Evaluating unified communication systems

Investing in unified communications may help improve productivity and efficiency in your organization—and may actually end up reducing your IT costs.

The integration of voice, video and data communications around a shared IP-based infrastructure makes it easy for your users to make a call, send an email or instant message, or join an audio or videoconference any time. This improves collaboration among your team and responsiveness to your customers.

If you’re thinking of implementing a unified communications solution for your company, you should consider several factors before making a decision.

Protect your existing IT investment

Chances are you’ve already made a major investment in office software for email, calendar and document sharing. Make sure any unified communications solution you implement can work with what you already have so you don’t have to start from scratch. You want the communications solution you implement to add complementary value to what you already have in place.

For example, choose an offering like the Cisco Unified Communications Solution, which was designed to work well with Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, and SharePoint as well as with Google Apps.

The unified communications solution you implement should also allow IT to offer higher service levels to your business without disrupting current options. For example, a single call-control architecture for voice, video and conferencing can reduce your operational overhead in contrast to separate call structures for each function. Also, a comprehensive managed solution for all communications functions can accelerate site rollouts and ongoing maintenance while lowering operating expenses and improving the user experience.

Your unified communication solution should also accommodate the latest mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, as well as existing desktops and office phones. And it should not disrupt any existing directory structure and sign-on policies you already have in place.

Industry standards are important to consider

Look for a unified communications solution with open architecture that will support all relevant industry-standard protocols, codecs and interfaces. That way you’ll ensure compatibility with technology you already have installed as well as those devices and systems you will want to install in the future.

Make sure your users have a consistent experience across all delivery models

A unified communications solution should not require you to choose between elastic (cloud-based) and inelastic (fixed capacity) delivery. The functions and user experience should be equivalent regardless of where the unified communications applications are hosted, and the solution you implement should give you the option to use either or both. The Cisco solution, for example, provides a range of hosting options—from wholly on-premises to fully hosted, “as a service” or a hybrid of the two. But in each case, the quality of the communications function is identical. The communication solution you invest in should also be adaptable to any environment. Whether an employee is dialing into a video conference from a remote site or your conference room, the experience should be consistent in quality.

Unified communications can improve your customers’ experience

Studies show that giving your customers more and richer ways to interact with your business improves sales and instills customer loyalty. According to Forrester Research, better customer experience can deliver more than $1 billion in revenue growth.

That’s why you should strongly consider having a contact center solution as part of your overall unified communications solution. When your customers need expert help, for example, you can provide them with personal assistance remotely through video. Video contact with a “remote expert” can help them feel a greater connection to your brand and more comfortable with your product.

In addition, with the growing importance of social media engagement with respect to customer relations, make sure the unified communications solution you’re considering can support proactive customer interaction with social media posts on Facebook and Twitter. This will allow you to address customer satisfaction issues in real time as well crowd-source new product ideas.

As with all IT implementations today, security and service are paramount

Another advantage of offerings like the Cisco solution is that it employs a comprehensive “defense-in-depth” security framework that allows safe information sharing without overly restrictive security policies that can limit user engagement.

When considering your unified communications alternatives, take a look at the solution’s survivability—in the event your server is temporarily crippled by a worm or virus attack. The Cisco solution employs an end-to-end approach that encompasses both the network and the entire telephony system to guarantee a dial tone even in worst-case denial-of-service (DoS) scenarios.

Finally, make sure the unified communications vendor you choose offers 24/7 support. After all, doing business globally requires the need to communicate at all times, day or night, and you never know when you may need troubleshooting or technical support.

Are you ready to implement unified communications in your company?

Contact us. We can help you choose and implement the right solution based on the considerations we have outlined above. It’s a big step. We can help ensure that you do it right.