What is Unified Communications?

Unified Communications (UC) is a term that has been reinvigorated by social distancing and remote working. Businesses of all kinds struggled throughout 2020 to accommodate remote collaboration, remote access, and integrated BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) strategies into workplace comms. 2021 and beyond needs more effective and sustainable strategies, and UC sits at the heart — a fact that has already led around 42% of businesses to increase efforts towards unified communications.

Put simply, UC is a system in which every communications channel (chat, file sharing, phone calls, video conferencing, email and more) is integrated within a single platform. It goes beyond standard business collaboration tools to deliver internal and external collaboration in one place, simplifying access and accelerating workflows.

From the top, it’s worth noting that fully-functional calling (to and from real phone numbers) is one of the hardest channels to effectively integrate with digital communication tools provided by business collaboration software. However, by making the right choices, a seamless outcome is possible without costly upfront investments.

Here, we’re going to help explain why UC is so critical to remote collaboration, and how you can most effectively transition to a fully unified communications strategy. Let’s get started!

What is a unified communications strategy?

According to Gartner’s Glossary, unified communications is “…equipment, software and services that provide and combine multiple enterprise communications channels, such as voice, video, personal and team messaging, voicemail, and content sharing.”

Often integrated within the collaboration tools that have enjoyed a 400% traffic increase since the health crisis began, UC solutions (or unified communications and collaborations) are conceptual frameworks that aim to bring all communication channels together in one single platform. Specifically, a well-implemented UC strategy means vendors can enjoy features that include:

  • High-quality audio and video
  • Screen sharing
  • Meeting transcription
  • Noise suppression and muting
  • Language translation
  • And more, all from one unified platform

Most notably, UC aims to bridge the gaps and silos created by the current one-of-many collaboration solutions countless companies rely on, especially with regards to the telephony needs that business applications seem to have forgotten. UC technologies such as SIP telephony and WebRTC particularly aim to enable multimedia communications with calls at heart, helping even long-distance teams enjoy real-time communications without complication on both an internal and external basis.

What unified communications lets you accomplish

As it stands, 86% of business owners believe that workplace issues are a direct result of inadequate communication tools. In that sense, it’s not difficult to see what UC brings to the table. After all, business is more competitive than ever right now, and companies struggling to bring ease despite long-distance processes don’t stand a chance.

Luckily, by integrating and simplifying communication across all channels from audio conferencing to instant messaging and phone systems, UC can quite literally keep businesses afloat, as well as bringing a range of additional notable benefits, including:

  • Improved productivity
  • Organisational agility
  • Cheaper infrastructures
  • Enhanced user experience
  • Streamlined operations
  • Simpler access for remote teams

Given that most collaboration services focus in-house, this ease is especially vital for enabling continued external processes. The ability to place external real-time calls is missing from the standard versions of even the most sophisticated collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams. This is a significant setback considering that 56% of customers still name calls as their preferred communication method, and that’s before we even consider the complications that a lack of external calling capabilities can bring to supplier collaborations and the like. UC strategies help you overcome all of these problems.

How to execute a unified communications strategy

While the benefit of UC is plain to see, implementation is another matter. Luckily, the rise of 5G is set to remove many of the UC setbacks that have kept companies at bay until now. But, improved internet protocol alone isn’t going to lead you to the UC strategy that you need.

Realistically, there isn’t just “one way” to execute a UC strategy. It’s possible to invest in a ground-up bespoke system. However, it’s far simpler to start by looking at the tools you already have at your disposal, and thinking of creative ways to integrate that system into a UC strategy.

Going from business collaboration to unified communications

Most business collaboration tools get you a long way towards a UC platform. You get internal chat, audio/video conferencing, file-sharing and more. You don’t get a lot of external collaboration capabilities — but there are ways to change that. By consolidating around a single tool and augmenting that tool with additional channel integration, it’s possible to go beyond collaboration and achieve unified communications relatively simply.

We recommend Microsoft Teams as the best option for businesses. It’s not the only collaboration tool, but it’s a strong starting point for UC for several reasons:

  1. Teams provides a fully functional business collaboration interface that is rivalled by few other tools — evidenced by the 115 million daily active users it enjoys right now.
  2. Teams has an active and growing number of app integrations in AppSource that add further use to the platform. 
  3. Teams’ widespread use (deployed by more than 60% of businesses) makes it easier to use the tool for external collaboration, and most of your users will already have some experience with the platform. 
  4. Teams provides simple integration with Microsoft Outlook, making it easy to include email within your UC stack from the start. 
  5. Teams provides a number of sophisticated telephony integrations — making it possible to include the all-important calling capabilities that business collaboration tools generally lack.  

If you choose another tool, you need to make sure that calling integration is possible, and that it provides sufficient chat functionality so that you will not end up using a different tool to fill that void. For example, Slack offers great chat features but limited calling integrations. Zoom has audio plans that let you place standard phone calls, but weak chat and file-sharing capabilities. Although both are great collaboration tools, neither are ideal candidates for UC.

Suggested reading: What’s The Best Business Collaboration Tool?

How to add calling to Teams

Investing in the right telephony solution is critical to UC. You not only need the ability to place PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) calls — phone calls to-and-from phone numbers — you need sophisticated call management features provided by traditional business phone systems in order to actually replace that phone system and unify communications.

Again, telephony is a potential strength of Microsoft Teams, but only if you make the right choices. The standard calling option for Teams is Microsoft Calling Plan and Microsoft Phone System. Although this solution will enable you to place a call, it can’t replace a traditional PBX (Private Branch Exchange) because it lacks call recording, sophisticated queue management and individuated reporting.

Suggested reading: To learn more about the shortcomings of Microsoft Calling Plan and Phone System, check out our blog — Microsoft Phone System Reviewed.

The answer to calling with Teams is Direct Routing. This solution sees the full integration of a digital PBX within Teams, providing complete calling capabilities within a streamlined solution. At Callroute, we have simplified the process of Direct Routing with Teams by also being the PSTN carrier. This enables us to pre-configure integration and accelerate the rollout process from days to literally minutes. We are also able to let you get started with a free channel for life, provide flexible and on-demand pricing, and guaranteed quality control and support.

Building a future-proofed collaboration strategy

Communication and collaboration are central to business success. You need a system that can match the demands of modern workflows and grow with your business in a compatible and seamless way.

Callroute and Teams can deliver these benefits in spades, providing you access with perhaps the fastest UC application on the market right now. If you already have Teams, adding PSTN calling to Teams transforms the best business collaboration tool on the market into a complete UC platform. By offering the complete package, we enable you to start for free today without impacting any existing relationships with communication suppliers.

Forget waiting around to get started, we’re on hand with telephony solutions in minutes. So, stop delaying the inevitable, and start enjoying UC for free today.