Total Pageviews

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mobile UC, Presence, and Multimodal Self-services

Copyright © 2007 Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

March 27, 2007

Why Mobility Will Change Telephony –The User Perspectives

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

I noticed a timely article on the Web that commented on the new “etiquette” for mobile phone users that is becoming acceptable call handling behavior, especially when text messaging facilities are also available. Among the main points were that:

  1. Mobile call recipients have to exploit call screening because mobile situations cannot be handled as easily as desktop environments.
  2. Voice mail messaging options for callers are still confined to failed telephone answering attempts, i.e., a caller cannot leave a voice message directly, without first ringing a phone that doesn’t get answered.
  3. Rather than playing “telephone tag,” text messaging is becoming an acceptable response to a voice message.

While this reflects some communication progress for consumer behavior, it doesn’t necessarily cover the needs of different business contact situations, nor does it reflect the coming impact of presence and availability management technology. However, it does highlight why planning for migration to unified communications is not just about VoIP and IP telephony, and must consider all aspects of user interfaces and contact procedures.

Why “Mobile Presence” and Availability are Not the Same as at the Desktop

Everyone has been impressed with “desktop IM” and it’s strategic use of presence management to detect both network connectivity and availability status information. IM presence has been extended by all the IP telephony providers to include “telephony availability,” which will indicate whether or not you are busy on your desktop extension phone. While this new capability sets the stage for contact initiators to first determine the contact recipient’s accessibility, rather than blindly initiate a call attempt, reports from end users indicate other repercussions.

At VoiceCon Spring 2007 earlier this month, there were several comments from end users to the effect that even if they set their availability status as being “busy,” their “buddies” would still send an IM asking for a minute to discuss a quick question. While this may be very convenient and practical at the desktop, the same cannot hold true for the mobile recipient. Mobile users, unfortunately, will not be in a constant environment where they can always talk or always look at text messages. So, even though they have a multimodal “smart phone,” there is no easy way to constantly update recipient accessibility status and rules for visual vs. voice contacts to the contact initiators.

An obvious solution is the practical approach used in unified messaging. The message sender doesn’t worry about the message medium because it gets converted automatically at the recipient’s end upon actual delivery. Instead of ringing someone’s phone number which can provide limited information via caller ID, a call initiation will consist of an instant message, either voice or text, that provides the basic elements for a contact initiation, including:

  1. Identification of the contact initiator
  2. The subject/purpose of the contact
  3. Contact modalities
  4. Urgency

This would enable not only people to initiate real-time contacts with other people, but also automated business applications to do so as well. This would permit business applications to notify people about time-sensitive situations and enable a self-service response as well.

Exciting news from Intervoice - Conversation is an application, but speech is just an interface for next-generation multimodal, mobile self-services

Just as I was writing this piece, I received the big announcement from Intervoice launching the first commercially available product for developing self-service “UC” applications, based on the new W3C language standard, State Chart XML (SCXML), destined to replace CCXML as a call control language for VoiceXML. The announcement of Intervoice’s “Media Exchange” is the opening industry volley in transitioning telephone self-services to the UC world of more personalized and dynamic multimodal business applications and “click-to-contact live assistance.”

Automated voice-based self-service applications have traditionally been focused on wired desktop phones and their mobile counterpart, the cell phone. The user interface has been strictly voice-oriented, using the traditional touchtone keypad for input and voice output. This limited the applications to very short and simple ones to avoid time-consuming and error-prone sessions that callers absolutely hate. With the more recent availability of speech recognition, speech input simplified the input considerably, but didn’t do much for long prompts, error responses, and other forms of outputs. Clearly, voice is NOT ideal for self-service applications when compared with the visual GUIs that we are all taking for granted on the Web.

I have long been waiting for news from the technology developers to start treating the phone as a multimodal device, especially for mobile users as discussed above, and was pleasantly surprise by the Intervoice announcement. What is most key here is that this is not a traditional proprietary telephony technology that depends on locking up users to specific hardware devices, but is a standard that will be usable with all flavors of evolving ‘smart phones.” Telephony is indeed becoming emancipated from the TDM hardware world of the past!

In listening to the demo of Intervoice’s product announcement for Media Exchange, you can still see the rough edges in transitioning between visual and speech interfaces, or what I have called “transmodal communications.” As described earlier, the shift between interfaces will be based not just on “preferences,” but also on dynamic circumstances such as driving a car, walking in a noisy public space, etc. The demo’s chatty conversational voice prompts obviously can be replicated with visual prompts in order to speed up the interaction, even though inputs can still be either manual or spoken. There will be a prize for the best multimodal input/output flexibility that makes users happy with whatever mobile handheld devices they have, for any mobilized application, in any environment.

In any event, the news from Intervoice is most promising for the coming world of consumer mobile communications.

News From UC Strategies

To get an idea of the different perspectives and issues involved with UC technologies, go to the UC Strategies web site for better insights of what UC is really all about for the enterprise.

UC Industry Update including Highlights from VoiceCon Spring

For more insight on migrating to UC in the enterprise, you can review the presentations given by the UC Strategies experts at TMC’s IT Expo last month.

What Do You Think?

Send your comments to me at

Sunday, March 11, 2007

UC Grows At VoiceCon Spring

Copyright © 2007 Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

March 11, 2007

VoiceCon Spring 2007 – Will Its Name Change to “UC” Too?

By now you must have read the headlines emanating from the originally small BCR conference that used to be focused on the PBX and telephone systems in Washington, D.C., but last week hit over 5,000 industry and enterprise attendees trying to prepare for the migration of telephony to unified communications. Don’t expect this to be a comprehensive report, because I couldn’t get to all the sessions that were presented there. The problem is that UC is not just about the proprietary and limited telephone endpoint for voice conversations any more, because all forms of messaging and video conferencing are starting to dominate the business communications spectrum.

However, because IP telephony is a key element of UC capabilities, replacing TDM telephony, both at the desktop and for mobility, is a threatening challenge to enterprise IT and traditional telecom technology providers. Every element of telephony that enterprise organizations have invested in is in the process of change and everyone in the enterprise will eventually be affected. So, its no wonder that everyone in the business communication industry (technology and services) is preaching the gospel of “UC migration” and everyone in the enterprise IT world is listening for the next telephony shoe to drop.

Shoes did drop in Orlando next week and you can read the details in the VoiceCon Unified Communications eWeekly online newsletter or at the UC Strategies web site.

Microsoft Challenges Telephony Industry With Software, But Siemens Counters

Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft’s business division, highlighted the challenge to traditional TDM telephony, by claiming that in three years, software, rather than hardware, will reduce the average cost of desktop voice communications by 50%, because 40-45% of VoIP costs are in the endpoint devices.

When Fred Knight of BCR asked industry executives to comment on the Microsoft statement, Mark Straton, Sr. VP of Siemens, disagreed, claiming that in three years the IP telephony cost would be only 25% of current costs, but other costs, e.g., those related to integrating telephony with business process applications and other communications would increase.

Raikes was preceded by Cisco’s Charles Giancarlo, Senior VP of Cisco, who also emphasized the role of “open” software and business process applications in IP telephony. Cisco also announced their partnership with IBM to handle the business application software, while they take care of the hardware/software for networking, IP telephony, and their new TelePresence videoconferencing system for maximizing the face-to-face experience.

Another shoe that Microsoft dropped during Raikes’ keynote was the ability to dynamically improve network voice quality strictly through software processing, rather than through the network itself.

Enterprise Responsibilities for Mobile UC

I was privileged to moderate a knowledgeable panel of leaders in the mobile communications industry, which is moving from traditional voice devices and wireless text messaging to multimodal capabilities. Since the flexibility of UC is particularly needed when business users are away from their desktops, the role of “smartphones” is becoming important for enterprise organizations. The question is, what responsibility does the enterprise have for supporting such devices?

The response by the panel, made up of representatives from Nokia, Motorola, RIM, Ericsson, and Cisco, agreed that enterprise organizations will have to support mobile device independence, where individual users have different job needs, plus they want to carry only a single device. That includes using the same device, but with different capabilities, for their personal mobile needs as well.

What the enterprise will be responsible for is the control of enterprise information and access control from a user’s device, so that enterprise security cannot be compromised. Device management services can provide such remote control for a variety of devices that are physically located anywhere.

A question about the impact of presence management technologies and federation with public services and other enterprises showed the need for providing an efficient approach to exchanging current status information between mobile devices. This would apply to both “contact initiators” and “contact recipients” who would need to exchange status information across networks to determine how to communicate efficiently.

UC Is Not Just About Voice Technologies and Has Challenges for Everyone In The Enterprise

The VoiceCon show was overloaded with conference sessions and discussions on how and when to migrate towards different elements of UC. Unfortunately, UC is not a simple technology decision that can be made for everyone in the enterprise all at once, like desktop telephone systems used to be. Not only does IT have to plan how to migrate technologies that they will be responsible for, but also who to migrate and for what business process. This means that business management has to identify application priorities and ROI metrics, end users have to identify what UC capabilities will be useful for their job responsibilities and work environments, and existing legacy technologies have to be supported until they are replaced or not needed. No wonder every enterprise UC migration is going to be different and “best practices” will vary!

Even IT’s job of end user support and administration is going to require convergence and I was surprised to see, that with all the talk about UC and the emphasis on the IT audience, there were no sessions devoted to text messaging technologies (email, IM, SMS) and how their usage and support needs would be merged and consolidated with voice communications (telephony, voice messaging, and speech interfaces).

I commented on this to BCR’s Fred Knight and Eric Krapf, but the very name “VoiceCon” has been a barrier to UC subjects until now. So, don’t be surprised if that name gets changed real soon, as suggested by one keynote speaker at the conference. And don’t be surprised that the business application and text messaging providers will have a bigger piece of the UC pie.

To get an idea of the different perspectives and issues involved with UC technologies, go to the UC Strategies web site for better insights of what UC is really all about for the enterprise.

What Do You Think?

For more insight on migrating to UC in the enterprise, you can review the presentations given by the UC Strategies experts at TMC’s IT Expo last month. Go to:

Send your comments to me at