. Implementing a unified communications strategy leads to improved employee productivity, which results in money saved in the long run as teams become more efficient. Which brings us to our next point.
There are many ways UCaaS solutions enable business teams to take their productivity to the next level. By integrating communication platforms, UC solutions enable users to access voice, video and messaging from a single app. This means teams spend less time switching between communication apps and more time focusing on the tasks at hand.
With UCaaS in their workplace toolkit, business teams can work more efficiently with streamlined communication and collaboration. UC is particularly beneficial for remote teams. As the global workforce goes digital, siloed approaches to communication no longer fly. Instead, companies need to ensure their teams are equipped with all the tools they need to effectively work together from a distance.
Modern UCaaS services incorporate a variety of collaboration tools alongside communication apps. Comprehensive UC solutions provide users with cloud-based file sharing and storage, integrated task management, and much more to streamline remote collaboration.
Moreover, the fact that these systems function across various internet-connected devices means that users can work from anywhere, at any time. Users can sign into video conferences, answer group chats, or fill out the form that’s urgently required in seconds—all on the go.
When businesses no longer have to operate from a physical location, they can enjoy increased flexibility with the ability to operate from anywhere. When a business implements a UC solution to unify communication and collaboration tools into their business tech stack, they’re opening up several doors leading to better business.
UCaaS tools enable teams to work from anywhere, whether it’s at home or on a beach in a far-off country—it empowers business teams to communicate, work together, and carry out essential business-related tasks from anywhere with a robust internet connection. Moreover, unifying multiple communication services in a single solution helps users get up to speed quicker. This means individuals can spend less time learning how to navigate and manage multiple apps and more time being productive.
One of the biggest benefits of UCaaS for SMBs and large enterprises is that they offer a high level of scalability. If you’re operating a growing business, UCaaS solutions offer a scalable solution that grows with your business. For example, UC allows you to quickly and efficiently upgrade or downgrade your communications solution based on your business needs. You can add new phone functionality, extra features, or new users in a matter of clicks.
Unified communications enable you to deliver better, more memorable customer experiences that take your business to the next level. Bad customer experiences can have a huge impact on the success of your business, and a lot of them could be prevented if staff are equipped with the right tools.
Customers want to be able to reach businesses when and where it suits them. That means businesses need to be available to provide support, advice, and answers across multiple platforms with omnichannel support.
UCaaS solutions allow customer service agents to support customers with phone service and live chat. What’s more, you can even bring your own device into the mix to support customers or colleagues on the go.
UCaaS allows you to communicate with customers in real-time from any internet-connected device. Moreover, UC solutions offer integrations with various third-party business apps including customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Salesforce, social media platforms, and more to expand its functionality.
By combining data from these apps with robust communication channels, businesses can ensure that end-users have the best possible user experience in any capacity. Focusing on customer satisfaction and using it as the main metric for gauging the success of your business will drive long-term growth. When you improve customer experience, you pave the way for business success.
UC solution key features
When choosing the right unified communications solution for your business, there are some key features to look out for.
VoIP phone system
A business phone system is integral to UCaaS systems. Phone calls are essential to a huge number of business operations. Discussing projects with clients overseas, communicating about tasks or projects with colleagues, or handling calls from customers—business phones are the base of business communications. What’s more, poor communication can result in huge costs.
Instant message and team collaboration tools
Instant messaging tools are many peoples’ preferred method of communication, and that translates into the workplace.
Empowering your team with a messaging tool is a great way to facilitate better communication among business teams. Messaging tools are particularly beneficial to remote teams that can’t simply head over to their colleague’s desk to find an answer to a question or clarify something about a project. Instant messaging is crucial for enabling dispersed teams to work together.
Instead of sending long chains of emails back and forth, team members can quickly send an instant message and receive an answer in just as little time. This reduces the long wait times that occur with long email threads.
Moreover, as remote work becomes more popular, it’s essential for teams to be able to collaborate effectively wherever they are in the world.
The best solutions incorporate collaboration tools that enable teams to work together effectively and efficiently. Some examples of these tools include:
- Cloud-based file sharing and storage
- Real-time annotations for group edits
- Task management tools for organizing, assigning, and tracking projects
- Integrations with other business apps
Video and audio conferencing services are an essential feature of UCaaS platforms. These tools enable remote teams to connect in real-time, face-to-face from anywhere in the world. As an increasing number of business teams are embracing the remote work lifestyle, video calling is an essential app.
Effective communication is taken to the next level with video calls. UCaaS video conferencing tools typically offer a host of additional features for improving teamwork and collaboration. Some examples of extra features include:
- Screen sharing - With screen shares, users can better explain the concepts they’re trying to convey, which is ideal for when you’re hosting a webinar.
- In-video chat - During video conferences or live webinars, having an in-video chat option enables users to type messages while the call is happening, which is great if people have questions but don’t want to interrupt the speaker.
- Whiteboard functionality - Whiteboards are a valuable collaboration tool for holding brainstorming sessions.
Intuitive user interface
The last thing you want to do is introduce your team to a tool that’s complicated and difficult to use. An intuitive user interface that allows your team to communicate, collaborate, and share information efficiently is essential. Moreover, it should be just as accessible on a mobile device as it is on a desktop.
The last thing you want to worry about when managing your business team is whether or not your data is secure. UCaaS providers offer enhanced security so you never have to worry about people accessing the platform uninvited or your business suffering data loss. Robust platforms allow you to define roles and permissions for various users (internal and external) to protect your business.
How to choose the best UCaaS provider
When it comes to choosing the best UCaaS provider for your business, you’ll be spoilt for choice. With so many solutions on the market, it can be overwhelming to find the right one. Let this list be your guide when making that all-important decision.
If it’s your first time looking for a UCaaS solution for your business, a good place to begin is with case studies and customer success stories. Read about other businesses that have implemented the solution and what they have to say about it. Consider the following questions:
- What pros and cons do they note in their review?
- Did they encounter any pitfalls after implementing the system?
- Do they mention specific features or functionalities that impressed or disappointed them?
People don’t only work from their PCs or laptops anymore. The solution you choose must offer robust mobile compatibility so that users can access important business data, conversations, and projects on the go.
For many businesses, the idea of integrated internal and external communications is already top of their agenda. In today’s fast-paced world, empowering your team to be as efficient as possible while providing high-quality customer service is crucial.
A solution that integrates unified communications with contact center capabilities enables your team to provide top-notch, contextualized customer service without having to waste time digging around on other platforms for the information they need.
Make a checklist of the key features you expect from your unified communications platform. This will help you to pick and choose between the solutions on offer, as you’ll be able to immediately rule out a provider that doesn’t offer certain features, like collaboration tools, for instance.
Time is precious in today’s competitive business landscape. It’s important to choose a solution that offers a robust set of third party app integrations, not only to enhance functionality but to make your employees’ and customers’ lives much easier.
If the solution you choose can integrate with the business tools your team is already comfortable using (think: project and task management tools, CRMs, social media platforms, and word processing tools) then your team will be empowered with everything they need in a single unified app.
Pay attention to solutions that have made a step towards APIs and SDKs for further enhanced capabilities.
RingCentral MVP: UCaaS for today and tomorrow’s digital workforce
Looking for a solution that meets all of the above requirements and more? RingCentral MVP is a robust UCaaS platform that offers enterprise VoIP functionality along with HD voice and video calling, team messaging, contact center, and much more.
Let’s take a look at all the ways RingCentral can improve your team’s communication and collaboration, whether you’re running a small business or a large enterprise.
- HD audio, voice, and video conferencing: With RingCentral, your team can communicate whenever, wherever—on desktop or mobile—with robust communication capabilities.
- Team messaging: Connect your teams with instant messaging, SMS, file sharing, and message alerts to improve team collaboration and reduce the frustration that comes from email threads.
- Security: RingCentral’s secure cloud PBX enables you to stay connected and working even during power outages. It’s protected by RingCentral’s seven layers of security, so you can rest assured your data and work are safe.
- Data and analytics: Get in-depth, real-time analytics with advanced call management, to increase engagement, limit technical issues, and facilitate better team collaboration.
RingCentral MVP gives you unified access to everything you need in one robust and easy-to-navigate cloud communications system. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can take their communication and collaboration to the next level with RingCentral’s exceptional capabilities and open APIs.
When you empower your business teams with RingCentral’s UCaaS solution, you’re providing them with all the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and maximize productivity.
Note: If you’re on the lookout for a communications solution to empower your customer service team, RingCentral has another product that might suit your business needs. RingCentral Contact Center grants your team access to a range of essential call center features like cloud PBX, call forwarding, call management, call logs, multi-level IVR, and much more.
Trends shaping the world of unified communications
There’s never a dull moment in today’s digitally transforming world. There are always new developments in the world of unified communications, and as technology becomes more advanced so too do the offerings of UCaaS providers. Below is a look at some key trends shaping the world of unified communications.
Shift from on-prem to cloud led to the digital workplace
The new office is virtual. Businesses have shifted from on-premises business environments to fully embrace the flexibility, mobility, and scalability that cloud-based communications solutions provide.
As the world scrambles to keep up with the remote work lifestyle, either out of necessity or choice, unified communications solutions are developing at a rapid pace to meet changing business needs.
UC has transformed the meeting room into a collaboration hub, training sessions into HD webinars, and office bonding into video conferences. Remote work is here to stay, and so too is the digital workplace.
AI and machine learning is the gateway to the future
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are paving the road for enhanced developments in UCaaS. The possibilities are endless.
AI and machine learning can offer additional elements for UC with things like virtual and voice assistants along with sentiment analysis to provide a more contextualized and intelligent approach to business communications. Only the future can tell!
What does the future hold for unified communications?
With the enhanced functionality of modern UCaaS solutions at our fingertips, it seems like the future is now when it comes to UC.
Communication and collaboration have always been, and will always be, central to successful business operations. The global shift to remote work means that we’re likely to become increasingly reliant on these solutions to facilitate connections between teams located all around the world.
Unified communications solutions will need to adapt to keep up with the dynamic mobility needs of modern businesses. As businesses and their teams transform their approaches to internal and external communication and collaboration, the concept of flexibility takes on new meaning in the world of work.
Businesses must seek robust cloud-based solutions—like RingCentral MVP—to prepare their employees and customers for the impact of digital transformation, and empower them with the tools they need to communicate effectively and efficiently.
Want to know more about how RingCentral’s UCaaS solution offers everything you need in a single app? Contact one of our friendly sales teams or request a demo today.
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