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Unified Communications (UC) has been around for years. It’s gone through several hype cycles but opinions are now changing as core enabling technologies mature: things like cloud apps, converged networks, mobile computing, audio and video technology and location-based services.

As a result, UC is fast becoming more relevant and attractive to today’s digital businesses. By combining mobile working with multiple channels – voice, text, IM, video, social computing and collaborative platforms – UC is ready to deliver new ways of working and create new levels of productivity and efficiency. Or is it just another hype cycle?

According to Sheryl Kingstone, Research Director at 451 Research, UC - and communications technologies in general - will continue to transform organisations going forward. She argues that now is the time to invest in UC apps and platforms.

“The essence of putting digital to work in a ‘transformative’ way is to ensure that data and insight are embedded into an intelligent process. As a result, businesses must invest in new technologies. The demand for new digital channels such as web chat, social media, SMS, collaboration and conferencing, and video communications are changing the communications landscape.”

Kingstone says over a third of organisations surveyed by 451 Research's Voice of the Connected User Landscape (VoCUL) are implementing UC within the next 24 months. “In the ‘age of the customer,’ businesses must make critical adjustments that align with the overall digital shift to remain relevant in the eyes of customers, partners and employees,” she adds.

Gartner recently published its 14th annual Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, in which the analyst firm comments: “The primary goal of all UC solutions is to improve user productivity and to enhance the business processes related to communications and collaboration.”

Gartner sees the market for solutions continuing to mature as user expectations rise. It also notes an increase in cloud-based UC and hybrid UC (on-premise combined with cloud), with technologies for both environments maturing.

Using UC to improve productivity also came up in a survey from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). It found that better connectivity outside the office would reduce the need for follow-up meetings, unlocking annual productivity gains worth £9.3 billion. An additional £8.8 billion could be realised by allowing tasks to be completed more efficiently, through real-time access to data from remote locations.

One of the major drivers behind UC adoption is an expectation from workers to be able to communicate and collaborate more effectively. People are getting used to using multiple social media channels, mobile apps for instant messaging and text, and file sharing utilities in their private lives. In some cases, employees are using informal channels to communicate in their working lives, because it’s just easier to do.

The great thing about incorporating a UC platform in the enterprise is it allows employees to choose the most appropriate communication method for them, whether it’s instant messaging, audio, video, screen sharing or file sharing. UC loosens the ties that bind users to their desk so they can work whenever and wherever they are.

Looking forward, the next step is likely to be for applications to initiate contextually-appropriate communications automatically, leaving users to concentrate on the message and not the medium.

Consequently, UC will help workers to work more efficiently, make decisions faster; quickly pull experts into vital conversations; shorten product development lifecycles; and respond more rapidly to customer queries.

UC solutions that can integrate fixed, mobile and Wi-Fi to deliver everything across a single, simple and secure platform, like O2 Gateway, can help organisations achieve digital transformation and raise productivity in a quick and simple way. Organisations that make the most of these types of service will be in a much stronger position to compete in a faster paced and more connected environment.

In addition, Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) help users to communicate more intuitively. For example, workers can quickly see whether colleagues are available through presence icons, so they can add them to a chat, conference or video call.

As well as offering presence across the organisation, O2’s UC platform can also provide each employee with a single number, whether they’re using fixed or mobile voice or UC. For businesses, these two elements translate as faster decision-making, less wasted time, higher productivity and closer teamwork.

The move to UC is a journey that every IT department has started, according to analyst firm Ovum. Its research found that 78% of IT decision makers report they have both a current strategic plan and a budget for ‘at least some’ of the components of UC, with 43% having a budget for ‘most components’ of UC.

It’s finally happening: the much-needed move to simpler, unified communications with UC becoming the key enabling platform for the digital revolution. So, are you giving your people the tools they need?

This article is bought to you in association with O2