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The five unified communications apps you need

The pillars of unified communications -- voice, video, messaging, conferencing and mobility -- help organizations construct well-rounded collaboration plans.

When enterprises consider services to improve collaboration, unified communications usually enters the discussion....

The rationale is sound.

Unified communications (UC) provides a platform to integrate collaboration applications into a single interface, with a consistent user experience across endpoints and network environments. If employees use communications apps in a disjointed and serial fashion, UC offers a compelling value proposition.

Unified communications is not the only tool for collaboration. However, for most enterprises, UC will cover the bases -- even if you haven't fully formed your collaboration needs. But let's focus on the core communications apps needed to create a foundation for today's collaboration needs.

Unified communications generally includes five pillars -- communications apps you should view as must-haves for a UC platform. The capabilities for each pillar will vary by vendor, and you'll have to evaluate the tools based on your requirements. Let's explore why each pillar is important.

Voice is vital

Most UC offerings are voice-centric because the leading vendors have deep roots in telephony. For those vendors, UC is the successor to IP PBX. End users still prefer voice for real-time communications, which makes it vital to any UC offering.

But keep two caveats in mind. First, among younger employees, text is gaining favor over voice. So, the utility of voice will not be universal across your organization. Second, you need to distinguish between voice and telephony. Employees aren't using desk phones like they used to, but that doesn't mean voice is losing primacy.

Rather, workers are using voice via other modes -- namely mobile devices or web-based voice over IP applications. This is where UC brings value. It can integrate all these voice modes with the other tools employees use to collaborate.

Messaging gains momentum

Messaging is gaining traction rapidly, especially among millennials. If this demographic populates your workplace, messaging will be integral for UC.

End users know that all forms of messaging -- including text, instant messaging and web chat -- have collaboration limitations. But messaging's efficiency can help streamline teamwork.

While messaging-centric platforms, such as Slack, are wildly popular, they have limited use cases and should not be viewed as complete collaboration services. This is where UC will have greater appeal, since messaging will be one of several applications to support end users when working in teams.

unified communications apps

Video now valued

The appeal of video is less universal than other communications apps, but it's growing in importance for collaboration. Video has benefitted from technological evolution, whereby desktop video is now business-grade, easy to use and economical. Video's growth is also generational, where younger workers are more comfortable on camera.

Additionally, as workforces become decentralized and remote, video can provide immersive collaboration experiences regardless of where workers are located. Together, all these factors compel enterprises to consider video collaboration.

Conferencing boosts collaboration

Rather than a specific communications modality, conferencing represents an essential application for collaboration. The importance is self-evident, but the value comes from being part of a UC platform.

Stand-alone conferencing applications are great for conferencing, but they don't integrate with all your other collaboration tools, as well as business software such as customer relationship management or business support systems. Effective collaboration starts with rich communication, but the real value comes from integrating with broader data sets that drive workflows and business processes.

Whether using audio or video conferencing, this will often be the forum where employees need to access a range of data sources in real time -- and that's the kind of integration UC provides.

Mobility enhances messaging

As with conferencing, mobility is another mode of working, but one that is more universal. With mobile broadband and smartphones, mobility has become the mode of choice, even in the office.

For UC to gain adoption, it has to facilitate collaboration where people are, and, increasingly, that means in mobile settings. The caveat, though, is mobile UC offerings have generally been weak, as mobile devices don't readily support the full range of communications apps.

While the limitations of the small mobile screen and ability to multitask may suggest mobility has a secondary role in collaboration, these devices are conducive to messaging. As younger workers increasingly rely on text to collaborate, the need to support mobility with UC should be readily apparent.

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