Representing the Users Perspective of Unified Communications
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Editorial from 01-24-00
Do Users Need Unified Messaging or Unified Communications?
The convergence of communications technologies is putting fresh emphasis on the real and dynamic needs of individual users, more so than on the rather vague model of the enterprise or the department. We are still talking about business environments, so we can't simply label such usage as consumer or small-office-based. The individual user is still the driver of person-to-person communications usage, whether it is practical functionality they seek or simply personal preferences. However, we do have to start thinking about cross-media messaging options and real-time connections as important components of individual responsive communications.
Market studies indicate that the technology managers within enterprise organizations have not yet become too excited about unified messaging because they either don't know what the value proposition is or because end users haven't exactly broken down the doors to request such new capabilities. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that no one will want it when such capabilities finally become easily and cost-effectively available. Like the air that we breathe, personal communications is essential to daily existence, and it's only now that digital information and wireless connections are becoming fully integrated into traditional modes of contact. Although we have always viewed today's conveniences as tomorrow's necessities, we can't really rely on a gee-whiz convenience to drive user demand. Ultimately, it must be a real need that will make new technologies useful, and unified communications/messaging is no exception. So, who needs the benefits of managing all phone calls and messaging activity in a unified way?
In a Unified Messaging Consortium market study report written over a year ago, we identified the basic reasons that users might need (and therefore ask for) the facilities of unified communications and messaging. They either get a lot of calls and messages, and thus have a pressing need to manage and control their personal communications traffic, or, perhaps more importantly, they must be accessible and able to respond immediately to the needs of others. This is an outward looking view of personal communications, rather than an inward looking one, but if you think about it, communicating with others is not only about your needs as a message recipient, but also about the needs of others. So, although saving message retrieval time with a unified, multimedia mailbox is a practical messaging objective, if you can't reply quickly and conveniently, either by voice or text messaging or a real-time voice connection, it's not good enough.
Traditional voicemail statistics showed that around 70 percent of voicemail messages were generated by secondary telephone answering activities, i.e., a one-way voice message generated as second prize because a real-time connection could not be established. With the projected increase in Internet-based messaging activity, that number will probably drop, but certainly not disappear, as users exploit public two-way messaging. But it can't be just messaging alone that is involved; it has to include the real-time voice connection option as well, depending upon the particular circumstances.
We don't remember the exact statistics, but there have always been a significant number of one-way voicemail and answering machine messages that simply said, "Call me!" So, we must make it possible for message recipients to easily respond to the sender, not only by a reply message, but also via a real-time connection, when appropriate. This applies not only for responding to telephone answering voice messages that were originally meant for a real-time conversation, but even to email messages that may have circumstantially gathered increased priority for a real-time contact.
Although instant messaging capabilities may be useful in those cases when data files have to be exchanged online or tricky multi-tasking of extraneous voice conversations with real-time text messaging is needed, the more traditional voice conversational connection will usually be more effective. We expect voice-over-Internet to help facilitate the cross-media and cross-modal flexibility of unified personal communications. However, to migrate gracefully into the future, the convergence of call and message management still has to work with both the new and old telephone network and device technologies.