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Collaboration is a key component of the unified communications (UC) discussion. Many think of corporate collaboration in communications as the audio/Web-conferencing and shared-workspace component of the UC tool, but there is so much more to it. Collaboration means using communications tools to enable geographically distributed employees and work groups to cooperate with each other to achieve a business objective or goal. Most UC and collaborative communications solutions are not single products. This means they require integration, either between technical elements or with processes and other applications, in order to simplify user enablement. Corporate collaboration is what brings value proposition to UC by improving productivity and reducing travel expenses and real estate costs. The overarching goal of unified communications and collaboration (UCC) is to not only improve intracompany collaboration, but to seamlessly and effectively allow real-time intercompany collaboration and communications.
Shared components of UC and collaboration
In addition to talking, audio/Web conferencing and shared workspaces, collaboration also encompasses the following UC components:
- Chat, text or instant messaging for quick discussions
- Presence for knowing who is available for quick discussions
- Social collaboration for sharing information and documents internally
- Email for discussions that need more words and possibly attachments
- Video conferencing for face-to-face collaboration
Integrating UC and collaborative components
UC architects should spend time with end users to determine current and future collaboration and UC needs in order to understand which components to implement. Since most of these elements are not single products, components must be integrated for maximum productivity and ease of use. UC architects tend to integrate these tools into the IP telephony platform, into the cloud, into the corporate data center or some combination of the three. Integration, for instance, makes it possible to view someone's presence status from within a customer relationship management (CRM) application or from a mobile device. It can allow a user to click-to-conference with a coworker then escalate into a video chat. Collaboration tools must be easy to use or they won't get used. Integration is the key.
Combine corporate collaboration and UC in the cloud
As enterprises assess how to build, deploy and manage their UCC strategy, they are turning to managed, hosted and cloud-based UC service providers to impact success. A recent 2012 Nemertes Research Group survey found that use of managed, hosted and cloud (MHC) services is exploding, with 75% reporting use of such services in 2012, and the majority (58%) reporting they intend to increase MHC service usage over the following year. Cloud-based UC services are a key method for reducing the complexity of your UCC deployment. For this strategy to be successful, follow these steps when building a UCC strategy:
- Take a complete inventory of your infrastructure assets and network, staff skills and capabilities, and total cost of ownership, and understand how your IT strategy aligns with your business plan.
- Decide which UC components should be outsourced, and determine return on investment (ROI) and service-level expectations.
- Create a plan outlining key milestones, skills requirements and cutover priorities.
- Choose a financially viable provider with a good track record of quality and responsiveness that can fill in where your internal team is weak.
Once your UCC plan is implemented, and end-user training is complete, ensure that you can show ROI in terms of reduced travel, enhanced productivity and end-user satisfaction. This should be easy to do since collaboration, both inside and outside the company, will be greatly enhanced due to carefully planned unification.