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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