Unified Communications     

Unified Communications is the bringing together of forms of communication that have traditionally been separate: typically Phone Calls, Email, Instant Messaging, SMS, Voice Mail and Fax. The goal of Unified Communications is to bring these together on a single device, within a single software system.

Unified Communications (also called Unified Messaging) has been around for a while as a concept. The potential benefits are compelling: a single contact list instead of disparate lists spread over different devices; a single archive of all communications; improved ability to reach the person you need without having to switch devices; and many more. So it’s easy to see why people have been discussing the possibilities of Unified Communications for a number of years.

However, despite the potential benefits, genuine Unified Communications is only now starting to become practical. Unified Messaging was much hyped in the late 1990s, early 2000s, but the technology required to make it usable had not reached sufficient maturity. For example, it was possible to make phone calls from a PC over the internet, but reliability and call quality were not sufficient to generate widespread adoption. Any attempt at a Unified Communications system suffered from this lack of reliability in one aspect or another of the component communication types.

This picture has now changed. Technologies such as Skype, with much higher reliability and quality, have encouraged widespread adoption of PC-based voice and phone calls.

We developed Skylook to provide Unified Communications by combining existing, mature and proven communications products for Windows-based PCs. Microsoft Office Outlook is a clear market leader in Email, Calendaring and Contact Management. Skype is a clear leader in PC-based Voice Calls, Phone Calls and Voice Mail. Skype also provides a global SMS service (outgoing only). We hoped that by combining these in the right way we would give people a true Unified Communications solution.

One of our design goals for Skylook was to take Outlook’s very mature organizational capabilities and apply them to Voice and IM. For example, one of the most common activities, one that people perform every working day, is inbox management. It’s very likely that you do something like this each day: You check your inbox for email messages. Some of these require some sort of action from you – anything from a quick reply to a one-hour task, to a whole new project. The quick replies you probably do on the spot, then move on.

For a more time-consuming task you may decide to defer until later. How you do this will depend on personal preference as Outlook offers a number of alternatives. You may mark it as “Unread” so it shows in a bold font when you scroll back through your inbox. You may move it to a folder that you have set up to contain your outstanding tasks. You may move it to the Outlook “Tasks” folder. You may flag it with a coloured flag. You may set a reminder on it. Outlook’s rich and mature feature set gives you a variety of options for task and inbox management.

The first important fact about the inbox is that it is the one place that everyone looks. People don’t generally want to bombarded with new information from various places, and they don’t want to have to go looking in different places to see if they have messages. So of prime importance for a Unified Communications system is to channel incoming messages through the inbox. Skylook does this by putting incoming Skype Voice Mail messages in the Outlook inbox. It also does this by putting unanswered Skype Instant Messages in the inbox.

The second important fact about the inbox is the way in which people use it to remember and manage outstanding tasks. It’s awkward and inefficient for people to have to use a different means to organize tasks based on whether those tasks arose from email or somewhere else. By putting Voice Mail messages and unanswered Instant Messages in the inbox, Skylook allows people to use the same workflow regardless of how the task originated.

The inbox is an important part of Unified Communications, and Skylook leverages Outlook’s mature inbox capabilities so that they can be used for Voice and Instant Messaging.

Another important aspect of Unified Communications is the keeping of records about what communication took place, and when. This is particularly true for businesses. Systems for doing this with Email have been mature for a long time. Smart business people keep all old emails and often refer back to them to check events that occurred in the past, sometimes years ago. A Unified Communications system needs to apply the same capabilities to other forms of communication.

Outlook provides a rich feature set devoted to the storage, archiving and retrieval of Emails. This feature set has been honed through many years of experience and hundreds of millions of users every day. Skylook leverages this feature set so that it can be used for Phone Calls as well as Emails. Skylook can record all calls made via Skype to normal phones or to other Skype users. These are stored just like Emails, as items in an Outlook folder, complete with the contact details of the parties to the call, the date and time of the call, and notes pertaining to the call. The call audio is stored as an MP3 attachment to the Outlook item. What this means is that people can use the existing mature Outlook feature set to keep complete records of all Phone Calls made, including the ability to archive older conversations etc.

So Conversation Storage and Inbox Management are important components of any Unified Communications system. However these aspects are only scratching the surface of what Unified Communications can offer.

Other Outlook capabilities that Skylook brings to Voice Communications, IM and SMS are:

  • Find Calls and Instant Messages
  • Sort Calls by Contact, Conversation Date and other attributes
  • Organization of Recorded Calls into Outlook Folders
  • Set Categories on Calls and Instant Messages
  • Flag Calls and Instant Messages
  • Get Reminders related to previously held Calls and previously received Voice Messages
  • Contact Management
  • Journaling of Calls, Instant Messages and Voice Messages
  • Archiving of Calls, Instant Messages and Voice Messages

Skype capabilities that Skylook brings into Outlook are:

  • Presence (synchronized with Outlook contact details)
  • Call Outlook contacts on their normal phone or on Skype
  • Send Instant Messages to Outlook contacts
  • Reply to email with a call or IM, and vice-versa

Of course, Skylook doesn’t provide everything that a Unified Communications solution could provide. For instance there is no Fax capability, and no incoming SMS capability.

Does Skylook provide a useful, valuable Unified Communications system? Only you can be the judge of that. You can decide for yourself, free of charge, by downloading a 14 day fully functional free trial by clicking here. If you have any questions, please contact us: skylook@skylook.biz.