Any business, large or small, needs to improve organisational agility to improve time to market, increase productivity and efficiency, and achieve an effective return on investment. Central to this objective is a system of communication that is scalable and flexible. Instead of relying on a legacy PABX, you need to centralise all your communication systems into a hosted Unified Communication solution – a comprehensive application that can be easily managed via the cloud.
Unified Communication is becoming a strategic element in daily workflows and is making organisations more operationally efficient than ever before. As more and more companies adopt Unified Communication, the market for this technology has sky rocketed in the last five years. This sector has witnessed a 27% revenue increase in the last 12 months, according to a 2014 IndustryView report. By 2018, the report estimates that cloud IP-PBX and UC services will become a $12 billion market.
In this blog, we’ll look at some of the ways in which a Unified Communication solution can help your business and explain the technical, financial and operational advantages of a solution hosted in the cloud, rather than one based in your premises.
Unified Communication – the basics
Unified Communication (UC) is the integration of real-time enterprise and communication services such as instant messaging, presence information, voice (including IP telephony) Web and video conferencing and more.
UC bundles multiple technologies that may be provided by one or more vendors through a single data infrastructure. This simplifies the communications process for employees, improves productivity and saves you money. For example, UC allows employees to receive communications in one medium and access it in another. An employee might get a voicemail and choose to receive the message via SMS or email instead. Employees can also quickly see whether colleagues are available via real-time presence information and respond either online or offline, via chat or video call.
Centralised controls allow IT staff to manage system and user settings, add users, change privileges, and adjust system settings for multiple technologies via one convenient interface.
Benefits of UC
Unified Communications offers a number of important benefits for employees, managers and IT staff. InformationWeek published a study based on 488 respondents to outline the key business drivers for UC. Employee collaboration came top, with 62%.
Top benefits include:
Across offices, floors or departments, staff communication and collaboration will benefit from UC. They can share files with ease without the use of Dropbox or other SaaS based file-sharing application. Virtually all UC platforms allow meetings to be scheduled from Outlook and other mainstream calendar applications to avoid missed dial ins and misplaced access numbers and passcodes. UC can help to build personal relationships with every employee, improving productivity, collaboration and teamworking.
Video conferencing lets everyone speak up and share, without needing to travel to attend company meetings or feel intimidated sitting in the boardroom with high-level executives. According to research by Chadwick Martin Bailey. over 75% of user organisations experienced improved employee productivity across geographically dispersed locations due to voice and video conferencing. UC also enables users to transfer the calls seamlessly to any other location thus enhancing the overall efficiency of the organisation.
Instant messaging (IM) is another collaborative form of communication with colleagues. Statistics indicate that UC tools like IM can promote big improvements in productivity. According to research by Chadwick Martin Bailey, 49% of user organisations saved up to 20 minutes per employee daily by reaching workers on the first try. Some 54% of user organisations saved up to 20 minutes per employee daily by escalating IM chats into phone calls, and 50% saved up to 20 minutes per employee daily by escalating IM chats into Web conferences .
More responsive customer service
Customer service can make or break your reputation. UC improves customer service by allowing you to use presence information to forward help requests to on-call staff using the communications method they prefer. By offering fast, multi-channel help, UC will improve the help experience for the end user while alleviating pain points for your support staff.
According to Chadwick Martin Bailey’s research, mobile communication improvements have led to an increase in customer service employee productivity and faster problem resolution for 67% of user organisations from such features as click-to-call, corporate directory access, presence, and visual voicemail on mobile devices.
Better communications management
Communications management tools can be used to highlight where your organisation is effective and where you can improve resource allocation and business processes. UC solutions provide productivity management tools that provide an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly snapshot of all business communications including messaging, conferencing and email usage. These insights enable a company to track customer support activities, optimise call handling, manage network capacity and analyse customer calling patterns.
UC enables the IT support team to monitor the entire voice network remotely and easily shift communication between separate devices. Rather than paying a number of local providers, multi-site organisations can choose to pay a single bill to a nationwide cloud provider for all their lines.
Reduced business travel costs
Business travel costs add up quickly and can represent a major expense. When staff can use video or audio conference, they may not need to travel so frequently for business to perform their job. UC also improves inter-office communication, reducing the need for management to travel between offices. Even if colleagues only have to travel across town to another office, the option to virtually attend business meetings allows staff to be more productive by reducing travel time.
Better work-life balance
ZK Research estimates that over 75% of workers today reside in locations other than the corporate headquarters. While UC makes staff location more transparent, it also improves employee work-life balance by allowing staff to contact anyone, at any time. Now employees can choose to use commuting time to respond via email or SMS, attend a business conference virtually without having to travel far from family, or work from home as needed, yet still be accessible to colleagues. Staff with a better work-life balance are proven to feel happier, be more productive, and ultimately remain more loyal employees.
Why cloud hosting adds value to UC
You can choose to locate the infrastructure for UC on your own premises or pay a service provider to host the service in the cloud. Service providers operate an infrastructure with massive capacity, which is shared with other clients in a secure way. You pay a monthly fee that includes the charges for services you select and your usage level. A hosted service provides a number of important benefits.
1. Reduced costs
Hosting eliminates capital expenditure on infrastructure, leaving you additional funds for growing the business. Predictable monthly fees make it easier to budget for your communication costs. You also eliminate system support costs because the service provider is responsible for maintenance.
Businesses are at varying stages of the UC adoption curve, but those leading the change are presenting clear reasons for others to follow. The majority of organisations that have adopted UC (84%) have already achieved tangible benefits around cost savings and flexible working, proving that a return on investment is more than just a possibility.
A centralised and/or hosted PABX solution combined with SIP and an integrated data network solution will enable you to make massive savings on your existing fixed voice service and equipment charges. The cost savings are significant and can be up to 70% of your current fixed line voice spend, depending on how many sites you have.
These cost savings alone will easily provide the necessary ROI needed to invest in a UC solution. This is the approach we have seen our customers increasingly take in the last two years as this technology becomes more mature.
2. No infrastructure required
The service provider owns and operates the infrastructure so you don’t have to. Your only investment is in handsets or other communication devices for users. If you operate multiple sites, hosting your phone system in the cloud eliminates the cost of locating a PABX at each site. You can use your infrastructure for running other services and applications.
If your business grows or your needs change, you can easily increase capacity with no need to invest in additional infrastructure. The change is almost immediate, so you can respond quickly to business opportunities.
4. Latest equipment
With a hosted solution your users will always have access to the latest versions of services and applications. The service provider takes care of any upgrades.
5. Reduced support burden
Your internal support team do not need to learn UC skills. They can focus on supporting users and working on other strategic IT projects.
6. Range of services
Service providers offer a range of UC services that you can tailor to your business needs. If you decide to change the services, you won’t lose money.
7. Better management information
Service providers can offer a range of management reports on system usage and other metrics, helping you to manage your operations efficiently and get the best results from your UC solution.
Hosted UC for your business
In conclusion, Unified Communication technologies can play a critical role in streamlining communication and collaboration, while promoting cost saving initiatives.
Today’s workplace is ever changing with communication and collaboration sitting at the heart of the change. Every organisation looks to improve their workflow and by introducing UC technologies, they will drive lasting change in today’s mobile, multichannel workplace.
 Research by Chadwick Martin Bailey
 Report by Mitel Creating a Communication Led Business.