Unified communications: Now mobile and in the cloud

Effective communications, many would argue, is the key to business. But finding the appropriate technologies to support effective communications can be challenging for IT professionals. Unified communications is a concept that encompasses a variety of technologies, all capable of working together, and, yes, while communication is a human process, technology can enhance and improve it.

Broadly speaking, unified communications (UC) is the convergence of communication solutions and collaboration tools such as video conferencing, unified messaging, smartphones, contact centers and presence, to name a few.

A highly effective UC solution can support productivity of individuals and entire organizations, reduce IT operating costs and increase collaboration between employees and clients alike. UC solutions can also offer employees capabilities like accessing work email away from the office and helpful tools such as receiving voicemail messages via email.

With the explosion of technology trends such as mobility and cloud computing, UC is growing to be much more than just video conferencing and accessing work email at home. UC offers flexible collaboration tools and the ability to work -- with all of the capabilities you need -- anywhere in the world.

Harnessing mobility with UC

Now that many workers have multiple devices, whether it is a laptop, smartphone or tablet, UC's mobile options are becoming a big benefit to organizations and workers alike. In fact, organizations report the most common UC solutions they deploy include smartphones (80% deployed) and mobile desktops (80% deployed), according to CDW's 2011 Unified Communications Tracking Poll.

OUTLOOK: Top 5 UC predictions for 2012

The Unified Communications Tracking Poll also reports that one of UC's top benefits is support of mobility. The top UC features organizations find most useful are access to email and voicemail via smartphones and the ability to receive voicemail via email. Additionally, respondents polled for the report list increased productivity as the top benefit they experience with UC.

There are challenges. When employees have increased mobile access, including access to sensitive information, IT has to address the security implications. Additionally, if companies are allowing employees to bring their own device (BYOD), IT needs to handle the challenges of supporting different platforms. IT needs to ensure the workforce receives mobile security training and should consider mobile security solutions such as mobile device management tools, data loss prevention software and email encryption options.

UC in the cloud

Cloud computing is, of course, another megatrend in the IT world. Deploying a UC solution via the cloud can enhance the big benefits organizations are already seeing with cloud computing. Many organizations are already giving it a try; according to CDW's 2011 Unified Communications Tracking Poll, 69% of organizations are evaluating, deploying or have fully deployed UC using a cloud model. Tools such as email (Gmail), document management (SharePoint, Google Docs), and video and Web conferencing (Microsoft Live Meeting, WebEx) all bring the efficiencies and economies of cloud to unified communications.

Cloud computing is also mitigating some of the pain points of UC, such as the upfront budget required or the time and complexity of implementing the solution. Three-quarters say that deploying UC in the cloud made it both faster and easier to deploy. And 65% say that deploying UC through the cloud made UC more cost effective to deploy.

For organizations that would like to dip their toe in UC, implementing UC solutions via the cloud is an easy and effective way to test the waters.

Parting tips

While UC offers organizations with many benefits, IT professionals should keep the following in mind:

aC/ Think outside the box: UC can change the very way your organization collaborates and communicates, so envision the results before you start with your implementation.

aC/ Be flexible: UC is a rapidly changing set of solutions. When deploying a solution, make sure to build in the ability to adapt as the market changes.

aC/ Remember security: employees are increasingly comfortable communicating through multiple channels and via multiple devices. Make sure to build in security features to your UC solutions.

aC/ Get help: Reach out to a trusted solutions provider to advise about UC and its implementation.

About CDW: CDW provides technology solutions for business, government, education and healthcare. Ranked No. 32 on Forbes' list of America's Largest Private Companies, CDW features dedicated account managers who help customers choose the right technology products and services to fit their needs. The company's solution architects offer expertise in designing customized solutions, while its advanced technology engineers assist customers with the implementation and long-term management of those solutions. Areas of focus include software, network communications, notebooks/mobile devices, data storage, video monitors, desktops, printers and solutions such as virtualization, collaboration, security, mobility, data center optimization and cloud computing.

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This story, "Unified communications: Now mobile and in the cloud" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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