What is a Unified Communication System?
Today, most businesses rely on collaboration and communication on a daily basis. With technology advancing, there are tons of forms of communication that businesses utilize – such as email, instant messaging, video conferencing, screen sharing, and more. Luckily, there is now a solution so that businesses no longer have to use multiple platforms to communicate with co-workers and clients throughout the workday.
A unified communication system (UCS) streamlines all of a business’s communication needs in one integrated platform. It includes the latest developments in digital communication and collaboration technology. This way, businesses can be sure they are using the newest, most advanced tools and the best business communication system overall.
Which Communication Features do they Include?
Unified communication systems offer a variety of features to businesses, such as:
- Voice calling
- Live status
- Virtual receptionists
- Interactive Voice Response
- SMS Messaging
- Video Conferencing
- Conference calling
- Interactive whiteboards
- Enterprise social networking
- Screen sharing
- CRM integration
- And much more
Unified communication systems often allow businesses to access all these forms of communication in one easy-to-use dashboard. Additionally, that dashboard can be accessed by virtually any device that connects to the Internet.
Why Do Businesses Need Unified Communication?
Plain and simple – unified communication systems makes employees lives much easier! Their dashboard prevents employees from toggling between multiple systems. This makes them more efficient and productive across the board. Here are a few reasons why businesses need unified communication:
Nowadays, many workplaces depend on collaboration and communication – whether internally with co-workers or externally with clients. Employees often use digital communication to fulfill these tasks. Unified communication systems save employees a ton of time by preventing them from using multiple tools to complete each task. In fact, according to BlueWire, the average employee will save 115 minutes per day by streamlining communication tasks in one place.
A UCS can be accessed from virtually any Internet-friendly device, so employees can complete their work from just about anywhere in the world. Remote work and travel are becoming integral to the American workforce, and that trend is only expanding. It’s important for businesses to provide a solution for employees to access their work and collaborate with co-workers from places away from their desk.
Integrating a unified communication system helps businesses save money substantially. There are tons of cost benefits, including reducing hardware and equipment, efficiency improvements, monthly premiums, and more. Unified systems can end up saving companies 50-75% on bills for communication platforms and operational costs.
Unified communications enhances collaboration company-wide, and actually encourages employees to collaborate more! When employees have advanced collaboration tools at their fingertips, they’re able to solve problems better and engage more efficiently with clients. They can quickly turn to their communication dashboard to communicate and solve just about any problem quickly. Overall, unified communication makes teams more responsive and efficient.
Data security is becoming a larger threat for businesses of all types today. Most UCS have advanced integrated security systems that encrypts data across all communication networks. This prevents third parties from intercepting important company information. UCS providers will also perform updates regularly, to assure the data in your network is secure. Additionally, providers are trained to take industry-specific security measures and compliance regulations (ie. HIPAA for healthcare). This way, businesses can rest assured their technology is both secure and compliant.
How do UCS Help Businesses Save Money?
Unified communication systems not only help businesses save money with upfront costs. They also save money for businesses over time.
When deciding a unified communication system is the best fit for your company, upfront costs depend on several factors. These include: the size of your business, your choice of a cloud vs. a hosted system, monthly subscription cost, and add-on features. However, even with all these factors included, a unified communication system is less expensive for a business, compared to paying for each communication platform separately.
Here are just a few ways that unified communication systems save businesses money:
- All-inclusive subscription: Rather than paying multiple subscription fees per month for each communication system, a unified system charges you just one monthly subscription for all your communication needs.
- Maintenance: Your subscription for your unified communication systems will likely include a maintenance plan. Rather than paying out of pocket to upkeep software, your provider will take care of this for you on a timely basis. You never have to worry about finding an IT solution if an issue were to come up.
- Free updates: Along with maintenance, providers will update your communication system when they roll out new software. You can be sure your company will always be ahead of technology trends!
- Long term savings: Since you’re bundling all communication platforms and maintenance in one, your monthly fees will be less than if you paid for each separately. Think about all the money you’ll save year over year when you cut those bills from your budget!
Which Industry Needs Can a UCS Solve?
Although unified communication systems are proven to be beneficial for just about any business, they also offer advantages for particular industry needs. You can utilize these advantages to help your business grow and succeed in your industry in different ways. Here are a few industries that typically benefit from unified communications, and some advantages they can leverage:
Healthcare providers utilize UCS to capture more patients, maintain great customer service, and improve their market share. For instance, more and more medical practices are opening “online portals” for patient use. These portals can be integrated with the business’s back-end software, so providers can stay in the loop of their patients’ needs. For patients, this unified communications offering can be a huge factor in their decision to keep going to you for their healthcare needs.
When running a business entirely online, your communication platform must be very robust so you can handle customer needs without face-to-face convenience. A unified communication platform can make up for this in-person interaction through live chat, mobile applications, and other interactive assets.
Schools and Universities
Implementing unified communication in school systems can be a huge benefit for students, staff, and parents. Information can be instantaneously communicated to the school network in the case of an emergency, urgent message, and more. Unified communication systems also make it easier for students to interact with teachers and school administrators and vice versa.
Call centers and sales teams
Sales organizations and call centers are fast-paced, customer-focused environments. Employees have to toggle between multiple forms of communication from minute to minute, while maintaining excellent customer service. Unified communication systems allows employees to boost their productivity and multi-task more easily. Features like video calling, instant messaging, and live chat make it easier to contact colleagues, customers, and more.
How do Businesses Install a Unified Communication System?
Businesses have a few options when it comes to installing a unified communication system’s technology and software. The UCS server can either be:
- Hosted on-site: You have your service provider come to your location and install the server inside your building. Then, you simply connect to the server through any device that connects to the Internet.
- Cloud-based: Your provider hosts the server at their location. Then, you connect to it through the Internet.
The decision about whether to host the system on-site or connect to it through the cloud largely depends on your business needs. For example, are your employees typically remote or on-the-go workers? Or do your employees typically work on-site? A cloud-based system would be a better fit for on-the-go flexibility, while a hosted system would be the better choice for on-premise workers. However, keep in mind that business typically save a good deal of money by choosing a cloud system.
Whatever you decide, your service provider will help you with installation when you decide to start your UCS. To learn more about hosting options, take a look at our guides to hosted PBX and cloud-based systems.
How do Unified Communication Systems help businesses grow?
Businesses rarely remain stagnant year over year. They expand, contract, merge and acquire new businesses, relocate, open new locations, and more. As businesses grow, they usually have to add more phone lines, purchase new hardware, and invest in new communication platforms to support their growing workforce. It can get pricey when a company makes a purchase every time they make a new hire, especially when added onto that new employee's salary.
However, when you have an integrated UCS, scaling up and adding new lines essentially costs you pennies! You can easily expand or reduce your current business phone system infrastructure. You can also add on new features whenever you find a need for them, or remove them when you no longer use them.
The benefits of unified communications can also help your business grow. For instance, quicker and easier communication with clients will lead to better customer service and a higher average lifetime value. Your employees will be able to handle a larger workload and be more productive, which can seriously benefit the health of your company!
How to Choose a Provider
Unified communication suppliers typically specialize in different areas of communication services. For instance, one supplier may specialize in phone-based communication and offer primarily business phone systems, while another may specialize in collaboration tools.
When deciding on which suppliers to contact to get price quotes, we recommend considering the following:
Types of services
Different providers will offer different types of communication services. There are communication packages that just include the essentials - like a business phone plus SMS messaging - and other packages are much more comprehensive - including options like video calling and file sharing. You should choose a supplier that offers what you are looking to incorporate - or may want to incorporate down the road.
Are you looking to add a hosted system or cloud-based system? This is a decision that’s best to make before contacting suppliers, since many may offer just one or the other. You also will want to discuss maintenance and IT options with your supplier before purchasing a plan, which depends heavily on whether you have a hosted or cloud system. Keep in mind that with the way technology is expanding, cloud-based systems are becoming more widely used. In fact, according to a study by Nemertes, 67% of businesses now utilize the cloud for communication. It may be a good idea to choose a supplier that offers cloud-based options, should you want to switch over to the cloud at some point in the future.
User Experience (UX)
As mentioned, UC systems typically have a dashboard that streamlines all your communication tools. When choosing a supplier, you may want to ask to take a look at or test out their dashboard, to make sure you’re comfortable with it, from a user experience (UX) perspective. After all, you and your employees will be using this application on a daily basis. You want to make sure it is a good fit and something you will be able to manage easily moving forward.
Popular Unified Communication System Providers
After considering these items, you’re ready to take a look at the most popular service providers. Then you can compare and contrast, based on your needs, and reach out to a few to get price quotes. Here are a few top UCS suppliers:
|Avaya||One of only UCS providers that still offers on-site hosting options|
Can serve thousands of employees at a time
Designate which users can access specific features
|Essential: $19.95 monthly per user|
Business: $24.95 monthly per user - includes premium features like softphones, call recording, receptionist console, call reporting, CRM integration
Power: $34.95 monthly per user - includes video calling and advanced analytics
*Prices may drop when adding more users*
|Mitel||On-premise hosting available as option|
Built-in team collaboration
Included mobile app
Predictive contact searching
|Essential: starts at $19.99 monthly per user|
Premier: $24.99 monthly per user - includes collaboration, desktop and mobile apps, unlimited calls, up to 2 connected devices
Elite: $29.99 monthly per user - up to 4 connected devices, Microsoft Exchange, CRM integration, unified inbox, deep analytics
|8 x 8||Integration with Google Cloud Contact Center AI|
Real time customer experience analytics
Virtual agent to answer calls
|X Series X2: $25 monthly per user - includes auto attendant, unlimited calling in 14 countries, HD Voice, Mobile and desktop apps, Live status, team messaging, HD Video and screen sharing, Office 365, call recording, voicemail transcription|
X Series X4: $45 monthly per user - includes analytics and call reporting
X Series X6: $115 monthly per user - includes skills-based routing, web callback, post call surveys, native CRM
XSeries X8: $175 monthly per user - includes predictive dialing, speech and quality analytics, enterprise level security, compliance and certifications
|CounterPath||Great for small to medium sized businesses|
HD Virtual meeting room
Tracked conversation history
Great value for price
|Standard: $4.95 monthly per user - includes calling, messaging, and screen sharing|
Pro: $9.95 monthly per user - includes web conferencing with up to 200 participants, IT support, and integrated chat
|Microsoft||Teams for Office 365 - collaboration tool|
Integrates chats, meetings, calls, files, and more in one place
|Essential: $5.00 monthly per user - cloud-based system, only for mobile and web use|
Standard: $8.25 monthly per user - includes Outlook, Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and more
Premium: $12.50 monthly per user - includes OneDrive, Exchange, Sharepoint, and Teams
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