Keeping people in touch efficiently
What is collaboration?
At its best, unified communications (UC) is just what it says — it enables
better interaction between people by integrating what were separate
types of communication into a single, combined user experience.
It means email, text, and voice messaging work seamlessly with live voice,
audio- and video-conferencing, and Web collaboration, in one interface,
with ‘presence’ notification to indicate your availability to participate.
People are familiar with the concept of VOIP (Voice Over Internet
Protocol) telephony because of applications such as Skype, which facilitate
low-cost or free voice calls through the Internet. Collaboration has
expanded this idea to incorporate other types of communication as well.
Collaboration differs from standard telecoms systems because it uses
server-based technologies, and digital IP networks (the same type
of network that routes Internet traffic). And unlike the old analogue
telephone systems, it sends voice information over the network as digital
packets, much the same way as an e-mail.
By integrating telephony and data on the same network, it can give
enterprises the ability to combine and use voice, data and video
information in their common business applications, saving and
forwarding whole instant message streams, e-mails, voice phone calls or
videoconferencing sessions as chunks of data.
And being data, Enterprise grade Collaboration software can encrypt the
information being sent across the network, greatly enhancing security.
Collaboration also means an employee can use a single phone number
or handset and a unified inbox for all their communications, making life
What are the benefits?
Collaboration is designed to help workers do their jobs better by
allowing them to work anywhere and cutting down on the time that can
be wasted trying to contact or be contacted by other people. In short,
one of the biggest paybacks for a business adopting a Collaboration
solution is increased efficiency and productivity.
Combined with a move to Cloud computing and a Mobility strategy
to manage company communications, Collaboration turbo-charges a
worker’s ability to perform regardless of where they are.
To start with, it offers advanced telephony functions. These include short-
number dialing, which eliminates the use of area codes, and is particularly
helpful with businesses that are located across geographical areas.
Collaboration also offers advanced call-forwarding to different types
of devices, and incoming calls can search for an idle extension in a
It can also ring multiple devices at once — desk phone, desktop, and
mobile — regardless of their location. The aim of this is to help the caller
get through to the right person at the right time.
Phone users can also benefit from having a single number for all of their
phone devices; and companies can keep the same geographic number
across properties and mobile phones.
For someone using Collaboration, they can start a phone call from their
desk phone, and continue the call seamlessly on the mobile as they walk
away from the desk and out of the office.
A single voicemail with a unified voicemail box is another feature of
Collaboration, and this works for multiple communication devices, such
as a desk phone, home phone, mobile phone, or VoIP (Voice over IP)
phone, connected to a computer.
Pulling together voice or video conference calls becomes a simple matter
too, with the benefits of ‘presence’ technology. Presence technology
allows colleagues to quickly see the availability of, and best way to
contact, an individual.
Presence can indicate whether the recipient is available on their mobile,
home phone, desk phone, and so on; and whether they are in a meeting,
working from home, or driving between meetings.
Are there any cost savings?
The short answer is yes.
Being based on a digital network, Collaboration can offer cheaper calls
than traditional telephone systems. With voice and video being carried as
data over the public network, there is scope for businesses to lower their
Another attraction for businesses is that Collaboration systems can
simplify billing and administration, and potentially lower the overall costs
of conferencing by combining disparate services through one vendor.
Collaboration can give a business predictable bills, so you know roughly
what its monthly spend will be. Companies with many locations often
have trouble getting a handle on expenses when each office manages its
own phone system, Web meeting software, fax service, and even contact
centres. With Collaboration, you get one bill.
There are several major players providing Collaboration systems, but
Microsoft has gained ascendency because of the widespread use of
Windows and Office apps in business, its integration with Lync software
and its association with Skype.
Lync, which comes bundled with Office 365 business subscriptions, is
Microsoft’s server platform for unified communications. In a former life
it was called Office Communications Server. Lync ties real-time presence
information with instant messaging, video conferencing, and voice
communication, and it integrates with Exchange email and Microsoft
The features that Microsoft Lync brings to organisations of all sizes can
translate quickly into business benefits. Lync drives savings in hardware,
software and support costs, and provides a familiar and consistent
interface across a wide variety of devices.
With the release of Lync 2013, Microsoft also introduced the Web
version of Lync which allows users to use the program from their
browser. Users can join a Lync meeting from Windows or Mac OS X
using a Web browser, and still have access to all of the features of Lync,
including HD video, VoIP, instant messaging, and desktop sharing.
Microsoft has developed Lync Mobile apps for Windows Phone, iOS
and Android, so Lync communications are available almost universally.
The Lync Mobile apps allow users to instant message, call, or join a Lync
meeting from virtually anywhere.
The cross-platform approach is a trend with Microsoft, and it’s an
important one. Microsoft would obviously prefer that everyone choose
Windows Phone, but the reality is that Windows Phone has relatively
little market share, while the vast majority of smartphones and tablets
use iOS or Android.
You will run into plenty of customers who don’t use Lync. Skype, on the
other hand, is a popular and free communications tool — and Microsoft
owns that as well. Lync has always provided the option to integrate and
communicate with Windows Live Messenger, but Microsoft is phasing
that platform out and driving users over to Skype instead.
For some businesses, Skype alone may be enough to serve their
needs, but organisations that want more robust, comprehensive
communication tools should take a look at what Lync 2013 has to offer.
Lync 2013 extends communications to Skype with presence, instant
messaging, and voice capabilities.
Lync in Office 365
Businesses small and large can take advantage of Lync 2013 as a
function of Microsoft’s Cloud computing package, Office 365.
The Office 365 element is arguably the most compelling aspect of
Lync 2013. There are other video-conferencing solutions but they can
be costly and only provide the video-conferencing piece.
Office 365 makes sense for most business customers, and the addition
of Lync, Exchange, and SharePoint make it even greater value.
An industry example
Bridgestone Australia is a subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation, the
largest tyre manufacturer in the world.
The company is a major supplier to the Australian automotive industry,
providing an extensive range of quality tyres, carefully developed to
suit local conditions. The company has more than 1,500 employees
across Australia and New Zealand.
Bridgestone has a very widespread workforce with 40 company-
owned sites in Australia and about 90 locations in New Zealand. Teams
also generally have members from more than one location. With a
distributed workforce, employees were not always sure about the
location of staff members.
Most Bridgestone staff members require reliable mobile connectivity,
particularly executives who travel overseas and sales staff who
travel across the country. Sometimes salespeople make trips up to
seven hours to support franchisees in remote locations. Bridgestone
operates a few call centres in Australia and New Zealand that have
special communications needs. Most employees at Bridgestone used
the phone and email to communicate, and occasionally they used
“Our core communicatio