It is now official, on August 4, 2014, Gartner updated its magic quadrant on unified communications (UC).
Last year when Microsoft fell just behind Cisco in the top right box, I predicted that the Lync 2013 Server that we run our office on was going to add more capability with tools and devices, as Microsoft worked to extend the platform through its partner ecosystem.
Microsoft partners have trained up to support the platform, while others in the application and device development areas have created better tools and attachments for the platform.
Microsoft has always allowed partners to extend the capabilities of its tools and Lync is no exception. This extension of capability has earned Microsoft the top spot, with equivalent ability to execute with Cisco, but now with a better completeness of vision. This tells us the product is ready to go with a good set of tools for industry to use.
Lync offers businesses the ability to replace the PABX with a computer-based solution connected to a SIP gateway to access high-quality, low-cost calls globally via the data networks. It also gives us extra features such as:
- HD video calls
- Presence to see when the call recipient is available
- Federation to connect with other networks and share address books
- Integration with our calendars
- Video broadcast for webinars
- Shared applications or desktops
- Shared Whiteboard
- Roundtable cameras and AV room support
- Call management and routing
- Add-on tools for call centre management and reporting
All the features and functions we would expect of a complex enterprise phone system can now be built into the platform.
There are also now single box solutions entering the market place and this is where UC is like the fax machine.
Back when I started working, only very big companies could afford a fax machine as they were very expensive to purchase and maintain. Sending faxes overseas was expensive due to the time on the phone required to send a slow fax.
Over time, the speed data was sent at got faster, the cost of the devices became more affordable and the cost of the calls reduced. Now even the smallest of companies could afford a fax machine.
Then email became faster and cheaper and the fax machines became idle and then mostly removed or virtualised as an online service. UC is going the same way as the fax, as single box solutions are reducing the cost of implementing Lync, so smaller businesses can afford to put in the kind of systems that once were too expensive.
The advantages of UC over traditional telephony are many: better communication via face-to-face meetings without the need to travel; improved ability for staff to work from home; less time spent calling empty desks within the office; faster collaboration via shared documents and applications; integration with calendar, so incoming calls can be blocked while you are in a meeting; and so many more features around management and reporting of calls.
If you use a phone system in your business but do not understand the advantages of a unified communications system, I recommend that before you invest in any kind of upgrade or replacement, you take the opportunity to do what Microsoft call a CIE, which is a hands-on experience with the technology to feel how it works.
Many good IT companies can facilitate these sessions for you. You will be sold to but you will also get the chance to educate yourself and make an informed decision. Often the reduction in call costs brought about by the SIP service can justify the cost of the project over a very short time frame, certainly the productivity gains will. This is the future and the product is now declared ready.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that is known for solving business problems with IT. How can we help?