unified communications (UC)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Unified communications technology basics
Contributor(s): John Burke

Unified communications (UC) refers to the integration of communication tools that help people exchange ideas and do their jobs more effectively.

Some communication tools, like IP telephony, presence technology and instant messaging, facilitate synchronous communication. Synchronous communication occurs in real-time and is sometimes referred to as "same time/different place" communication. Other communication tools, like email or Twitter, facilitate asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication facilitates communication that takes place at a person's convenience and is sometimes referred to as "different time/different place" communication. The goal of unified communications is to integrate the software that supports synchronous and asynchronous communication so the end user has easy access to all tools from whatever computing device he is using.    

UC can help employees in a variety of contexts, including:

  • Traditional office environments, with users on computers and using desk phones or softphones and individual webcams.
  • Enterprise conference rooms equipped with speaker phones, a shared display system, and a shared camera system (which might be traditional conferencing systems or high-end telepresence systems).
  • Remote employees working from mobile devices including tablets and smart phones, using the audio and video native to the device.

Ideally, a unified communications environment is integrated with the back-end systems that provide services as well as the front-end clients that provide access.  For example, the Web conferencing system would make use of the audio conferencing system, which in turn would be built on the core IP telephony platform, and a unified messaging email client would allow click-to-talk (CTC), click-to-chat, or click-to-video functionality.

Unified communications tools and collaboration tool overlap significantly; collaboration tools such as those providing service desk automation or project management systems often incorporate UC features, like team chat, or integrate with external UC systems for those functions. UC also overlaps with contact center technologies -- for example, in the form of automated call distribution (ACD) and interactive voice response (IVR) systems.

See also: unified communication as a service (UCaaS)

This was first published in January 2016

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