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Unified Communications
Featured Article
UC Mag
Paula Bernier
Executive Editor,

IP Communications Magazines

Imagine the Possibilities: How UC Changes Business

The most sophisticated UC systems are not just glorified unified messaging applications with some mobility thrown in, they also can handle conferencing and collaboration. Take for example, Bradon Technologies' SAVii Desk, a UC product that enables workers to meet, present and interact online with real-time voice, data and video. Participants can join any SAVii Desk event invitation via VoIP, circuit-switched phone or mobile phone. Participants attend each even by dialing a toll-free number included with an event invitation.


A UC "flavor" has even entered into customer-facing systems, as evidenced by Voxeo's progress toward a "unified self-service" model via its acquisitions of: Micromethod Technologies, a SIP provider; VoiceObjects, a tools provider for VoiceXML applications with expertise in video and SMS; and IMified, which enables self-service through an "IM bot" Chatterbot artificial intelligence program.


If installing sophisticated UC systems conjure up fears of spending money, there are, interestingly, open source alternatives. Take, for example, Unison Technologies' efforts to bring UC to Linux, such as the Umbuntu Server and Umbuntu Desktop Edition. Using a Linux distribution is a moneysaver, not to mention that the Unison UC software itself replaces legacy email servers, instant messaging servers, and the PBX. One simply deploys a Unison Server, then performs an install Unison Desktop for each employees. The Unison Server handles the calls and routing, email, instant messaging, calendars and contacts, making them available to the staff. Unison Desktop, which runs Linux or Windows gives you complete UC in a single interface on the desktop.


The Object of UC


Objectworld Communications delivers Windows-based unified communications solutions for small- to medium-sized businesses. Objectworld's CEO David Levy, explains, "Some people might think that UC changes business in proportion to the money companies are prepared to spend on the technology. But I believe it's more a matter of how much people are prepared to examine how they do business and compare it to how they would actually like to do it and what level of change people are willing to tolerate, and what ways they can imagine their business being improved. The money itself is really not a big factor. Indeed, too much has been spoken about the cost of UC. I think UC can be very inexpensive, but it can also be very expensive when poorly implemented. Some people buy UC solutions without thinking about what problems they want solved. They buy a new technology but not a new way of using it."


David Schenkel, Objectworld's CTO, says, "In David Levy's latest article for TMC, he talks about looking for the lurking ROI in your business that you can attack with UC. It's our view that if you look at a product such as ours, which is a great value, and you talk to any business that has more than 15 or 20 people, you can almost certainly find a UC application that they can take advantage of with our product that gives them an ROI of at least 90 to 120 days. And we can give some quite specific examples as how we can do that. The savings are not illusory."


"Our UC Server provides what we now consider to be pretty standard capabilities," says Schenkel, such as voicemail, unified messaging, send-and-receive faxes, one number for fax, redirection of calls for mobility, remote users and all of that. We've also added functions such as paging, which are not so much productivity tools as they are a cost reduction measure. But a real ‘jewel in the crown' for our UC Server is our services environment. That's a key differentiator for us."


"The penetration of unified messaging, especially in the SMB world, is very low," says Schenkel. "Penetration of fax servers is still very low. But what's even lower is the use of what was traditionally called IVR in inbound and outbound calls. UC applications are not complicated, in fact, some of them are quite trivial, at least from our perspective. So I'll start out with a really trivial one. In the case of contact centers, especially B2B contact centers, one problem they encounter is that about 70 to 80 percent of the time they must leave a voicemail message for the person they're attempting to call, which eats up a minute or two of their time, and they tend to deliver the message fairly poorly. So many agents want to be able to transfer to call to a service, which will detect the answering machine and then leave a pre-recorded message based on the agent's campaign. There's a huge ROI in that. The typical ROI payback for a typical contact center is 30 to 60 days. That's a really trivial IVR-like application for us."


"Recently we installed a system for a customer in Greece," says Schenkel. "People call-in for after-hours service, so they were running a call center after-hours costing them lots of money. The call volume wasn't that high and it wasn't meeting the company's requirements for documenting when the calls came in, escalation and all of that. So, with one of our Greek partners, we installed a SIP edition of UC Server which redirects the calls automatically based on database information and those automatic escalations of logging and related items. They are exceptionally pleased with it, achieving a 90-day ROI."


Adds Levy, "We're also responding to many requirements in the health sector, in terms of doctor ‘connects' and surgeries and drugstores. They often want patient reminders, notification services and find-me services. These are really trivial applications that have enormous, fast payback, since they improve customer management. Quite honestly, as David Schenkel said, we can look at almost any company and quickly find ways to alter their responsiveness to the external world, improve their customer relationships, reduce staff and improve operations, whether it happens to be light manufacturing, or any company that some sort of interface to the outside world. They can all find very quick ROI. I believe that's one of the greatest benefits of UC."


The Right Tools for the Job


Unified communications overlaps or perhaps can even be considered a subset of communications-enabled business processes, defined by Gartner Group as the ability to enable "communications functions to be directly and tightly integrated with the IT systems and applications that individuals may be working with at any time."


Lawrence Byrd, Avaya's director of UC architecture, recently told Yours Truly, "In our view, all communications is realized at the top level, in various access devices, through screens, interfaces, through integration with Microsoft, IBM or SAP. For us, that's the ‘layer' where communications is experienced. Underneath that are things such as collaboration and interaction solutions, which is our entire set of UC and contact center portfolios, but those typically rest on some kind of real-time core communications servers that sort of glue everything together. Historically, that's been IP telephony and, going forward, we believe it's that plus a whole lot more."


Byrd continues, "Avaya's new Aura product takes existing components and expands them to create a new foundation for UC and contact center solutions. It includes our long-time flagship product, the Communication Manager, our IP telephony foundation, but Aura expands it with new capabilities, such as a long-standing application enablement capability enabling integration with an entire third-party ecosystem. It also includes the presence services we announced in 2008 that aggregate presence from Microsoft, IBM, XMPP and SIP/SIMPLE sources and from all of our real-time phone data, and brings it all together so that an application can use it. That has relevance for UC and for smarter CEBP and other applications in general, which can leverage presence to make decisions."


"What underpins all of this is our new Avaya Aura Session Manager a whole new end-to-end SIP framework," says Byrd. "It's about how systems, users and devices get connected and how can we change the architecture of communications to be much more flexible in how it allows new UC and other applications to be deployed."


"Today UC is, by and large, plugged into each of the individual systems," says Byrd. "For example, we provide integration with Microsoft where, on my screen right now, I have Microsoft Office Communicator. I'm clicking and pointing, I'm doing instant messaging. When I call somebody with my Avaya phone, it obviously handles the voice component, and the entirety of my normal Avaya telephony environment works. But today that occurs only because my system has that integration. So when pondering benefits of UC for a business, one should ask, ‘Do I have the proper application?' I happen to be mobile and on the road much of the time, and I use our speech access functionality to read my emails and voicemails while I'm driving. If I'm in a hotel room I can use a Web browser that acts as my UC portal. And when I'm in the office, I might be fully Microsoft-enabled - because we happen to use Microsoft - but it could be IBM Sametime or some similar environment. Having the right tool for the job is the important thing, and we at Avaya also provide a consulting practice that comes in and helps customers with that, because if you don't take that approach, we think you won't get the ROI you're expecting."


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