According to a recent analyst report by Gartner, businesses continue to distinguish between the various unified communication and collaboration (UCC) components such as voice, video conferencing, instant messaging (IM), presence, applications, clients, social networks and collaboration tools, writes Dean Young, head of telecommunication pre-sales at T-Systems in South Africa.

However, says the analyst firm, this approach will soon become a thing of the past.
“They can no longer work this way, as UCC represents a fusion of different communications cultures and work styles. Distinctions between the components that make up unified communications will no longer exist by 2013,” says Gartner.
Considering the above, it is clear that organisations’ approach to UCC should be a cohesive one and should endeavour to reach this state of mutually inclusive processes and operations.
However, companies will have to make a number of hard decisions to future-proof their investments, and importantly, get the most from these advanced, integrated communications and collaboration technologies.
Assess and re-assess
A very pertinent start-off point is to evaluate whether the business is going to take a UCC strategy in-house or hand it over to the specialists?
In-house often requires significant IT and TC resources to, firstly, integrate the communications and collaborations applications, and secondly, to make existing and new applications work together.
Furthermore, the in-house teams must also continuously monitor performance and research and invest in tools that do address configuration, application performance, asset and change management, and event correlation challenges.
It becomes a downright daunting task to keep up with the ever-changing nature of communication and collaboration technologies and to ensure these functions continuously provide tangible, daily operational and processes that benefit companies and their employees.
Also, if users drill right down to it, it is not a cheap exercise. The capital outlay is significant and by no means once off.
Hosted – a smoother road
The above sets a firm case for going the hosted UCC route, which enables an organisation to harness the benefits that come with integrating voice, messaging, IM, and other social networking and collaboration tools.
Hosted UCC providers make it their business to stay one step ahead of the trend while working continuously to develop systems and backbones that work cohesively with integrated communication and collaboration environments.
Moreover, UCC is increasingly moving over to cloud computing, which overcomes a myriad of deployment issues, particularly for those organisations that have various offices across the country and internationally.
Accessibility and the provision of services remain constant irrespective of a businesses’ physical location.
Looking at it practically, when opening up a new office or deploying applications, the onus lies with the service provider to ensure that the necessary infrastructure and management systems are firmly in place.
Some further key benefits of hosted UCC include:
* Organisations can take advantage of redundancy, backup and disaster recovery features that are costly to maintain on in-house premises.
* The service provider handles all system updates and enhancements.
* Hosted applications are developed to scale well, by design. Furthermore, they are globally accessible because they are cloud-based.
The cloud?
Looking more closely at cloud computing within the UCC realm, it is important to understand that it effectively represents the harmonisation of software as a service (SaaS) and virtualisation in a broader, more flexible model.
Hosted cloud computing provides a way for enterprises to structure their data centres to efficiently use server, storage, and network resources. Cloud computing can extend virtualisation across a WAN to build a single virtual cloud data centre.
Also, as a cloud data centre can include the servers and storage of multiple physical data centres, it provides a larger pool of resources for applications to share than would be provided by simple server virtualisation therefore optimising expenditure.
All the above enhance UCC efforts as it provides a flexible, standardised platform from which to integrate and deploy the various components of communication and collaboration.
Indeed, a hosted UCC offering based in the cloud is product agnostic which in turn means that organisations are genuinely getting the best available without the usual headaches of literally grudgingly opting for what companies can afford, or alternatively following the hype with no returns to show for it.
There is a lot to be said for hosted UCC; however, it ultimately boils down to making the most of those daily – all-important – communication and collaboration tools that have become such an important part of users' daily lives, and the way they do business.
A hosted UCC partner can provide all of the above and more.