Unified Communications

08:06 AM
Erika Van Noort
Erika Van Noort
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Discover Your Inner UC

The tools for unified communications already exist in many companies, waiting to be unearthed and put to good use by enterprising IT leaders.

Winter is finally coming to a close -- we hope. Across North America the weather has been a departure from the norm. Many families, including mine, experienced severe storms resulting in a loss of electricity.

At first, we assumed the power would be restored quickly. But by the time we reached the six-hour mark, the gravity of the situation began to sink in. We had a family huddle to discuss how we'd get through an outage that could possibly last days. It was clear we all felt unprepared for this type of scenario. We just sat there and thought of all the things that could make our lives just a little bit easier. 

What does a winter storm and lack of electricity have to do with unified communications? Well, to be frank, nothing on the surface -- and everything, once you have a few long hours in the cold and dark to think about it. For our family, in the end we already had what we needed; we just didn't know it.

IT leaders often embark on a new UC initiative without realizing that a form of unified communications has been in place for a very long time within their organization. The concept of UC is simple. UC is about unifying real-time and non-real-time communication services, with the goal of providing users with a consistent experience, regardless of the device or medium.

If this is the case, why do so many IT leaders approach UC as if it is a great chasm that needs to be crossed? Based on the definition above, if I can connect with one of my company's solution architects via Lync for audio and video, and connect via IM chat with one of our system engineers to discuss a client, then we are effectively conducting business in a unified way. Guess what? All that functionality exists for me as a user today. It's just waiting to be discovered.

A few weeks ago, a client was articulating his view of UC. Without talking about configuration, he simply said, "I want to book a meeting with people in another office. When I walk into the meeting room, I simply want to push a button on the room console and have all the other rooms and people connected instantly."

To him, the idea sounded like it was in the far-off distance. In reality, his company had much of the technology in place to accomplish what he was asking for. They just had not gone beyond the siloed functionality of their specific tools. In their case, they had Office 365, which includes Lync, but had only really used the original instant messenger for reaching out to members of the team.

Like many IT groups, they were too busy working on fix types of issues, and never had a chance to revisit the features and functionality of Lync to see what more they could work with to be more efficient and productive. 

Another feature that many organizations don't realize Lync offers is the ability to federate with Lync clients in other organizations. For example, we had another client who wanted to improve its customer service offering for its own clients. When we told them they could federate Lync in a way that would allow the client to send instant messages for customer support, they felt this would become a market differentiator for them. It turns out it was.

This was just like my family sitting in the cold wishing we had power. We quickly learned that when we really assessed what we had on hand, we could comfortably light an entire room and stay a bit warmer with candles and the fireplace we already had, which were quite underused.

For those of you who like to come into the office before everyone else, here's a challenge. Go for a walk around your entire office. Visit a few meeting rooms you never go to, and see what other teams have plugged in and running. What you find might surprise you. Take in all of the communication investments you've already made, then slowly walk back to your office. Make coffee, and start a new email to your team with the subject line, "We already have unified communications. We just didn't realize it."

Get ready for spring and remember: Sometimes the best inspiration comes from a little time in the dark!

WebRTC, wireless, video, unified communications, contact centers, SIP trunking, and the cloud: All of these topics and more make up the focus for Enterprise Connect 2014, the leading conference and expo on enterprise communications and collaboration. Across four days, you'll meet thought- and market-leaders from across the industry and access the information you need to implement the right communications and collaboration products, services, software, and architecture for your enterprise. Find out more about Enterprise Connect and register now. It happens March 17-20.

Erika Van Noort leads the North American Consulting Group for Softchoice, working with clients to build understanding and alignment between lines of business and IT stakeholders.  View Full Bio
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