Google Apps has evolved from a pale imitation of Microsoft Office with innovative collaboration capabilities to a serious productivity suite competitor that many businesses have come to prefer over traditional on-premises software.
Google Apps includes communications tools (Calendar, Gmail, Hangouts, and Google+); storage (Drive); collaboration tools (Docs, Forms, Sheets, Slides, and Sites); and management tools (Admin and Vault). It's used by more than 5 million businesses and at least 40 million individual users worldwide.
But just because Google Apps resides far away in the cloud doesn't mean it needs to remain disconnected from enterprise infrastructure. Google Apps plays nicely with unified communications systems, which can extend the utility of Google's software and add value to tools provided by communications vendors.
Unified communications (UC) is a term for the integration of a diverse set of communications services, real-time and stored, such as email, telephony, presence tracking, videoconferencing, instant messaging, and call routing. UC vendors include Avaya, Cisco, HP, Microsoft, and ShoreTel, to name a few.
Mohammad Nezarati, CEO of Esna, a UC integration firm, said in a phone interview that UC allows people to communicate and collaborate more effectively, but it works best when embedded in the applications people regularly use.
That's where Esna comes in. Its Officelinx software can connect computers and mobile devices from Apple, BlackBerry, Google, and Microsoft to phone and video system hardware, as well as SIP- or TDM-based PBX systems. As a result, information from one system, like voicemail messages, can be made available in another system, like Gmail.
[Are you sharing data safely? See Cloud Apps & Security: When Sharing Matters.]
"As a software developer, our goal is to make UC disappear inside the apps," said Nezarati.
This disappearing act allows all sorts of interesting possibilities, which will be discussed at Interop New York on Oct. 2 in a session titled Integrating Google Apps With UC. Some of the opportunities include:
1. One inbox to rule them all
Just in case your inbox isn't crowded enough, Google Apps/UC integration allows you to manage voicemail messages and faxes (a primitive form of electronic communication that's apparently still used in some places) through your Gmail inbox.
2. Different environments
Nezarati described how enterprise chat software like Cisco Jabber can be linked to Google Hangouts and allow conversations to be escalated from instant messaging to Hangouts videoconferencing. The same can be done with voice messaging, he said, so that the recipient of a voicemail message can return the call directly or respond via Hangouts.
3. Just the fax
Not only can you receive faxes via Gmail with the appropriate UC integration, but you can also send them. If you're lucky, that will deter some unnecessary printing.
Presence information from a PBX and availability information on Google Calendar can be piped into Google Talk, within Gmail, to let colleagues know when you're available.
5. Click to dial
See a phone number in Google Apps or in your Chrome browser? Just click it to initiate a call on your mobile phone, your desk-based phone, or your designated communications application.
6. Awareness of place and date
Your phone number no longer needs to be tied to a specific device. Calls to your number can be routed to a phone at your location or directed to a specific device based on your calendar commitments. Calls can also be directed to voicemail if your schedule puts you in a meeting.
7. Speech control
Too lazy to click? Tell your phone to read your Gmail messages. You can even navigate through your calendar, contacts, and Gmail using only your voice.
You can listen to voicemail messages converted to MP3 files in Gmail. Or you can read the transcript, rendered through speech-to-text conversion. Never fear phone messages from long-winded colleagues again.
9. Book 'em
Nezarati said many enterprise customers use WebEx as a collaboration tool. With a connection to Google Apps, users can book and schedule WebEx sessions. They can also manage Cisco telepresence rooms from Calendar.
Nezarati said Google is changing the way people think about collaboration. "The biggest challenge is not whether people use this technology, but whether they understand it."
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