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January 05, 2010
Are You Already Doing Unified Communications, And Can You Do It Better?
By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor
 
Maybe you already have unified communications and you're just not aware of it?

If you're trying to integrate such communications channels as e-mail, phone, instant messaging and conferencing on a single IP-based platform, then congratulations, you're practicing unified communications. Now: Ever feel you could be getting more out of it?

Unified communications includes integrating such things as toll-free and local numbers, call forwarding, a good number of extensions, voicemail, conference calling and bridging with three-way capabilities. The appeal of this is fairly clear: You get better communication and collaboration among employees, and as a small business you can project a more, shall we say, 'professional' image.

All that doesn't cost an arm and a leg anymore, either. In fact, now's a good time to jump in: according to a recent published study from ABI Research (News - Alert), 'Vertical Market Opportunities in Unified Communications

ABI Research officials note that UC allows organizations to make use of only those communications channels they find bring them immediate value. Many companies may only need the basics, generally, phone, e-mail and IM, and not conferencing or other fancy bells and whistles.

One such service, Nextiva Connect Phone (News - Alert) Service,  a virtual pbx service, starts at $8.95 a month for the most important components, and can range up to between $70 and $100 a month for the super-duper deluxe plans. 

(Techtalk: A 'pbx' is a private branch exchange, a telephone exchange serving one particular business or office, as opposed to a common carrier. It's located on the company's premises while connected to the public telephone network. Basically, as one commentator puts it, a pbx is 'your own, smaller version of the phone company's central switching office.')

The advantage of UC, the ABI research report finds, is that 'synergies multiply: for example, many companies have messaging by voice and e-mail, but when they are integrated, a user can 'see' voicemails and have e-mails read aloud.'

Good plans with all the features above can generally be had for about ten bucks a month, and vendors are usually eager to toss in free minutes, waive startup fees and offer other such goodies as incentives. It's a good idea to inquire specifically about fax capabilities, some plans include them, others don't. Call screening can be useful, too - so calls forwarded to an employee away from the office are answered professionally - this isn't included in all plans.

Watch customer service, too - good vendors such as Nextiva use  good quality multi-homed bandwidth for their network, Asterisk (News - Alert) systems that support a wide variety of codecs and, as one review of Nextivaa live English speaking person in their porting department (Who returns phone calls!).'

Ask vendors questions about interoperability - especially from those who sound like they're promising 'end-to-end' systems. Nobody makes everything you might want, so focus on those who can demonstrate interoperability on your most important features, and ask specific questions about partnerships on the other stuff. 
 

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi


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