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28 Sep 2015

Why unified communications is gaining traction in South Africa

Unified communications delivers more than video conferencing ever promised

Unified communications adoption is gaining traction in South Africa and there are a number of reasons why

• More broadband deployments (such as fibre and LTE)
• The ability to extend communications beyond specific rooms due to:
• Better video compression technologies that maximise available bandwidth
• The ability to share, view and edit documents on mobile devices
• IP technologies that locate people based not on a fixed telephone number but rather a device’s connectivity
• The demand for more rapid business, specifically in the supply chain, customer service, and product development and rollout

The real value of unified communications lies in getting the right people together, no matter where they are or what device they have with them, being able to share information, be it spoken, written, or drawn, and reach meaningful, cost effective and rapid business conclusions as a result of communicating.

Many may be forgiven for thinking that unified communications is nothing new. We’ve had video conferencing in the past. We’ve also had electronic whiteboards for some time. We’ve had mobile phones, e-mail, PowerPoint, spreadsheets, paper documents, faxes, photographs, invoices and many other types of business documents. Besides the fact that many of those were quite a pain to use in their early permutations, they were never linked.

Out With the Old, In With the New

In the old days you could set up video conferencing if you had a private army of engineers and an ISDN line. It wasn’t great but it worked. Sort of. The way you would share documents was to either hold them up to the camera or have someone e-mail them separately to a specific recipient on the far side. If you had an electronic whiteboard in the room you could draw on it, hold the camera to the screen to show the other party your image or, if you were lucky, again e-mail an attachment. Business documents could be faxed from a machine in one room to another machine in the other. It worked, kind of, but it was clunky, slow, unreliable – not great. And if one of the intended participants had to suddenly board a plane to help a customer in another town – boom, they were gone.

Today the scenario is quite different. People can be en-route to the airport or even on the plane and still join the session. They can share documents from their mobile devices, they can collaboratively edit documents on electronic whiteboards. Some people can join from a portable video conferencing unit set up in a boardroom or they could use their mobile phone, tablet, or camera built in to their laptop.

It Just Works

Video conferencing in the past was just that. People would see each other on screens no matter where they were. But it suffered many problems. It was difficult to set up. It was difficult to connect. Poor bandwidth resulted in jittery video and there was little point to it beyond being able to see some of the body language of meeting attendees.

Video is useful because people can see one another, which is important for gauging body language and understanding complex descriptions. There are none of the misunderstandings typical of written electronic or voice only communications.

And the opportunity to extend that beyond dedicated video conferencing boardrooms, while collaborating on and sharing business documents of any nature, cost-effectively, quickly and accurately – that’s the bonus we have today. And it shouldn’t matter what hardware is used in one setup – the software should make it all work together with a simple app installation on a phone or tablet.

App Mentality Kicks It Up a Gear

In fact, as I mentioned earlier, it’s the ease of use that comes from the app mentality that’s made this possible, along with the video compression, broadband availability, and powerful mobile devices. And because of the ubiquity of mobile and apps most people probably won’t notice as unified communications sneaks into their offices. For those who do and embrace the power it brings to the modern workforce however – expect more of the great benefits that more business are using to make agility, flexibility and efficiency part of their operations.

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