by Larry Besterman | May 01, 2015

Associations come in all shapes and sizes, with varying missions and purposes, but a single focus connects them all: finding ways to serve their member base better. Most associations have members that are spread throughout the country (or world) with “day jobs” that take up most of their time and limit their ability to engage with the association directly. Often, face-to-face interactions happen just once a year at the annual meeting.

Confronted with such a limited number of personal group gatherings, associations are constantly looking for ways to stay connected with their constituents. New technologies have been promoted as a way to improve this situation, but adding tools can add complexity, and they don’t always improve matters. Challenged by the management of disparate solutions and resources, however, associations can turn to unified communications—referred to as UC—to help solve these problems.

What is UC? UC integrates voice, video, email, mobile, file-sharing, telepresence, chat and other technologies by putting them all in one place, eliminating the need for multiple infrastructures and applications. Consider the smartphone as an analogy. Remember when you had a separate camera for taking pictures, a cell phone for making calls and a computer for surfing the web? For smartphone users, these applications are now all available within one device. UC works in the same way: Communications technologies are all in one place and provide the user accessibility from anywhere, on any Internet-connected device.

What’s the most cost-effective way to take advantage of UC? Unified communications presents significant benefits but it can also be costly. That’s where Unified Communications as a Service—or UCaaS—comes in; UCaaS offers UC services that are housed, maintained and managed by a service provider. Because a UCaaS provider offers access to these services as fixed-price, user-based subscriptions, it can be the more cost-efficient UC option for small to mid-sized associations, especially for those with fluctuating needs or budgets.

How can a UCaaS solution help associations? Many associations have embraced telework, an arrangement that is flexible for employees or volunteers and low-cost to boot. Though telework offers many benefits, it can make collaborating for off-site meetings and conferences difficult. Fortunately, capabilities such as file-sharing, video teleconferencing and telepresence keep the lines of communication open, and UCaaS helps deliver these generally in-house communications technologies to employees working from home or on the road. In short, it enables remote employees to work effectively and an association to move forward as if everyone was together.

Unified communication can be adapted to function in various ways that demonstrate an association’s value and commitment to members. Features include:

• Webcasting for large numbers of participants, including recording and simulcasting

• Video and audio conferencing for working groups

• Work sessions that enable traveling board members or staff to review and revise documents jointly

• The flexibility to communicate and collaborate anywhere, on any device.

In the past, associations had to rely on expensive, express-mail deliveries and/or travel costs in order to stay connected with their members. But it’s really no longer necessary because UC services, provided through an affordable UCaaS model, mean that communication can be more frequent, more personal and more valuable.

What does this all really mean? By implementing UCaaS, associations can save money, improve flexibility, drive efficiency and increase member engagement and employee productivity—with no learning curve. Executives and staff or board members can communicate quickly between an association’s headquarters and field offices, and members can stay in touch personally from any electronic device. With improved communication and collaboration, everyone who is part of the group can devote their time and focus to moving the association’s mission forward—together.