More than ever, employees want greater mobility and workplace flexibility. They no longer want to commute to a workplace. Instead, they want to do their job from the comfort of their home with a suite of remote work tools that help keep them connected. For many enterprises, that means a larger use of unified communications – or the consolidation of existing communications tools into a single platform.

This change is already underway: 34.3% of businesses have reduced IT spending by an average of $161k a year by eliminating redundant apps and shifting to cloud-based unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solutions. Today, let’s look at one of the key tools used to bolster unified communications: Cisco Unified Communications Manager.

 

Table of Contents

 

What is Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM)?

Cisco Unified Communications Manager (formerly Cisco CallManager, now known as Cisco Unified CM or CUCM) is an enterprise call and session management infrastructure that streamlines team communication and collaboration for today’s hybrid workforce.

CUCM unites registered IP phones, mobile devices, desktop computers, and other endpoints into a single UC platform – regardless of end user location. It’s the architecture that makes it possible for teams and customers to connect on their preferred devices across multiple channels, including:

  • VoIP Telephony
  • Video and Rich-Media Conferencing
  • Instant Team Chat Messaging with User Presence
  • Customer Contact Center
  • External Applications
  • Data Integration

The Unified CM architecture lets internal and external teams connect a variety of the above communication channels at any time, from anywhere, and on any device. With CUCM, users have the flexibility to take business calls on analog desk phones or desktop computers, send a quick chat message on a tablet, or even start a video call from a smartphone.

Unified CM also enables essential call management features like call processing, dial plan administration, directory services, and more.

CUCM optimizes the functionality of Cisco’s Unified Communications Suite. It ensures seamless  interoperability with a variety of Cisco applications like Webex, Cisco Jabber, Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise, and more while maintaining high availability, quality of service and security. It also operates with a variety of third-party apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack.

CUCM is a scalable solution designed to improve communication at every phase of your business while helping you avoid paying for features you don’t need.

As of this writing, over 300,000 customers rely on Cisco Unified Communications Manager for call and session management with over 120 million Cisco and softphones – so the platform is clearly meeting end-user expectations.

 

Cisco UC Components

Cisco’s unified communications structure combines voice, video, and data traffic within a single network infrastructure.

Cisco’s equipment manages these three traffic types while interfacing with all standards-based network protocols. Through leveraging a multi-layered system, Cisco provides a network of integrated, coordinated products.

Let’s look at each component layer and how they work together to provide UC services.

 

Infrastructure Layer

The infrastructure layer consists of routers, switches, and voice gateways.

It transports data, voice, and video between network devices and applications, while ensuring high availability, management functionality, quality of service, and overall network security.

 

Call Control Layer

The call control layer handles call processing, dial plan administration and features, and device control.

Note that call control functions happen in an area that’s physically independent from the infrastructure layer. This is so calls can be processed between geographic locations without sacrificing call quality.

 

Applications Layer

Cisco keeps applications independent from call controls functions and the physical voice-processing infrastructure.

Instead, applications are integrated through IP, allowing them to reside anywhere within the network. Some popular applications include Cisco Unified MeetingPlace, Cisco Emergency Responder, Cisco Unified Presence, and standard protocol interfaces, including Telephony Application Programming Interface, Java Telephone Program Interface, and Simple Object Access Protocol.

 

Endpoints Layer

This layer is responsible for actually bringing the CUCM application and functionality to the user – AKA, it’s what connects the communication channels and features to the user’s current communication device, the “endpoint.”

Endpoints can include a Cisco IP phone, a desktop computer softphone, video calling hardware, a smartphone, and any other compatible communication devices.

 

Benefits of Cisco Unified Communications Manager

Cisco has provided IP communications services and applications since 1997, making it the longest tenured of any vendor. This length of service and the breadth of Cisco’s partner ecosystem allows customers to select from an almost countless number of tools, allowing users to structure the platform that works best for them with a lower total cost of ownership. Let’s look more at the overall benefits CUCM provides.

 

Unified Communications

CUCM allows organizations to consolidate their communications infrastructure so team members can communicate solely through Cisco’s unified interface.

In particular, unified communications provides quick communications that prevent team members from needing to constantly switch between applications thanks to tool consolidation. UC also lets users choose preferred communication channels that fit their overall needs.

 

Mobility and Flexibility

With unified communications, you can create transformational workspaces that allow employees to work wherever is needed.

CUCM provides workers with the tools they need to succeed and offers extensive features to support mobile and remote workers.

 

Scalability 

Licensing for CUCM is determined by the total number of users, user features, and devices configured, so organizations only pay for what they need.

Not only is it easy to add new users, but it also means CUCM supports the needs of small businesses, enterprise-level corporations of up to 80,000 users, and everything in between. It’s a communications and collaboration solution that grows alongside your company and adapts to changing business needs.

 

Open and Interoperable

CUCM features a wide ecosystem of third-party integrations and solutions plus partners.

By taking advantage of Cisco’s gigantic network, users benefit from rich collaboration tools embedded in your line-of-business applications. This includes partnerships with major companies like Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Google, Salesforce and Dropbox.

For example, the Webex Cloud-Connected UC services allowed multi-site business to have centralized control over unified communications. This includes functions such as upgrades, analytics and troubleshooting without the need for site-specific oversight.

 

Secure and Compliant

CUCM supports the latest authentication, encryption, and communication protocols.

The platform complies with key industry certifications, meeting the highest standards set out by the financial services, manufacturing, retail and government customers across the world. This includes HIPAA, GDPR, PC, CJIS and FedRAMP, among others. Regardless of industry, your business benefits from these high security standards. CUCM supports Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with a 128-bit encryption key and a 32-bit authentication tag used as the encryption cipher.

 

Key CUCM Features

Let’s look at some of the key features Cisco Unified Communications Manager offers customers.

 

IM and Presence Service

Cisco Unified Presence performs instant messaging and presence through a standards-based enterprise platform. These tools help facilitate faster decision-making and enhance productivity by providing immediate connections to co-workers. The availability of workers through Presence status updates makes it easier to see who is online and ready to help. This helps users avoid wasting time by contacting those unavailable or out-of-the-office.

Cisco Jabber, the company’s direct messaging platform, features a wealth of integrations with products from every major manufacturer to ensure employees stay in communication at all times.

 

Analytics

Cisco offers a wide range of analytics integrations to ensure customers receive the data they require to improve the form and functionality of their communications channels. Key analytics offerings include:

  • Webex Cloud-Connected UC analytics reports
  • Endpoint KPIs, headset KPIs, endpoint deployment distribution, headset deployment distribution
  • Call quality, call status
  • Call count, call duration, endpoint utilization, headset utilization
  • CPU utilization, memory utilization, disk utilization, cluster and node availability

 

Dial Plan Administration

The dial plan is a set of configurable lists that CUCM uses to perform call routing, allowing users to create scalable dial plans. Users can define the rules that manage the types of calls allowed, the preferred path to place a call, how extensions are dialed, and how numbers are presented.

 

Call Routing

CUCM automatically routes calls to internal destinations since it is configured with the DNS of associated devices.

Users can build a call routing table on CUCM of registered devices and enter additional route patterns based on a database of Cisco IP phones and computer telephony integration (CTI) ports configured in the system.

 

Call Queuing

CUCM allows users to place calls in a set queue until they are ready to answer them. Administrators can set the default so callers receive an announcement before the call is extended.

This service is perfect for organizations that manage multiple inbound calls simultaneously. CUCM puts callers in a queue for a specified period of time before playing an announcement at configured intervals to help keep the caller engaged.

 

Phone Feature Administration

CUCM extends services such as hold, transfer, forward, conference, speed dial, redial, call park, call transfer, termination and many others.

 

Call Recording

CUCM supports three types of call recording, available in both single cluster and multi-cluster environments.

  • Automatic silent recording starts call recording on all calls. There is no visual indication on the phone that the session is being recorded.
  • Selective silent recording is enabled by a supervisor through a CTI-enabled desktop. Calls can also be set up for automatic recording based on predefined rules and events.
  • Selective user recording is as it sounds – a user chooses which calls to record. When selective user recording is enabled, the phone displays that a recording session is active.

 

Remote Worker Emergency Calling

This tool allows customers to set up reliable emergency communications support to remote workers through a VPN.

Off-premise users have their lines routed through a Public Safety Answering Point with their location information delivered with each call. If an emergency occurs, rescue workers have a firm address with which to trade the call.

 

Auto-Attendant

The auto-attendant feature allows customers to locate the team member or department they need without talking to a live receptionist or agent.

With CUCM, you can receive calls on specific extensions. Callers can then search for and select who they would like to speak with. CUCM answers the calls, plays a configurable welcome prompt, then lets the caller dial for an operator, dial an extension, or spell by name.

 

Directory Services

CUCM leverages an internal database to store information.

It conducts user authentication against this directory and can synchronize it for centralized user management. This process allows for CUCM to use integrated tools such as Microsoft Active Directory (2000 and 2003), Netscape 4.x, iPlanet 5.1, and Sun ONE 5.2.

CUCM allows for local and external directors. The local directories concern an individual’s own organization, while the external directories can support outside URLs. Cisco Unified IP phone capabilities determine if these services can operate with that site. CUCM also offers Called-Name Display, which provides the user’s full name as opposed to just their phone number.

 

Programming Interface to External Applications

CUCM provides a programming interface to external applications such as Cisco IP SoftPhone, Cisco IP Communicator, Cisco Unified IP Interactive Voice Response (IP IVR), Cisco Personal Assistant, Cisco Unified Personal Communicator, and CUCM Attendant Console.

 

How to Buy and Integrate CUCM

A process called Cisco Smart Software Licensing lets customers purchase and manage licenses with the devices self-registering and reporting consumption.

This removes the need for product activation keys and can also pool licenses into a single account to make for easier sharing.

 

Integration

Cisco Unified Communications Manager is designed to integrate best with Cisco hardware and software, though it’s also compatible with third-party devices and business communication applications.

Native Cisco endpoint hardware integrations include Cisco IP phones, Webex Boards, Webex Room Series, Webex Headsets, and Webex Desk Pro. Find more here.

Third-party hardware integrations include Poly and Yealink IP phones, Jabra Headsets, and Algo.

CUCM integrates with Cisco business communication solutions like:

  • Webex Meetings
  • Webex Calling
  • Cisco Jabber
  • Cisco Unified Mobility
  • Webex Events
  • Cisco UC Manager IM and Presence Service
  • Cisco Webex Messenger
  • Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise
  • Cisco Business Edition 7000
  • Cisco Business Edition 6000
  • Cisco Network Route Director
  • Cisco UC Integration for Microsoft Lync
  • Cisco Expressway Series
  • Cisco Unified Border Element
  • Cisco Emergency Responder
  • Cisco Office Manager
  • Cisco Paging Server
  • Cisco RSVP Agent
  • Cisco Unified CallConnectors
  • Cisco Unified Communications Widgets
  • Cisco WebAttendant

 

Additional Unified Communications Providers

If Cisco Unified Communications Manager doesn’t seem like it suits your needs, consider one of the four UC platform alternatives listed below.

Provider Overview Pricing More Information
Nextiva Unified phone, messaging, collaboration, ticketing, CRM 4 Paid Plans from $18.95-$57.95/user per month for 20-99 users Our Nextiva Review
RingCentral Voice, video, team messaging and wealth of additional business apps 4 Paid Plans from $19.99-$49.99/user per month for 2-20 users Our RingCentral Review
GoToConnect Messaging, video and meetings built into one comprehensive system 3 Paid Plans from $22.00-$39.00/user per month for 2-10 users Our GoToConnect Review
Dialpad Move quickly and seamlessly between conversations and channels 3 Paid plans from $15.00-$25.00/user per month  Our Dialpad Review

 

 

Cisco Unified Communications Manager FAQs

Below we answered some of the frequently asked questions about Cisco Unified Communications Manager.

Cisco Unified Communications Manager acts as the central hub for organizations to utilize their Cisco communications products and services. These tools include everything from instant messaging and presence from video conferencing and SMS.

Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express, sometimes called Unified CME, provides similar functionality to Cisco Unified Communications Manager but for distributed enterprise brand-office and retail environments.

CUCM is not a PBX but easily integrates with existing PBX systems.