As IP telephony evolves, companies are focusing on the next-generation benefits of unified communications
Companies all over the world are enjoying increased network efficiencies from today’s IP telephony. As this technology evolves, a spotlight is shining on the next-generation benefits of converged applications such as unified communications (UC), a term that refers to “the integration of real-time enterprise communication services that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.”
The Complete UC Solution
Typically, users want a flexible communications system that’s customized to meet their select business needs. To achieve this, organizations must build an infrastructure capable of integrating the best applications into a seamless UC environment, eliminate the voice silo, make telephony a seamless part of information technology and sample from a full palette of UC capabilities.
UC solutions incorporate three main communications components:
Modes – real-time voice, real-time data (IM), asynchronous data (email), multimedia
communication (video), and collaborative media (start with phone call and add other media as needed).
Locations – fixed and mobile locations including office, home, hotel room, public lounge, and car or other transport.
Devices – ranging from traditional phones to PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets.
These components work in tandem with the 16 features that comprise a complete UC solution:
- Unified Messaging
- Desktop Client
- Instant Messaging (IM)
- Audio Conferencing
- Video Conferencing
- Web Conferencing
- Converged Conferencing
- Notification Service
- Personal Assistant
- Rich Presence Service
- Communications-Enabled Business Processes
- Contact Center
- Mobile Solutions
From anywhere, users can leverage “presence” and other corporate intelligence to see the best way to reach someone right at that moment, then use whichever mode and device is most convenient, without having to hop between communication silos. Users can also filter incoming communications by assigning priority treatment to certain individuals or organizations. Alerts are sent in real time to users regarding important communications, while other communications are sent to the UC inbox as voicemail or email to be dealt with later.
Presence: the UC Enabler
A key component of a true UC solution, presence enables users to find the best person available for live contact and view their status, so they can choose the most appropriate communication mode. Presence is available in several ways:
Basic presence is simply replacing traditional dial tone with a “user tone.” While the dial tone tells you that the voice system is ready, the user tone tells you the user is ready.
Rich presence combines multiple pieces of information about a user’s state. For example, are they on the phone? Are they using their keyboard and thus at their computer? Rich presence also considers the various capabilities of different modes and devices. If you have a digital camera in your mobile phone and the person at the other end of the conversation is sitting at a PC screen, you can send photos from the camera phone to the PC. If both your devices have cameras, you can send photos in both directions.
Contextual presence uses an individual’s context to enhance the information provided about their availability. When people attend meetings their availability changes as they focus on the situation at hand. If you are focusing on a critical task, callers can be presented with your presence as unavailable, even though you are in your office using your computer and phone.
Process presence adds another layer of visibility, indicating the availability of someone who can fulfill a business-specific role. For example, if there are three individuals in the finance department who can answer a certain question, process presence shows you whether at least one of them is available or provides an estimated wait time.
Presence is a powerful concept that is changing how we communicate. Once the presence “user tone” is established, the technologies that can exploit it are virtually unlimited. Currently, however, its evolutionary progress is constrained by single-vendor solutions that serve to enhance existing products.
Infrastructure Alignment is Critical
IP telephony platforms that were not designed with UC in mind are tacking UC capabilities on
piecemeal, with all the complexity, cost, and reliability problems that such an approach entails. Instead, companies are finding it easier to implement UC solutions on an IP telephony system designed from the start with a communications infrastructure that assembles best-of-breed presence applications and mobility.
The ideal IP telephony architecture for supporting UC is one that
- is not limited or constrained by voice and data silos them
- offers high reliability and scalability at a very reasonable total cost of ownership
- is fully distributed to enable location transparency
- allows easy integration of third-party communications applications
ShoreTel Architecture for Real UC from Van Ausdall & Farrar, Inc.
A ShoreTel UC system from Van Ausdall & Farrar, Inc. is not only designed from the ground up as an IP telephony system, it is conceived with UC capabilities and business process integration in mind. ShoreTel is the first to make key UC capabilities -presence, voicemail, and unified messaging- an integral part of an IP telephony system.
A unique and fully distributed voice system that delivers “just-in-time” presence available throughout the network, it is pre-integrated with Microsoft Outlook and now includes native support for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). This enables ShoreTel to deliver comprehensive, integrated UC capabilities whether you are a Microsoft-centric shop or not.
Renowned for its ease of use and reliability, it is not limited by the siloed approach used in other IP telephony solutions. ShoreTel is the only vendor to use Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) technology and interfaces. The ShoreTel platform includes APIs that are used by ShoreTel applications and by third party developers, and make the integration of UC applications very easy.