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December 16, 2007
How Mobility and UC Will Really Change The Pace of Business Communications in 2008
Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View
Perhaps I should start off this piece with the recent important news that Verizon Wireless is going to open up its network to any device and any application that meets minimum standards. Although this doesn’t immediately solve all the problems of interoperability and support that multimodal UC communications demands both inside and outside of the enterprise, it is a good sign that things are starting to change in a constructive way. This announcement comes just a week after I challenged the wireless carriers to support open mobile OSs, device independence, and any enterprise applications that need to contact mobile subscribers.
UC Means ALL Business Communications
Now that the term “unified communications” (UC) has subsumed real-time telephony, wired and wireless connectivity, and all forms of messaging, it has become synonymous for all aspects of business communications. It has also become increasingly difficult to define everything that UC is really supposed to do for the enterprise. Microsoft and its Alliance partner Nortel wisely recognized this problem last year, and proceeded to establish hundreds of demonstration sites around the world in order to show business management what UC does for business operations and end users, rather than just explain how the technology infrastructure works.
This marketing strategy follows the advice given by a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Chip Heath, to business leaders in a McKinsey Quarterly interview for delivering a “message that sticks” to their various enterprise constituencies. Heath’s research into successful communications highlights the need for “simplicity, concreteness, and surprise.”
Because UC will affect people both within and outside an organization (business partners, customers), it is essential that the benefits of UC resonate with everyone involved in business communications. One way to highlight new benefits is to simply describe, in concrete ways, how business communications will be different from the way we used to do things in the past, particularly in the use of the telephone. Because every end user will have different perceptions of value from UC application capabilities, they really need to see where “the shoe fits” their particular operational needs and job responsibilities.
Simplifying The User Perspective of UC – Contacting People Quickly Any Way
From the bottom line perspective of business performance, UC is all about making contact and communicating with people easily, flexibly, and quickly in a variety of ways. This is important to any enterprise because people are key to business process efficiency and revenue generation performance, but are not always accessible or available for every form of contact, either as contact initiators or as contact recipients. In addition, real-time contacts now increasingly include text messaging alternatives to voice conversations, such as two-way Instant Messaging exchanges and immediate text message delivery through SMS to mobile devices. With the growth of online social networking, even simple messaging is getting more multimedia.
Since business process efficiency is usually most dependent on initiating contacts, ease and flexibility must be provided for those functions. This applies to both human initiators, who don’t necessarily know who is qualified and available or how to contact them at any point in time, as well as to any high-value automated business process applications. Such applications have the same contact initiation problems as people to proactively make real-time contacts directly with appropriate human recipients (notifications, alerts, confirmations, etc.).
Because communicating with people has now become multi-modal, i.e., real-time voice/video conversations and instant messaging vs. asynchronous voice /text messaging using a variety of wired desktop or mobile wireless devices, there is no single, common way to contact people any more. For maximum business process flexibility and efficiency, therefore, people must be able to both initiate and receive contacts in whatever form works for them individually at the moment. Such flexibility will be dependent upon both the devices and communication services available to them at the moment, as well as upon their dynamically changing environmental circumstances. Furthermore, if a real-time contact with a person is not possible at the moment for any reason, then, if appropriate, contact on an “As Soon As Possible” (ASAP) basis must be efficiently facilitated.
In order to achieve such business contact efficiencies with people, as opposed to traditional social “person-to-person” contacts, they must shift to “person-to-process-to-person” contacts, where intelligent communication processes optimize contact flexibility and time efficiencies for all parties. Such ‘contextual” intelligence removes the need for contact initiators to be responsible for personally knowing how to contact a person quickly and easily. The benefits will be not just faster work flows that pay off to business operations wherever people are involved, but also in lower costs for business process task performance, less “pain” in contacting people, and greater individual user productivity in doing their jobs.
“Concreteness” and “Surprises:” How Will Mobile UC Change Traditional Business Communications?
Because communicating with people is always going to be different for individual users and their business environments, every business and every end user will see different “surprises” in using UC capabilities. So, rather than separate out concrete examples of UC, I would rather point at the fundamental changes and innovations in communication alternatives that will emerge and evolve through UC capabilities. We have already seen dramatic changes in business communications simply because of new forms of contact, e.g., the emergence of email, voice mail, Instant messaging, cellular phones, SMS, Push-to-talk, etc. However, making them all interwork dynamically, seamlessly, and more efficiently under the umbrella of UC is a different ballgame. UC is not necessarily about changing the various ways of contacting and communicating with people, but rather about enabling individual users to dynamically and selectively exploit both old and new ways of communicating that are most efficient and effective for their individual needs at the moment.
On the other hand, traditional telephony will be a big target for the most drastic changes in business contact procedures, since it has traditionally been based upon the inflexibilities of wired connections, restrictive user interfaces, and location-based devices. So, not only will business calls “integrate” with flexible messaging facilities, but, from a user perspective, all aspects of traditional call management will be changing as well. Much of what will happen to business call management will be derived from the experience of traditional customer call center technologies that can now be implemented more efficiently through IP telephony infrastructures and multimodal endpoint devices.
Here are some of the basic functional ways that UC will change business communications (telephony, messaging) for both users and the business processes that they are involved with:
· “Contextual” Presence and Availability – The ability to talk to a person will become more dependent upon both the context of such need and the real-time availability of any qualified person. Such contact contexts will be derived from many on-line information sources (Reports, documents, databases, messages, address books, availability dashboards, etc.) that will reflect current status and availability for real-time contacts, as opposed to a simple asynchronous message.
Bottom line: Contact initiators will not have to wait or waste time figuring out who and how to contact a person that can assist them, both factors that contribute to the “human latency” inefficiency in business process performance.
· Proactive Notifications From Automated Business Process Applications - Rather than depend upon a particular human to manually monitor situations that may require real-time attention, e.g., in service environments, then have them attempt to contact other people to resolve such issues, automated monitoring processes will be able to initiate and coordinate all necessary human contacts directly with any available staff resources and any affected service users.
Bottom line: Problems are identified and resolved more quickly with minimized human latency because of limiting communications accessibility to only specific people. Such proactive, multimodal contacts will be applicable to internal enterprise personnel, business partner personnel, and, perhaps most importantly, to customers who may be negatively affected.
· Multimodal Messaging Communications - A major benefit of UC is the flexibility it offers for both contact initiators and recipients to communicate in any form that is most convenient at the moment. That includes all forms of voice and text messaging, whether from a desktop or a handheld mobile device, exploiting “unified” message mailboxes for either business or personal contacts. Such flexibility enables individual users to communicate as soon as possible in any messaging mode that is available to them, without regard to what facilities the recipient(s) have.
Bottom line: Contact initiators will not have to wait or waste time figuring out what form of messaging will work for their message recipients, including immediate urgent message notifications and delivery.
· “Instant” Conferencing - For voice conversations and conference calling, UC facilitates “instant” conferencing connections, independent of location and particular type of device available to a call participant. However, because such real-time contacts are not always immediately possible for all participants, UC facilities can initiate and coordinate conferencing arrangements to be implemented on an “As Soon As Possible” basis.
Bottom line: Contact initiators will not have to waste time figuring out how to coordinate any two-person or multi-party conference voice or video call, where specific participants are not necessarily known, are located anywhere, have different availability schedules and priorities, and use different communication devices and services.
Because conferencing is critical to improving business process workflow bottlenecks, and because business travel, particularly in a global economy, is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, the cost reduction and productivity benefits of teleconferencing provide the greatest benefits to any form of distributed enterprise operations.
· “Transmodal” Communications - Not only will end users have greater choices in selecting a particular form of communication contact that suits their immediate circumstances for contact initiation, but they will also be able to dynamically and seamlessly change and escalate from any form of contact to another modality that is more appropriate. This would include moving from a non-real-time-to a real-time connection, moving from text messaging to voice calls, or moving from a person-to-person contact to a multi-party “instant” conference.
Bottom line: Contact recipients will be able to respond more effectively, quickly and easily by switching to other modalities of communications than selected by the contact initiator. In some case, e.g., where a message exchange proves to be inadequate, the shift to a voice conversation can be quickly and mutually performed without disruptive delays.
Note that the “bottom line” business benefits are not simply focused on reduced technology costs, but rather in making business contacts easier and faster for the end users, and therefore faster for the business processes that such end users are involved in.
Preparing For Change – Communicating With Multimodal “Smartphones”
The “telephone,” as a personalized communication device for two-way communications and information access, is already changing from being simply for person-to-person voice conversations. The addition of visual and text entry interfaces is changing the voice and Touchtone -only device to being able to communicate much more flexibly and efficiently with people, business process applications, and services. By enabling handheld wireless mobility, the next generation of consumer, the teenagers, is already exploiting maximum personalized accessibility for all of the above activities.
Enterprise organizations therefore need to prepare for how their end users will use the new “smartphones” devices, both handheld and at the desktop, in ways that may be different but hopefully more efficient and effective than the legacy voice-only phones of the past. Although some people are claiming that the mobile “smartphone” is going to become much like a PC, as a handheld device with I/O limitations, they won’t really be the same for information access.
With handheld mobility, we have to rethink the different ways that end users will be able to communicate optimally for business in the future. This will include all communication functions as either contact initiators and contact recipients who will be communicating:
Managing The New I/O For Business Process Applications – People!
Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP), being aggressively pushed by Avaya, lends itself nicely to automating applications by including people as output targets and not just information output devices like printers, displays, storage, other application servers, etc. The big difference, of course, is people are smart enough to be able to do something useful with such information without being pre-programmed to do so.
As a consequence of dynamically contacting people within business process workflows, business management has to insure that such contacts with people are both flexible and part of the workflow design. This really means treating everyone in the business process as a notification contact point, including available internal staff resources, external partner staff resources, and, last, but not least, affected end users including customers. It also means that UC capabilities have to be available to all contact recipients in order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of CEBP.
Needless to say, adding this kind of contact initiation intelligence to the design of application workflows is something new for traditional online application designers who never had to worry about who the end user was (except perhaps for security access purposes), or how to contact them. Now, time-sensitive, high value, automated business process applications that will exploit the benefits of UC and CEBP, will have to integrate with presence/availability and “skills-based routing” processes in order to deliver the message to the right person(s) in the fastest and most effective way.
So, IT has another reason to get interested in UC wherever it is automating any business process application contact initiation from a status monitoring perspective, as well as simply enabling “contextual” contact initiation by a user indirectly through any online application (“click-to-contact”). This is where the innovative use of UC will start to appear in every business environment, as enterprise organizations start rethink the use of the telephone business communication needs in the context of UC and mobility.
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