Customers often say to me,  “There is all this talk of unified communications in today’s technology press but what does it really mean?”.  In simple terms, I explain that it is a way of joining an organisations’ voice and data networks in order to reduce costs and improve productivity.

 

This is really important to government today for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR07) will put more pressure on organisations to deliver services at existing if not better levels of quality but with less budget.  Secondly, departments have clear targets to reduce business travel to cut carbon emissions.  Lastly, as a result of transformational government, smarter collaborative working between colleagues, suppliers and partners is crucial.  This is where a workable low cost desktop video conferencing solution can make a huge impact.

 

The reality is that the stand-alone technologies to deliver unified communications have been around for many years – for example, instant messaging is prevalent with consumers and web conferencing is common place. What is new is the ability to bring all these components together and integrate them with existing tools such as email and intranets.  Unified communications enables individual users to signpost to others where they are, what they are doing and the best way to contact or communicate with them at any given point in time. This saves endless telephone messages going back and forth (according to Gartner, 60% of telephone calls result in a voicemail).

 

Of course there are challenges. Innovating at the required pace to meet the goals of transformational government is sometimes difficult with a traditional outsourcer relationship between customer and supplier. In today’s challenging environment, suppliers need to be more innovative and share risk to become a more trusted business partner.

 

Technology continues to change rapidly. As soon as you implement one system, the technology has changed or there is another hot topic of the day which means you have to rethink, or even worse, scrap what you have already done. Right? Well actually no, you can implement unified communications with little or no change to existing infrastructure.

 

There are sometime significant challenges from an infrastructure perspective. Most data networks in place today were not designed to cater for the increased bandwidth requirements of rich media. The web is about to undertake a huge transformation in the guise of Web 2.0 as a consequence of this. 3G uptake has been slower than expected and the user experience of browsing the web with a mobile device versus a business or home machine is very inconsistent.  This is where leading innovators such as Nortel are setting the pace of change to address these challenges - the Innovative Communications Alliance between Microsoft and Nortel  offers customers effective solutions to address their communications requirements.

 

You can find out more about Microsoft’s unified communications tools here and you can contact the author of this blog entry at: shaun.taylor@microsoft.com.

 

Posted by Shaun Taylor