Total Pageviews

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The IP Convergence Spotlight Is Shifting From Infrastructure to People: It’s Time for Communications Productivity Management!

Copyright (c) 2006, Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

Last week, Time magazine published a provocative article, Help! I’ve Lost My Focus,” on how business users were losing time efficiency because they were trying to do many things at one time, in particular, communicating by email and cell phones in interruptive ways. Except for scheduled business telephone or web conferencing and traditional enterprise call center agents who are dedicated to doing nothing but handling real-time phone calls and, lately, instant text messaging (chat), all person-to-person business communications have to be considered as multitasking activities that must be accommodated with other job activities.

Sometimes, such communications are easy to keep up with, especially when the user has nothing else they can do, better known as “dead time.” Commuters and travelers away from their desktop computers and telephones know this well, because it gives them a chance to catch up with the backlog of emails and voice mails using mobile devices. This kind of individual productivity is fine for business situations that are not critical, and enables individual users to make good use of their “dead time” by multitasking business communications with personal activities like travel, waiting, eating, etc.

The Cost of Real-time Communication Interruptions

In the early days of voice mail, I used to quote some early research in the productivity of business managers and professionals published in Business Communications Review in 1979 by Jim Bair at SRI International. Bair reported that managerial staff (in those days of office-based work) spent up to 95 percent of their time communicating with people. Non-manager professionals spent only 63 percent of their time in communicating with others. With labor costs so dependent on person-to-person communications, Bair was looking at the inefficiencies of such communications that could be reduced by technology for greater productivity.

Telephone communications were identified as having the greatest amount of “shadow functions” that are defined as time-consuming activity associated with communicating with people but waste productivity time. This lost time includes “telephone tag” and lost “wait and recycle time” from incoming calls interrupting ongoing activities. Media transformation for messaging communications was another major source of productivity loss, but at that time was associated mainly with clerical personnel rather than the managerial or professional staff. (That has changed, since we have long minimized clerical assistance for most informal person-to-person contacts.)

The Time magazine article also quoted a recent study of 1,000 office workers by research firm Basex that claims interruptions consume an average of 2.1 hours a day of a workers time, in addition to the “wait and recycle” shadow time to resume a task. However, all “interruptions” are not a complete waste of time and it is a matter of managing relative task priorities at the individual user level to decide how to multitask their time most effectively.

With increasing business communication mobility that doesn’t involve “dead time,” however, the traffic from wireless messaging and phone calls can start to cause recipient overload and personal task management inefficiencies. The Time article describes different approaches to multitasking overload, ranging from users turning off all incoming interruptive contacts to Microsoft’s plans for “intelligently” screening and using minimally disruptive desktop notifications.

Individual time productivity (“micro-productivity”) considerations should not be confused with how efficiently a group functions in completing a task or resolves communication contact problems that benefit the organization as a whole (“macro-productivity”). However, micro-productivity time delays in making contact with an individual and for the contact recipient to respond promptly to others can also degrade macro-productivity for the group, but those values are not identical to the organization. Micro-productivity gains that enable an individual to do things a bit faster won’t necessarily produce any direct benefits to the organization. One estimate is that perhaps only 60 percent of such individual time-savings may somehow revert back to the organization in increased macro-productivity.

Remote Enterprise Staff Drives Convergence for AT&T

AT&T has long been a provider of voice network services, but its acquisition by SBC and its new focus on IP telecommunications, is positioning it to become a major provider of converged application services for both business and consumer applications. “Practicing what it preaches,” AT&T has been researching the needs of its own organization in terms of virtual and flexible business telecommunications.

An AT&T report, “Making the Case for Enterprise Mobility: Remote Access Solutions,” surveying their own employees, particularly their management personnel, provided useful migration insight to changing operational communication needs within their organization. The 2004 survey showed 30 percent of the managers surveyed worked full-time remotely (“virtually”) away from a company office, almost double the number reported from 2002-03, and more than tripled from 2001. In addition, an additional 41 percent of managers worked from home an average of 1-2 days a week, and another 19 percent worked remotely when weather or other circumstances prevented travel to the office. That adds up to a part-time and full-time managerial population of “virtual” usage of 90 percent!

This makes a good case for an enterprise migrating to an IP telephony environment and sets the stage for handheld wireless mobility to further increase availability and responsiveness when key personnel are “on the go,” away from any desktop. In addition, the survey provided practical information to AT&T in helping to selectively migrate end users to different new capabilities of the IP telephony environment.

Redefining and Managing Multi-modal Communications Productivity in the Enterprise

Aside from the traditional call center environment, business communications management (telecom) never paid much attention to how end users used their telephones except, perhaps, where outbound long distance charges were incurred. Effective and efficient voice communications for business users couldn’t be easily tracked in terms of purpose, content, and results, so productivity metrics couldn’t be quantified and were considered “soft.” Privacy issues have also been an obstacle for even attempting to monitor telephone activities of enterprise employees, especially since business phones have always been used for personal contacts.

With IP telephony, wireless mobility, and converged communications (telephony, multi-modal messaging), that game is changing.

  1. First of all, voice communication is transitioning to becoming an “open” data network activity that can be more easily and “intelligently” controlled by communication application servers, just as text messaging and business process applications have been.
  2. Secondly, wireless mobility and handheld communication devices are making people more accessible and available for both real-time contacts and business application information delivery. The user desire for multi-modal convergence of both business and personal contacts at the single device level will be even greater for handheld mobile devices.
  3. Thirdly, contacts with individuals are converging across modalities at the desktop and handheld endpoint device level, enabling people to dynamically communicate in any modality of choice appropriate at the moment. This means that operational tasks can involve multiple forms of communication, including dynamically switching between modalities in real time (“transmodal communication”). Communication activities associated with business process transactions, therefore, now have to be viewed on a converged basis across all modalities actually used, in order to quantify and evaluate time utilization for both the individual and group productivity in the enterprise.
  4. Finally, converged business communication requirements and benefits will not only vary between different vertical market applications and individual organizations, but also between individual users within an enterprise. The latter will depend upon specific job responsibilities and the need to be accessible and responsive to others (internal users, customers), as well as to have immediate access to business information. This will impact both the types of communication devices that these end users require, as well as the network services they will use. Commercially available mobile devices for business users will now have to include software clients that are customized and controlled by enterprise organizations to interoperate securely with business process applications, in addition to general person-to-person contacts.

The operational objective of converged business telecommunications is to enable end users to perform their jobs more easily and responsively, regardless of where they are physically located (‘virtually”), both as individuals (micro-productivity) as well as with others in a collaborative group (macro-productivity). The need for timely contacts with business people will vary with job responsibilities and the particular operational circumstances.

Enterprise management has to rethink its responsibilities to both its internal users, as well as its customers, in order to learn and plan for how to implement the benefits of multi-modal, mobile, telecommunications convergence. A practical consideration for gracefully transitioning to the next generation of IP-based “virtual” telecommunications is using hosted and managed services as a practical starting point to learn, rather than replacing all traditional premise-based technology infrastructures without pertinent experience.

Migrating to the “Virtual” Enterprise - Converged Telecommunications

The “virtual enterprise” describes the ability for both people and business information to be located anywhere. The Internet has already paved the way for information access and business processes to be “virtual,” and now it is time for people too to become more easily contact accessible and responsive. Such contact efficiency emphasizes flexibility of access from a variety of remote and mobile (“on the go”), wired and wireless, desktop and handheld devices. Both network infrastructures and application servers have to be interoperable, and they, in turn, have to become end-user device-independent and multi-modal. Evolving open standards based upon Internet Protocols (SIP) are helping to make this possible for both enterprise and service provider telecommunication technologies.

What Do You Think?

Should individual end users have complete control of their availability for business contacts or should enterprise business process applications be able to monitor and control such accessibility? How useful will IP-based presence management technology be for dealing with multitasking overload? Should desktop telecommunications and mobile handheld devices have identical and interoperable contact rules?

How should group communications productivity be managed and controlled by the enterprise? Given that convergence and wireless mobility is creating demand for a single handheld device, how can the enterprise effectively support and control business usage vs. personal usage (consumer) services? Finally, how should the enterprise go about getting the answers to these questions?

Let us know your opinions by sending an email to

Copyright (c) 2006, Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide