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Why your business needs to invest in unified communications in 2015

In 2011, McKinsey and Company released an engaging report on big data, which described the asset as being the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity. In that time, as it rightly predicted, organisations across all sectors have taken up big data and allowed it to unlock value in ways previously thought impossible.

Today, big data, the science of harnessing large amounts of information for key objectives, continues to thrive; a fact that is understandable given that this is the digital age whereby, amidst the voluminous and never-ending deluge of information, all sorts of useful insights are waiting to be extracted. Big data is the 21st century answer to gold.

While it matters – it’s considered by advocates to be an intrinsic feature of production and indeed the decision-making process – it’s not the only new differentiator that is transforming the way businesses work. Hot on its heels, so to speak, is the concept of unified communications (UC), which has, in the shadow of big data, quietly been working its magic.

Understanding unified communications

The nature of work is changing radically and has been since the internet finally came into its own (post dot-com bubble). From cloud computing to BYOD to hosting virtual conferences across the world, technology has shattered longstanding preconceptions about how to operate businesses. There is no turning back and that is proving to be a very good thing.

UC is the next and logical step in the move away from closed, static and convoluted practices and processes. It is a system of organisation that not only takes advantage of the latest technology – software and hardware – but brings it together for a common goal: to ultimately deliver smarter, more productive and enjoyable forms of working that drives sales and boosts your bottom line.

It can best be defined as - and this is implied implicitly in its name – the mechanism in which all forms of communication, including text, video and voice, are streamlined to deliver real-time updates and accessibility to the benefit of all stakeholders (including employees, customers/clients, partners and suppliers).

Moreover, UC enables organisations to operate without physical constraints because, thanks to its technology, the definition of the workplace has evolved. It’s no longer the desk you head to every morning and leave in the evening. Your office is where you are. Anything, from hosting meetings, to collaborating with colleagues, is possible, irrespective of your location.

Empowered by collaboration

In much the same way that social media revolutionised marketing by making it a two-way conversation, UC is nurturing better ways of working, with the emphasis being on greater collaboration. Again, this is predicated on efficiency and visibility – you and your team are always ‘in the loop’ with one another, able to contribute or be contacted confidently. In short, you never miss the conversation.

UC is therefore a much more dynamic way of working, one that both encourages and facilitates superior rapport. You can, more often than not, be in no doubt that when it comes to communicating with the relevant party, you know when and how to do it.

As a result, working environments are fluid, less stressful, more agile and resourceful. It’s a simpler way to work thanks to its less prescriptive approach, and consequently feels natural, especially in terms of how we use technology professionally and personally. For example, we now expect to be able to move from multiple devices and platforms in a user-friendly, safe and functional way, whether we’re at home, the office or on a moving train.

Tradition ‘reinvented’

The status quo of working practices may well have been disrupted to make room for noteworthy changes – global collaboration on the move via multiple devices and channels – but some practices endure.

We may do more virtually but that in no way diminishes the importance of face-to-face contact and verbal interaction. We all like - prefer, in fact - the human touch, but recognise, for reasons to do with cost or a desire to be more sustainable, that alternatives have to be found. In some cases, it simply makes more sense to engage with one another across the digital world.

Business leaders acknowledge then the power of voice in making this happen. Yet, as is all too often the case, connecting with stakeholders can sometimes be difficult, the quality of communication poor. Technology is making that a thing of the past and voice is finding new rigour – tradition is being reinvented.

Voice is being amplified and made more effective through technology audits and the subsequent strategic solutions made as a result of those assessments. Central to UC is getting the right software and marrying it to the right hardware.

Any package, be it Microsoft Lync – which is being rebranded as Skype for Business in 2015 – Avaya Aura or Cisco Jabber, is realised through telephony systems, both static and portable. Tailored headsets offer organisations the ability to invest properly in voice, fostering the kind of personable contact that is desired by all.

Headsets also fit in with the cultural shift to flexible ways of working and exhibit all the hallmarks of UC at its best – they act as a single channel in which all forms of communication are accessed. In turn, your stakeholders are always confident that when they get through to you, it's prompt, it's clear and it's practical. This will be central to best-in-class organisations.

UC: Your agenda for 2015

In 2008, Innovation Labs LLC released a paper entitled The Theory of Business, Complexity and Getting Work Done. It noted that as technology ramps up the rate of change – against the backdrop of increasing globalisation – working life becomes ever more complex.

The response to this fact has been somewhat laboured and protracted. Commenting three years after this report came out, Timothy P. Flynn, chairman of KPMG International, said that he had been told by the majority of executives that had responded to the organisation's survey that "complexity has increased".

"These executives see complexity not only as a source of additional risk and cost, but more also believe that complexity is creating new opportunities," he said. "Opportunities to take a fresh look at their strategy, rethink their business model and improvements to gain competitive advantage."

UC is the answer. From delivering cost savings to boosting productivity and delivering significantly better and more effective communications, the power and intelligence that informs this burgeoning area is arguably one of the key agenda items of 2015.

And the great thing is that it needn't cost the earth. Small investments can have a big impact as long as they are planned strategically and adopted with due care and attention. With UC at the heart of what you do, anything is possible.

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