What’s Not to Like? Unified Communications is Big on Benefits and Small on Shortcomings, Yet Acceptance Remains an Issue Among Businesses
By: Lorrie Delk Walker
When it comes to unified communications, the only disadvantage seems to be not having it, and for unified communications providers, the key obstacle appears to be educating the public on why they should adopt it.
Unified communications – a systems-based approach to unifying telephony- integrates what had been many separate applications running on different hardware platforms on a single, more reliable and more easily serviced standards-based server. This eliminates having multiple equipment connections and interfaces and having to deal with multiple vendors to satisfy communications needs. With unified communications integration also comes more advanced applications that are designed to better fulfill users’ needs. Many applications integrate with user workstations to provide helpful “screen pops.”
It makes it simple for businesses to purchase a variety of applications from one company, says Gary Harbeck, president of Spydur Technologies in Hialeah, Florida, the world’s leading supplier of voice processing equipment, which represents 20 manufacturers as authorized distribution.
Unified communications is the convergence of many industries and applications into a single, common control, and it allows users to send messages on one medium and receive them on another medium. That means someone can get a voicemail message and access it through e-mail or their cell phone.
Creating a unified front with all of these systems began in earnest in 2004 after the industry standardized on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) as the standard for digital communications. Prior to 2004, every manufacturer had their own proprietary hardware architecture and proprietary digital protocols that they used. It was often impossible to make different systems work with one another.
Avaya’s purchase ofhas been a nightmare for users just for that reason, Harbeck says. even came up with a term to try to sooth the base. Knowing that and hardware, software and digital protocols are not compatible, coined the new communications term “meld” because integration is not an option. In reality, they are pressuring the base to adopt new products in Nortel’s place.
“Today when someone says VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or digital voice communications, what they are really saying is SIP, because virtually all the current products are running SIP,” Harbeck says. “Because of standards, today it is just as easy to purchase a digital telephone for your business as it is to purchase an analog telephone you would use in your home. It doesn’t matter which manufacturer you purchase from. They’ll all work as long as they are standard.”
Prior to unified communications, each communications company offered specific services. Businesses bought a phone system from a PBX company. They purchased a voicemail system from a voice processing company, a call accounting system from a call accounting company, and so on. Other companies specialized in applications such as Speech Recognition (ASR), or Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), Call Logging, Property Management Systems for hospitality, Appointment Reminder Systems, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Message On Hold, and 40 or more additional applications. The whole communications industry was made up of different applications-oriented companies. But that has changed.
“As technology advanced, people started to build applications into a single, common control,” Harbeck says. “All of these applications industries began converging. The data side was mixing with the voice side and there was a need for easier administration and less equipment to maintain.”
Spydur Technologies was a voice mail company when it began in 1986. Today the company offers a variety of applications, including Traditional and VOIP Systems, Unified Messaging, fully integrated Hospitality Systems, integration with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server, Conference Bridges and Video Conferencing and Video Mail, Cell Phone integration, CRM, Predictive Dialing, and much more.
“We have a number of products unique to Spydur Technologies, says Harbeck. We offer a SpydurBCM which is interchangeable with legacyMeridian, BCM and CS 1000 Series switching systems and runs Nortel’s proprietary Unistim protocol and uses telephones. We can provide investment protection to the User base and to the interconnect companies that service them. We even suggested that Avaya’s M&A contact us because we can integrate where they cannot. It would be a win-win all the way around.”
Harbeck says, Spydur Technologies also offers the SpydurUCS, which is designed to replace Cisco’s proprietary common control with an industry standardPowerEdge Server capable of running Cisco’s proprietary SCCP protocol. The SpydurUCS uses Cisco’s industry leading routers, switches and telephones and eliminates the negatives. The complaints users have with are that Cisco’s common control is proprietary and very expensive, is expensive to license, expensive to maintain and difficult to service, requiring specialized technicians. Additionally, does not include much in the way of unified communications, in that everything is offered on separate third party servers.
“We like to think of ourselves as thedealer’s best friend, because we eliminate the negatives, which allows them to sell more products,” Harbeck says.
And Spydur Technologies isn’t alone. Many communications companies have branched out to offer similar services to business clients.
The benefits abound. These Unified Communications systems can easily be administered over the Web from anywhere in the world.
It’s also cost-effective for businesses receiving the service, as well as the companies providing it.
“Because we administer the services over the Web, we don’t require fleets of vehicles to go on service calls,” Harbeck says. “There virtually is nothing to break because the applications are software driven and fully integrated and they are running on a common reliable Intel server.”
Unified communications also increase convenience for businesses in need of the services. To use the hospitality industry as an example, unified communications means that a hotel now can have just one server instead of having to go out and purchase a property management system, a call wake-up system, a voice mail system, etc.
Because it is one system, it costs much less, he says, and now there is only one vendor to deal with.
“In the old days, there was a lot of hardware that could fail, and hardware and software systems were not as robust as today’s unified communications systems,” Harbeck says.
Today, you could lose a drive and the system will simply convert to operate on another one.
In the early days of VOIP where everyone was using different protocols and the Internet itself was not as reliable as it is today, call quality was an issue. Today with broadband services being so prevalent and reliable, the voice quality issue has swung to where analog calls may be considered inferior.
To confirm this, in February of this year, AT&T asked the FCC to allow it to stop offering analog services.
As you can see, before you get past Monthly System Cost and Incoming Lines Costs, the new unified communications system equipped with digital lines is already saving the customer in this example $48 per month, and that has nothing to do with the improved management controls and efficiency that the new system will bring.
Unified communications can have a positive affect on each of these components. So why is it still a challenge sometimes to get businesses to make the switch?
“People don’t understand how they can replace what they already own, pay for something new and it’s free,” Harbeck says. “They think there must be a catch. The biggest problem the industry faces is customer education. New systems are free more than 50 percent of the time.”
But Harbeck is confident that as more businesses learn about these more cost-effective options, small businesses in particular will make the switch because they stand to save the most money.
For more information about unified communications and Spydur Technologies product offerings, email email@example.com or call them at (800) 896-8187.