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David Allen: Welcome to the Learning Lab. I’m David Allen here with Daniel Routman, and on today’s Learning Lab we will be discussing unified communications. Now, we’ll be covering a lot of information today and that may bring up some questions. You may email those to email@example.com and we will answer as soon as possible. Now, Daniel, “unified communications.” This is a buzz word or term that’s been around for a few years.
Daniel Routman: Unified communications, or UC for short, is a growing movement that we’re seeing with businesses to integrate different communication platforms into a single element. So, you got email, phone, video conferencing, chat, voicemail, presence and document sharing that we want to wrap all into one product.
DA: Why are people doing this? Why are these platforms being created?
DR: It results in time saved. It’s easier to communicate with each other and always results in cost savings, and so it makes the business run more efficiently.
DA: Okay, so this is unified communications. Usually, we have all these different software platforms. Now, we’re trying to make them all one software platform. What’s one of the benefits of doing that?
DR: If you have one software platform that means that you just have one username and password. One login simplifies the process. It also means that you only have to memorize one username when you’re trying to reach someone. You no longer need to know all the different email addresses and phone numbers, so it really just quickens the process.
DA: That is very helpful. You mentioned a while ago one of your features of unified communications was presence, why don’t you describe what that means.
DR: By knowing the presence you can determine the best way to contact someone. If someone’s in a meeting, you can know not to call them. You might engage in a chat with them.
DA: And this will tell you whether they’re in a meeting or not?
DR: Right, so another benefit is that you don’t have to know what device to call because it’s all a single platform. If I try to reach someone with their username, they can reach me back on any of these devices.
DA: Well that’s obviously a benefit to be able to use any of these devices, so, obviously, we’re improving communication here?
DR: Exactly, so all this leads to quicker responses. When you try to reach me, I can respond in any way that I choose. You can call me and I can respond with a text or an email, and so you spend less time doing that “I try to reach you and you try to reach me back.”
DA: The old way was we call each other and leave each other voicemails for two or three times–kind of a phone tag sort of deal–whereas this way it’s a lot easier to communicate and reach your contact.
DR: Businesses are investing in this because it simplifies the process. You become more efficient and more productive, so that means getting business done quicker and spending less time wasted, which means less money wasted.
DA: I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there already using this, and, hopefully, by people watching this Learning Lab byte, they’ll understand that they can maybe even incorporate this into their business as well and become more productive.
DR: That’s right, and so not only does it help with internal communication, but also with your customers.
DA: A great point.
DR: When a customer tries to reach you, you have a faster response because you can respond using the method that you prefer.
DA: I also heard that you can set up specifically Skype for Business so that if you do get a phone call it will ring your cell phone, and maybe even your home phone if you want it that way, and your desk phone at the same time. So, especially for your customers, if they want to get in touch with you quickly, they can do so. It provides a better customer experience.
DR: That’s right, so when they try to reach you, and maybe you need to deploy service or you need to deploy products, that process gets quicker, so it results in better customer service.
DA: That’s fantastic, I’m sure a lot of people are using that to improve their efficiency. Well, this is fantastic, we’re seeing a lot of businesses use these unified communication platforms so they can be more productive and have more communication not only internally but also with their customers. So, what do we have to do with that as an AV company?
DR: Business isn’t just limited to point to point communication. You also need to be able to bring it into your conference room. I mentioned that web conferencing is a big part of UC, but how do you bring web conferencing into a conference room where, traditionally, you use a device like this? Straight out of the box this thing does not communicate with Skype for Business, so we need ways of integrating that. So, another way that we’ve seen people bring web conferencing into the conference room is just by bringing in their own device or using a room PC to start a web conference. You’ll pull this picture up onto the big display in the room via the projector, but the downside of that is that you’ve got poor quality audio and video—the camera and the microphone in the room.
DA: So, we have somebody with a laptop, maybe they’re sitting in a hotel room or something like that on a business trip, but they need to have a meeting with their team back at the office. How would those two people communicate with each other?
DR: Maybe back in the office, if they’re using a video conferencing codec, they could use some conference bridge services. This could be locally hosted or cloud hosted, where the codec calls into the bridge and then the members that are out in the field call in from their laptop and also call in to the bridge and they can communicate with one another.
DA: I think I’ve heard that called “virtual meeting room” kind of a scenario, where everybody’s calling into a virtual meeting room.
DR: Exactly, no matter what device you use, you can all meet in one virtual place and communicate with each other.
DA: Are there any other devices that can be used that integrate natively into these type of unified communication platforms?
DR: Yeah, so we’ve got some dedicated devices that you could use, like the Crestron RL, for example, that allows you to bring Skype for Business into the conference room.
DA: This is dedicated for a conference room, but it’s also native to Skype for Business?
DR: That’s right, now this allows you to use higher quality cameras that are at the front of the room (table microphones, etc.) and integrate it in professionally so you get good quality. Another solution that we also see that we’re excited about is the Microsoft Surface Hub. This is kind of a newer version of the Crestron RL. It’s an all-in-one solution that allows you to do Skype for Business meetings in smaller rooms because it’s a fixed device. So, not everyone uses Microsoft, some companies use Google apps as their platform, so for that google makes a product called the Chromebox for Meetings. It does a similar thing where you can use a webcam and a table microphone.
DA: And that can connect to either Chrome platform devices or into one of the virtual meeting rooms that we were talking about?
DR: That’s right. Now, I mentioned earlier that some people like to use laptops in the rooms to use web conferencing, so how do we accommodate the people that want to stick to using web-based conferencing? You know, software that they run on a computer. Well, for that we can use USB interfaces where we can tie in high quality cameras and microphones into this device and provide a single USB connection to the computer.
DA: So, they can bring their laptop into a conference room, there will be a USB cable there on the table, plug in, that connects them directly to the camera and the microphones in the room, and so you can have a full meeting with multiple people using the platform they have on there?
DR: That’s right, the benefit of doing it this way is that you’re not locked down to a single platform like Skype for Business, so you can use any software that’s loaded on that computer.
DA: It gives them that conference room experience without having to have a codec in the room in other words?
DA: That’s fantastic. Well, Daniel, you’ve given us a lot of great information today. Thank you very much for joining us on the Learning Lab. We’ve covered a considerable amount of information today, and you may email any questions that you have to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll answer as quickly as possible. This is all the time that we have today, and we hope to see you next time on The Learning Lab!