The use of Unified Communications in general businesses

By Nigel Sinclair Thomson, CEO of 1toGo 

We conclude this introduction to unified communications by looking at specific examples of how unified communications can be used in businesses in general as well as in verticals such as the educational, healthcare and governmental sectors.

The Use of Unified Communications in General Businesses

Unified communications improves communication and collaboration by providing tools such as single address access to instant messaging/presence; IP PBX; HD voice and video calling/conferencing; Web conferencing; whiteboarding; file (e.g. document, presentation, photo, video and music/podcast) storage and sharing; email, calendaring, address books, tasks and notes; RSS feeds/news; CRM integration and social networking.

Users access these features via a Web browser or clients on PCs/ laptops or smartphones/tablets. Voice services can also be accessed on IP phones or legacy phones via voice gateways.

Examples of how unified communications solutions can be used in general businesses include:

  • Employees and business partners can see other employees’ presence statuses and hence can contact them via the most appropriate modality, saving time and unnecessary costs
  • Employees and business partners can escalate email or instant messaging conversations to HD voice or video calls as required. HD voice is ideal for long conference calls because it provides a less tiring user experience
  • Employees ‘on the road’ or outside the office have access to the same communications and collaboration functionality as employees inside the office
  • Users’ information remains safely secured centrally, on-premise or ‘in the Cloud’, protecting users from information loss in the event that their device is lost or stolen.
  • Employees can access and share information in their file storage, even if they’re away from the office
  • Employees access the same information, regardless of device used
  • Employees can be provided with a 2nd telephone number which can be accessible on employees’ mobile phones. These numbers can be made public in order to facilitate communication and collaboration between users, thus enabling users to keep their personal cell or home phone numbers private. This has the added advantage that when an employee leaves a company, the employee’s telephone number doesn’t follow them
  • Employees can use their smartphones as their home, desk and mobile phones if they so wish
  • Employees can answer incoming calls over the nearest device, be they at home, at the office, on the road or on the other side of the world
  • Employees can make calls via the company IP PBX over their fixed line or mobile phone data or GSM/CDMA connections, thus reducing the hassles for businesses having to manage employees` claims for business calls made from their private phone accounts
  • Expensive roaming charges can be reduced
  • Different branches can share communications infrastructure hence inter-branch calls are extension calls
  • Employees can be contacted on their telephone number extensions whether they are at the office or on the road, thus reducing internal telephone call costs
  • Paper usage is reduced
  • The unified communications solution can be integrated with monitoring systems enabling automatic triggering of notifications to appropriate staff by the most appropriate modality if preset thresholds are exceeded
    • ‘Human latency’ (the delay in a process which is incurred while waiting for a person to respond to a communication) can be reduced in areas such as supply chain and treasury management.

In addition to assisting businesses in general improve their business processes, unified communications provides additional benefits to businesses in specific verticals.

Examples of these include:

Education

  • Where computer resources are shared such as in computer laboratories, users can be provided with a portable edition of a Web browser on a USB stick. Users will then insert the USB sticks in the nearest available PC/laptop in order to access the services. This ensures that any of a user’s personal information which has been downloaded from their central Cloud storage as well as their bookmarks, passwords and browsing history is saved on the USB stick instead of being left behind on the PC/laptop.
  • Teachers/lecturers can be provided with a 2nd telephone number on their mobile phones (also answerable on their PCs) enabling learners/students to contact them during work hours. Users simply turn off these numbers after work enabling them to separate their professional from their private lives.
  • Teachers/lecturers can post documents such as study material or tests to their file storage for access by students
  • Students or lecturers/teachers can maintain mailing lists to discuss common issues they face in their studies or work.
  • Unified communications solutions can be embedded into 3rd party educational applications in order to communications and collaboration enable these applications

Healthcare

  • Remote facilities can collaborate and share files (including imaging files and reports) with available medical specialists, be they at the nearest referral hospital, at an urban centre of excellence or even across the world (telemedicine)
  • Healthcare workers and interpreters can video conferencewith patients at remote clinics

Unified communications solutions can also be embedded into 3rd party applications such as hospital information systems (HIS), radiology information systems (RIS), picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and nurse call systems in order to communications and collaboration enable these applications.

Examples of this include:

  • Interconnecting unified communications systems with nurse call systems operating over wireless LANs so that patients and doctors can call available nursing staff members and nursing staff members can contact doctors in the event of an emergency
  • Integration with medical monitoring devices and infection surveillance systems enabling automatic triggering of notifications to appropriate nursing staff if thresholds are exceeded
  • Automatic notification of case management, catering, housekeeping or portering services after a patient’s admission or discharge
  • Self-service outpatient booking systems with automatic voice or SMS reminders to patients in an effort to reduce missed appointments
  • Automatic reminders to outpatients to take their medicine and automatic notification of nursing staff via the most appropriate modality in the event of patient non-adherence.

Government

  • Public servants can be contactable during office hours via members of the public, even if they’re away from the office and in their constituencies via instant messaging or via second telephone numbers on their mobile phones/PCs
  • Departments can maintain mailing lists in which they and their constituents can share information and discuss issues of mutual interest.

Nigel Sinclair Thomson is CEO of 1toGo, a value added mobile Cloud unified communications service as well as the CEO of Zwana Unicom, the Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia Distributor for CommuniGate Systems' carrier grade unified communications solutions.

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