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How Unified Communications Can Improve Your Business Strategy

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Unified Communications in Enterprises (photo by Victor1558)

More and more businesses are using advances in technology to further their reach and expand. A number of businesses are already familiar with Skype, and that tool has enabled businesses to contact clients and team members who may work from home at a seconds notice. Unified Communications have created a system that has all the benefits of Skype and incorporates other forms of communication too, making it the complete package.

What is Unified Communications?

Unification of communication systems can really give your business a competitive edge and enable you to keep all your forms of communication in one place, making it easy to maintain and man-manage on a day-to-day basis. It enables you to combine telephone and business data on one single network, and gives you the flexibility in your communication to combine and use voice, video and data in applications. You can also save and forward instant message streams, phone calls, faxes and emails, voicemail and video conference sessions as data files. This way, nobody is left out of the loop.

The data is encrypted to ensure that it cannot be obtained and fall into the wrong hands, giving you complete security when passing data across your network. If there is sensitive or important information being sent across, you can rest assured that it will stay in the appropriate circles, regardless of whether it is sent in the form of an email, voice call or video.

How Can Unified Communications Improve My Business Strategy?

The name of the game here is ease of use and a lack of complication. When you have ten plates spinning, there’s a good chance that any could become neglected and fall. Unified Communications allows you to keep everything in order and in one place, meaning that one person can take care of everything if need be, and without any confusion or frustration. The team member can use a single phone number or handset and a unified inbox for all the available communications too. An easier life for your team is the ultimately goal for everybody, and this system provides it.

Cost Saving

Every business strategy needs a budget in place, and every business needs to know what costs are going to be made and saved by the strategy they put into place. Unified Communications save businesses a great deal of money by having all of your communications related outgoings being billed as one item. This makes it a great deal easier for businesses to set a budget and fill out a profit-and-loss. If a business can budget easier, it makes it a lot less difficult to plan ahead.

The systems are pretty inexpensive too, meaning that more small businesses are turning to Unified Communications so that they can save on a variety of systems they would have to set up individually and just focus on the one system that unifies everything, from voice, to email, fax and SMS.

Time is a valuable commodity when putting together a business strategy, and with a unified communication system in place, you can save time and money on training team members on how to use a variety of systems. Once you have a team member trained to a high standard on a unified system, you would have covered all channels of communication, which in turn will help keep your customer service to a high standard and improve efficiency.

Improving Customer Service

Every business strategy has to include ensuring that the customers are taken care of and that their issues and queries are dealt with quickly and effectively. A number of customers will make their complaints heard via social media, email, fax and by telephone contact, so it is essential that all businesses have a clear strategy for taking care of these customer service issues the moment they arise. With a unified communication system, a query or complaint will be noticed immediately, and can be actioned right away. It also takes away the possibility that a complaint or query could be missed by a team member, as it will be right in front of you on the system. With customers demanding a quick service, this form of communication system can see your customer satisfaction stats skyrocket. A quick response can be the difference between a happy customer and a dissatisfied one, after all.

The key points here are: Speed, efficiency and ease of use. There really is small room for error with a Unified Communication system. Your business strategy is designed to help the company move forward, improve and exceed what it was delivering before. Unified Communications could be the key ingredient to your business doing just that.

What is WebRTC? – Overview for Busy People

webrtc, logo, chat, bubble, shapes, colours, colorsNo other topic is roaming the news and social media as much as WebRTC these days. But what is WebRTC and what should it mean to you?

Today I would like to give you an overview around this trend and where it came from. In this article I would like to try out the “For Busy People” article format by consolidating all hot topics into quick facts to add value to you without getting side-tracked. I know you busy people are busy and so you can just skip the parts of the article that you are not interested in.

What does WebRTC stand for?

WebRTC means Web Real-Time Communication, so we are talking about ways to communicate without any delay, based on a web-browser, without the use of software that needs to be installed beforehand.

What is WebRTC?

WebRTC is an open framework for placing real-time communication components on web-pages and is controlled by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), who are also taking care of other web-standards such as HTML, XML, CSS and others. WebRTC components could include methods such as VoIP, Instant Messaging (or just “chat”), video conferencing or a combination of these. Personally I would count WebRTC to the umbrella of Unified Communications, but the actual use of the WebRTC solutions depend on each enterprise.

Where does WebRTC come from?

WebRTC technology was first developed by Global IP Solutions (or GIPS), a company founded around 1999 in Sweden. In 2011 GIPS was acquired by Google and the W3C started to work on a standard for WebRTC. Since then Google and other major players in the web-browser market, such as Mozilla and Opera, have been showing great support for WebRTC.

How does WebRTC work?

The framework is based on HTML5 and JavaScript but does not utilise SIP or H.323 like other Unified Communication solutions. The signalling and transfer of data works over RTP and with an XMPP extension called “Jingle”. With the newly introduced JavaScript Session Establishment Protocol (JSEP) direct connections can be established without the need of a piece of hardware in the middle. Depending on the deployment audio, video and / or other data can now be exchanged to allow WebRTC to happen in your browser.

And for our firewall traversal specialists: WebRTC can do STUN, ICE, TURN, RTP-over-TCP and supports proxies. What else do you wish for?

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How does WebRTC work? – Click for larger pop-up

What does WebRTC mean to me?

Imagine the impact of 1,000,000,000+ endpoints. Not bad! This is the potential amount of endpoints talking to each other and making VoIP calls or even video conferences. Even though Microsoft is strongly pushing Skype for desktop video conferencing, they are also making sure that their Internet Explorer is ready to take on the WebRTC challenge.

But the missing link right now is: Will there be interoperability between WebRTC and other Unified Communication solutions? I believe the first developers, making both worlds compatible to each other will have edge.

Examples for WebRTC?

The possibilities are impossible to count. Especially in the age of BYOD everyone has their smartphone always ready and beyond that every notebook and desktop PC could participate in WebRTC. Here are some examples I could think of:

  • Customer service via video conference (the end of the service hotline?)
  • Working together on documents via web (web-collaboration beyond firewalls)
  • Smart-TVs allow you do do video conferences without infrastructure or service running in the back (if there’s a browser – there’s a way!)
  • Not interested in video conferences? Have a video diary! (takes only cloud storage and WebRTC)
  • WebRTC might change the face of Social Media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter completely if implemented (why not quickly talk about it?)
  • Instead of displaying phone numbers to your common window-shopper, provide a QR-code or a NFC space, so users can reach directly to you with their smartphone or tablet (we got a camera, a mic, a speaker – so let’s use them!)

Is there a WebRTC presentation?

You are lucky! Google has recently released a web-based presentation with a lot of interesting slides. I have also added a video below, for your to get some more details on WebRTC, Let me know of your thoughts!


Web Real-time communication – Google I/O 2013 – by Justin Uberti

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2HzZkd2A40&w=575]

LifeSize Smart Video now on Desktop and Mobile Devices

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Connect several devices with LifeSize Smart Video (Image by LifeSize)

Earlier today LifeSize, a division of Logitech, has introduced a change in their Smart Video portfolio. Smart Video is designed to simplify the video collaboration experience and usability. After they introduced their first Smart Video hardware endpoint solution, the Icon series, earlier this year, they are now revamping ClearSea to be part of the UVC platform.

ClearSea is a former Mirial solution that found a new home after Mirial was acquired by LifeSize. In the old days it required hardware infrastructure to run the product on licence base. Now LifeSize has turned the desktop, smartphone and tablet video solution into a part of their UVC platform, resulting in the service to be virtualised. This is a great addition to the more and more virtualised unified communications solution portfolio directly out of Austin, Texas.

Features

  • Unlimited amount of user accounts
  • Invite guests
  • Connect up to 5 devices with a single account
  • All logged in devices will receive an incoming video conference call
  • Smooth live transfer of calls between logged in devices
  • Add participants to a call
  • Synchronised and customisable directory
  • Full SIP and H.323 support

The UVC ClearSea solution will be available from today, starting at 1,199 USD MSRP. For more information please consult the datasheet, visit the LifeSize blog or go directly to the UVC ClearSea product page for a free 30-day trial.

About LifeSize

LifeSize is a pioneer and world leader in high-definition video collaboration. Designed to make video conferencing truly universal, our full range of open standards-based systems offer enterprise-class, IT-friendly technologies that enable genuine human interaction over any distance. Founded in 2003 and acquired by Logitech in 2009, LifeSize, with its commitment to relentless innovation, continues to extend the highest-quality video conferencing capabilities to anyone, anywhere. For more information, visit http://www.lifesize.com.


UVC ClearSea in Action
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4Ib8nmmoj8]

All New Viber: Cross-Platform Monster for Consumers

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Viber Desktop with all new features (Image by Viber Media Inc.)

Some of you might know Viber already and that they are  now also providing a solution for Windows and Mac based workstations. For everyone else here is a quick introduction to Viber:

What is Viber?

Viber is a cross-platform VoIP solution for consumers developed by Viber Media Inc. It was first introduced to iOS in December 2010. Since then they have been increasing support for other smartphone platforms such as Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian and Samsung Bada. Their app does not cost anything but the initial registration requires a SMS to be send for validating your phone number.

What’s new?

On May 7, 2013 Viber released software clients for Windows and Mac. So you are able to install the application on your computer or notebook and register with your phone number to synchronise contacts. When you are logged in with both your smartphone and a desktop client at the same time you can move any active call to the other device.

Features

So what value does it add to your unified communications environment? Here are some of the new (and some old) features that might come in handy:

Positioning

The Viber solution is clearly positioned in the consumer market and gained wide popularity among users in that category. So far I have not come across enterprises utilising Viber as part of their unified communications strategy. If you are using Viber for professional purposes please feel invited to share your experiences in the comment section below.

Competition

As the Facebook Chat app is currently tested for possible VoIP features and beta tested, Viber seeks to increase their solution portfolio to maintain market share and this release seems to be the result of that. Other in-direct competitors of consumer-based unified communication tools are solutions such as WhatsApp for instant messaging and Skype for video conferencing.

Possible Business Usage

If you and your social network connections list their smartphone number along with the social profile, and install the apps of such on their smartphone they will see each other on Viber. Being completely synchronised  they will be able to communicate via VoIP, video conference or instant message beyond their enterprises unified communications abilities. This should serve for non-critical communication only though, as consumer solutions might not be sufficient to match your organisations IT security policies.


The Viber Desktop Introduction Video

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEqS5W-KfRw]

Microsoft Lync 2013 – New Feature Overview

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Main Window

Are you planning to upgrade your unified communications IM client? Following up on the article “What Is Microsoft Lync?” by Mark Stubbles we would like to introduce you today to all new features of Microsoft Lync 2013.

In comparison the Microsoft Office Communicator (also known as OCS) had the look and feel of Windows XP, the Lync 2010 update brought it up to speed with the Windows 7 design and finally Lync 2013 has the looks of the Windows 8 and Office 365 environment. But of course there is much more under the hood than just eye-candy. I listed below a few of the new features that were most interesting to me.

Overview of new features in Lync 2013

Visual Features:

The main window has been optimized to provide better access and a more intuitive using of the application. The new tabbed conversation feature gets rid of having several chat windows open at the same time – so you can keep track of all your conversations in a single place and just have to browse through them. Similar to the tabbed browsing of Google Chrome you are also able to move a certain chat out of the tabbed conversations and provide them with their own window and naturally you can move it back into the tabbed conversation window.

And for everyone who would like to display the images and fonts larger they can easily adjust the display setup in the configuration of the client. This is not only a help to users with sight challenges, but also can be useful for a deployment on wall-mounted displays.

Easier Deployment:

The main Lync 2013 client and the Online Meeting add-in is now included in the setup program of Office 2013 so deployment on the software side has been made significantly easier, especially for large enterprises with many thousands of workstations.

However because this part has changed Microsoft has also changed how the group policy is deployed. Instead of working on the communicator.adm file to define policies, certain ADMX and ADML admin templates are provided along with Office Policy Administrative Templates to work on. For more information on this particular topic I suggest reading the Microsoft article on “Group Policy Settings for Lync 2013“.

BYOD Enhancements:

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Calling a Smartphone

With Lync 2010 the App for smartphone, there was only support for presence and instant messaging while the new Lync 2013 App for smartphones and tablets also supports Voice calls and mobile video conferencing over WiFi and cellular data connection alike. Regardless of the fact that many desk phones can be connected with your Lync client, utilizing Lync on smartphones and Lync on PCs within your organisation your permanently replace the requirement of having a separate hardware phone on your desk and cutting costs for invest and maintenance by enforcing unified communications technology. For a more detailed overview of the features for mobile Lync I recommend the “Mobile Client Comparison Tables” page by Microsoft.

The users accessing from non-corporate workstations via browser also get some good news. The Lync 2013 Web App for web-based conferencing received support for voice and high definition video conferencing devices. Meeting participants can also show their screens for collaboration or presentation and re-assign the presenter role to others – They get the full Lync 2013 meeting experience without having the software client installed on the machine.

Functional Features:

The Lync 2013 client can handle virtual environment better. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) fully supports audio and video devices, like a headset and a webcam, to be connected to the client even though you might be using a virtual machine such as a thin client or a differently re-purposed workstation. For more details on how to deploy the Lync VDI plug-in please check the Microsoft TechNet article.

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Microsoft Lync 2013 – Chat Room Integration

Another interesting new feature is the chat room integration (also known as persistent chat rooms or topic feeds). In older versions you were already able to create group conversations for multiple users to chat or hold a presentation for instance. In the new Lync 2013 however these can be promoted to be permanent and will be also available for others to be joined, including all the content that was added and when. It might not be applicable to all services and organisations, but this feature might the need for static email lists and adds a new dynamic way of sharing information and making such available for all. If you don’t want it to be available for all users, there is also the option to limit the visibility to certain users or user groups.

Also newly implemented is a feature that lets Lync 2013 automatically assign you with “presenting” status, to block incoming communication unless the sender is in an approved group. If you are a two-screen users however this is not automatically done for you, if you use the secondary screen as presenting space.

You may have made experience with previous versions of the client that you would like to keep a certain conversation up for reference but you need to restart the machine. What happens? The information is gone. In the new Lync 2013 once you are back booted up, the conversation comes back along with the content of the conversation, you held before rebooting. I found this to be quite the time-saver in those moments.

Improvements of already deployed functions:

  • Outlook Meeting Scheduling updated
  • Native Video Conferencing enhanced
  • Web App and Mobile App now support voice and video conferencing
  • Contact and card view was improved
  • Meeting participation functions were heavily improved for better collaboration

Have you tried Lync 2013 out yet? Missed your favourite new feature? I would be delighted to hear your opinion. Drop us your comment below!

The Not So Obvious Advantages of Telepresence Versus Chatting

Telepresence? Why not just use instant message chat? Let me tell you why..

Telepresence of Unified Communications is one of the greatest invention for the business world. In today’s society, business is no longer limited to the 4 corners of the office. The most successful businessmen and businesswomen are always looking to branch out, and this involve doing business with other people from a different city, or even a different country. Obviously, telepresence is a great way to reach out to these people. Through telepresence, it is possible to have conversations and meetings with individuals far away. However, there are some telepresence sceptics who believe that whatever conferencing may accomplish, chatting can too. Not to be argumentative, but there are many advantages to telepresence that are not covered by chatting, although they may not be so obvious.

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  1. Telepresence awkward situations made by misinterpreted statements

    We’ve all been there- gotten into an argument with someone because a text or a statement sent on chat was misinterpreted. Because chatting is flat and does not involve the use of voices, certain statements can easily be taken to mean something else. For example, the statement “get to work now” may sound harsh or motivating, depending on the speaker’s intention. However, on chat, one may not be able to tell the difference. With telepresence, it is possible to avoid misinterpretations, as the tone of one’s voice already conveys so much.

  2. Telepresence may help with possible language barriers

    We mentioned earlier that many companies deal with other businesses from other places on a daily basis. Therefore, it is possible to hold business meetings with people who may not even speak the same language as you. In cases like these, it may be very possible to hit a language barrier, especially if the other party is not fluent in your language of vice versa. Obviously, once a language barrier occurs, chat becomes pretty much useless, as the person on the other end is not able to articulate the word he wants to use. However, with telepresence, it is possible to see the other person, so it may still be possible to figure out what the person is trying to say though his body language, sign language, or what have you.

  3. Telepresence makes it so much easier to gauge a person’s mood and overall demeanour

    Chat takes so much away because even if the person on the other end is pissed or frustrated, what he says will always look and sound the same. Telepresence certainly comes in handy especially when it is sensitive business matters that are being discussed. If you see and sense, based on how he looks, as well as his tone of voice, that the person on the other end isn’t feeling too happy or pleased, then you will know how to proceed accordingly.

Although chatting and telepresence set out with the same goal- to communicate with those far away, it becomes obvious that there are more benefits to one compared to the other. For better business communication, It may be a good idea to invest in telepresence for meeting rooms as well as desktop solutions and consult a service provider for all types of organisations.

What Is Microsoft Lync?

Still using Microsoft Office Communicator? Let me tell you in about Microsoft Lync.

Unless you have been living in a cave on a desert island you’ve probably noticed that Microsoft has been a great innovator in the IT field for more than 2 decades now. It is known for technology that has influenced all our lives. I think it is fair to say that today’s  world has been completely changed by the Windows operating system and other Microsoft innovations. The company is not stopping there though, they are now revolutionizing the world of mobile communication, the world is growing smaller each day with new technologies and advances in unified communications.

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What Is Microsoft Lync?

Microsoft Lync is one the latest innovations in the field of Instant Messaging / Presence and was introduced to the market on January 25, 2011. It facilitates a better, secure and faster way of communication. It has made remote conferencing a lot easier and cheaper.

They have created interface which makes these communications more realistic than ever before. There is a great demand for multi-mode communication simultaneously such as Video Conferencing, VoIP, Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing. Microsoft Lync is one of the prime platforms for this task.

Features of Microsoft Lync

  • It is the upgrade of Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2, released two years earlier
  • It can share contacts from Microsoft Outlook when stored in server – contacts can be also retrieved from a remote server with appropriate authentication
  • Users can see the documents on which other people are working on when they are all connected to the same server – it also facilitates a number of people working on same document simultaneously and sharing its content
  • It works on a number of platforms like mobile, computers and tablets making it more portable
  • It uses SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) during communication which helps in managing the client’s video and audio calls – users have the capabilities to schedule, control and create these calls
  • It provides secure communication using TLS and SRTP encryption
  • No VPN connection is required
  • It can be a platform for polling during board meetings or polling entire firms
  • Desktop Sharing makes it possible to unit all the systems connected to the Lync Server

Limitations

  • Lync does not have the facility to store history and if the history is required a secondary client has to be used (e.g. Microsoft Outlook)
  • Also a big limitation is that only 800 characters can be used in an initial session and 8000 additional characters in the same session
  • No spell check feature
  • No voice and video calls on smartphone and web-based client

Look forward to our review of Microsoft Lync 2013! And meanwhile, why don’t you drop us a comment with your experiences on either Microsoft Lync or your weapon of choice?