What is Unified Communications? Checklist and Examples

When you stop thinking about communication channels and instead about the content itself, your company is operating with a successful unified communications strategy.

As a pandemic measure, many companies set up a communications network using various digital solutions that work independently of each other or are connected via a technical interface.

However, businesses want a simplified structure. The goal is a "one-stop solution" that provides employees with everything they need for business communication. This is also the vision of broad-based software solutions such as Cisco, Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

But what exactly is unified communications and what hurdles are in the way of companies having a UC platform? Find out in this article.

  1. Definition: What is Unified Communications?
  2. Which channels and tools belong to UC?
  3. Unified Communications: advantages and limitations
  4. Checklist: Building a UC platform
  5. Unified messaging for customer communications

Definition: What is Unified Communications?

A Unified Communications (UC) system integrates various forms of communication, including voice, video, messaging, and more, into a single platform for seamless communication and collaboration.

Either a central UC system is implemented or various software products are combined to form a powerful UC system.

Large corporations sometimes develop their own UC infrastructure on-site. More common, however, is unified communications as a service (UCaaS) cloud-based platforms companies pay for monthly.

Alternatively, businesses that handle sensitive data and want to save money can opt for a hybrid solution. The company’s data remains on their own servers, while the rest runs via the UCaaS cloud.

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A unified communications solution (UCaaS) typically has three basic features:

  1. Mobile. As a cloud solution, employees can access it and collaborate with other team members from anywhere and on any Internet-enabled device. Example: an employee makes a company call on their personal smartphone.
  2. Networked. The software includes key communication tools, such as VoIP telephone, email and chat (including video), and connects seamlessly with third-party apps such as CRMs, marketing software and Unified Messaging.
  3. Resource-efficient. Its tools are easily accessible and synchronized. Example: If an employee is out sick, their team chat profile is automatically set to absent and call forwarding is activated.

Enterprise software is increasingly becoming a UC trend. According to Precedence Research, the global unified communications market for UCaaS software will almost quadruple from 2022 to 2030.

Unified communications' market growth since 2021
The future of unified communications as forecasted by Precedence Research.

Which channels and tools belong to UC?

There is no standard UC product. Different platforms focus on different things. While some vendors try to cover just about all channels and collaboration tools, others specialize in specific use cases.

Placetel, for example, offers three core features under one roof (cloud telephone, team messaging and online meetings) and is considered just as much UC software as top provider Microsoft Teams.

Whether you operate your UC network through one vendor or multiple, these six components shouldn’t be missing from your unified communications system, according to Gartner:

  • Telephone with basic functions (e.g., forward, hold)
  • Unified messaging (different messaging channels in one interface)
  • Live chat with status indication (e.g., online, away, etc.)
  • Audio/video conferencing with collaborative tools (e.g., screen sharing, calendar integration)
  • Automated communication processes (e.g. via API or SDK)
  • Mobility (mobile app options)

What is the difference between UC and UCC?

The term "unified communications" (UC) is often used synonymously with "unified communications and collaboration" (UCC). This is not surprising, as communications and collaboration often go hand in hand. Most UC software comes with plenty of collaboration features and is therefore, by definition, an actual UCC solution.

If you need help making a strict distinction between UC and UCC, this mnemonic helps:

UC tools enable the exchange of information - both live and not. When communication is supported by collaborative features, such as screen sharing or synchronous document creation, we are then in the UCC business.

Advanced UCC software collaboration features include:

  • Screen sharing
  • File sharing
  • Interactive whiteboard
  • Calendar/scheduling

What is the difference between Unified Communications (UC) and Unified Messaging (UM)?

Unified messaging (UM) is a subset of unified communications. According to the common definition, unified messaging includes all asynchronous messaging channels such as email, SMS, fax and voicemail. Live chat doesn’t belong to UM, but is another branch of unified communications.

In practice, however, messaging and live chat cannot be separated. Innovative Unified Messaging software like Userlike allow you to answer all customer inquiries you receive via your website chat and other messaging apps (SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.) from one inbox - regardless of whether the conversation is live or asynchronous.

Since all these messaging channels work similarly, it makes sense to bundle them into one application. You can then support your channels with chatbots and intelligent routing, among other features.

Userlike Message Center collects all messages from different channels in one central inbox
With Userlike's Message Center, your employees can respond to customer messages that come in from various channels.

Unified Communications: advantages and limitations

The advantages of unified communications

What motivates companies to adopt unified communications? Here is an overview of the most important reasons.

  1. Telephone digitization. The only channel that was not originally digital, but is still in use today. For example, telephone networks are being replaced by an online VoIP system, making it part of the digital infrastructure. So switching from chat to call to video call is no problem with a unified communications solution.
  2. Productivity. UC optimizes workflows so employees spend less time on technology (e.g. logins, switching between programs and media) and more time on solutions. By completely digitizing communication, employees save time attending appointments and meetings.
  3. Compatibility. Different software focuses on different areas of unified communications. For example, one vendor may specialize in team mobility and collaboration, while another focuses on customer communications. Strong UC tools are not stand-alone solutions, but can be combined to play to their respective strengths.
  4. International employee acquisition. UC is also a solution for employee shortages. Thanks to remote work being offered and simplified onboarding processes, companies are becoming attractive to employees worldwide.
  5. Security. The fewer interfaces and software service providers you use, the easier it is to protect your business against attacks.

The limits of unified communications

The principle and advantages of unified communications are clear. But how well do the major UCaaS platforms work in practice and what are their limits?

In its matrix on UCaaS, Gartner evaluates the leading providers on the axes of "completeness of vision" and "ability to execute." The two variables don't always go hand in hand. This is precisely where the future challenge of UC lies: Instead of superficially combining software, functional depth and user-friendliness need to remain guaranteed.

Quadrant for unified communications as a service worldwide
The current leaders and challengers in the UCaaS market according to Gartner.

Dietmar Kraume, Managing Director at Alliance Technologies, explains why the idea of a one-stop solution doesn't always work:

We notice time and again that these solutions are not that easy to use for end users. This is always promised, but it often turns out differently. And this is exactly where a niche market emerges: solutions that are very simple to use.

At Userlike, for example, our internal project-related communication happens in Asana, while our teams communicate with and among each other via Slack. There are channels for the different departments, but also for cross-team communication about new product features or Userlike events.

These two software environments have their differences, but they ensure that communication remains in the right context and team members can use appropriate collaboration features.

Colleagues in an on-site meeting together
Unified communications simplifies team collaboration at the office and online.

So even though the trend is moving toward having a central communications platform, specialized software remains integral so that workflows actually become easier and better.

Checklist: Building a UC platform

What is the actual state?

  • Which tools are used for which communication channels?
  • Are the tool’s capabilities being used or do functions overlap?
  • Are there differences at each of your office locations?
  • How satisfied are your employees with the current system? Which communication channels are rarely used and why?
  • What are your wishes and suggestions for improvement?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of your current system and how cost-efficient is it?

What does the target state look like?

  • Why does the UC project make sense, what do you want to achieve with it (e.g., more fluid processes, faster decisions, shorter time-to-market, cost reduction, better work-life balance, better eco-balance)?
  • What measurable KPIs can you define (e.g., reduce email volume, fewer physical meetings, higher meeting satisfaction)?

Which solution reaches the target state?

  • Should new UC software be added or should existing UC software be better connected or used?
  • If new UC software: Should a large UC solution be implemented or several UC specialists with functional depth?
  • Are the chosen solutions appropriate according to important factors (e.g. technical feasibility, costs, covers all desired functions and roles, data protection)?
  • Is it possible to test the software to get answers to these crucial questions?

Who is involved in the project?

  • Which management member(s) are responsible for the project?
  • Which employees from the different departments are involved to represent the user’s perspective?

Unified messaging for customer communications

Our solution can either be integrated into your existing infrastructure or be part of your new unified communications strategy. Userlike provides an inbox for all major messaging channels (live chat, WhatsApp, Facebook and more) without any complex implementation.

Our Unified Messaging solution has sales and service features that make it easier for you to generate leads and stay in touch with customers long term. With over 10 years of experience in customer messaging, Userlike is one of the most advanced UM solutions on the market.

With our website messenger, you can flexibly switch between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Continue conversations with your leads on your website at their convenience, giving them a reason to visit your site again and again.

To relieve any last doubts, you can give prospects a tour of your product via screen sharing or seamlessly switch from chat to a video call.

As a German WhatsApp Business Solution partner, Userlike lets you integrate the popular messaging app into your customer communication and remain GDPR-compliant.

Userlike chat widget on Toyota's website
Toyota uses Userlike’s website messenger to assist leads via chat and WhatsApp.

But don't just take our word for it. Test Userlike free for 14 days — no credit card needed. After the trial ends, your account will automatically switch to the Free plan and you can continue to use our core features.

Do you have questions about using Userlike as part of your unified messaging strategy? Feel free to contact our service team via the chat on our website or WhatsApp!