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VoIP and Unified Communications
VoIP and unified communications are interrelated but not in a way that is obvious at first glance. People who are already frustrated with the number of technical terms and jargon involved in upgrading to VoIP may become even more confused when you throw unified communication or UC into the mix. Understand the basic concepts underlying unified communication is not difficult but actual implementation is often much more complex.
What Is VoIP?
Quite simply VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol i.e. voice calls made over the Internet or other data networks. The two most common ways of limiting VoIP include purchasing hosted services from an external vendor or deploying custom built, on premise SIP trunks. Smaller organizations and those with relatively simple communication requirements often opt for hosted services. On the other hand large corporations, businesses operating in strictly regulated industries or those who require extensive customization choose SIP trunk deployments.
What Is Unified Communication?
A common mistake made by most people is that there they assume that unified communication refers to a single product, feature or software. The reality is much more messy and ill defined. Vendors use the term unified communication to refer to comprehensive platforms that encompass a variety of tools that integrate various forms of communication. UC ties together real time communication like voice calling with delayed channels like email or forums.
Unified communication suites often includes front end software and back end systems that bring together disparate tools with the VoIP network. Implementing different communication is often a multistage project that requires a lot of resources and expertise – both internal and external. As more organizations implement VoIP, the need for unified communication and improved collaboration becomes more pressing.
VoIP – the Foundation for Unified Communications
To understand the relationship between VoIP and UC, let us take a look at how easy or difficult it would be to deploy UC platforms in the absence of the former. We know that unified communication brings together voice and video calling, text messages, presence information and various collaborative tools within the enterprise. So without an existing foundation of VoIP via hosted services or SIP trunks, the organization has to start from the very beginning.
This would mean that a business has to get rid of its existing analog infrastructure based on the PSTN, upgrade the PBX system along with all relevant hardware, improve the capacity of the data network and so on before beginning to even think about UC. Not only does it require advance planning, plenty of financial resources and expertise but also disrupts business workflows and the productivity of employees. Users will also need extensive training to cope with the wholesale upgrade at once.
However if the organization has already been using VoIP services for some time, it is generally ready to upgrade to unified communication should the business requirements so dictate. The back end infrastructure is often sufficient to add other tools on top of it. Business continuity planning, quality of voice & video calling, resiliency and reliability have already been tested under real world conditions so that the organization has a better idea of how the UC platform will function in the future.
The Benefits and Disadvantages of Upgrading to Unified Communication
Perhaps the greatest obstacle for organizations looking to upgrade to UC is the cost and time required. It is why not many businesses are currently interested in Unified communications even though it has proven benefits. However as vendors start to offer more sophisticated products, quite a few companies at least preparing for or giving a thought to the UC upgrade.
The benefits of communication are numerous and pretty similar to the jump from PSTN to VoIP, but magnified many times over. Just as VoIP makes it possible for enterprise to eliminate an entire network and only have to manage the single data channel, UC makes it even easier to consolidate all corporate communication in one place. Not only does this improve the user experience but it also makes it easy for organizations to plan for disaster recovery, data backup, legal discovery and other functions.
UC tools can greatly improve collaboration between teams, groups and even entire branches or locations within the business. With organizations growing in scope and partnerships becoming vital to growth, being able to communicate instantly with anyone at any time (irrespective of physical location) is a valuable asset. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to reach a customer, potential client, partner or vendor. When time is of the essence, you don’t want employees missing crucial calls or conversations because they slipped through the technology cracks.
Unified Communication is certainly not the silver bullet for enterprise communication woes but it is certainly a step forward. Just as organizations are now busy upgrading from PSTN to VoIP, the next stage is for most businesses to implement unified communications platforms.