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Sunday, July 27, 2008

UC and Telephone Call Human Latency

July 27, 2008

What “Human Latency” Does UC Help?

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

“Unified Communications” is quickly moving up the ROI food chain for business organizations as the focus shifts from cost reductions to business process efficiencies. This shift in emphasis will require looking at combining the use of different communication technologies from both an individual user perspective and from their impact on all the key people involved a particular business process. In the new world of Internet networking, I see this kind of integration and interoperability being a “mash-up” of business application and communications software, converged voice and data transport on wired and wireless networks, and, last, but not least, multi-modal desktop and mobile end user devices.

Industry pundits have sharpened their search for the value of UC in improving business process performance by focusing on reducing “human (contact) latency.” That can mean any kind of process delay waiting for human intervention and action. From a UC perspective, the focus is not on human skills for task performance, but on the speed and efficiency of making contact and delivering information to a person involved in completing a task. With increasing process automation, real-time contacts to people are being initiated by automated business applications, in addition to traditional person-to-person contacts.

Telephone Calling “Latency”

Traditional, wired telephony will be impacted significantly, as UC applications help remove the “human latency” inefficiencies of person-to-person telephone calls. Because such calls require real-time interaction and coordination, they must be efficient and effective for both callers and call recipients, in order to minimize human contact latency of all parties and to maximize both individual productivity and business process efficiency.

For a caller (contact initiator), such latencies stem from the following:

· Knowing who to call

· Knowing where they are or which phone number to call

· Initiating a call to a device or location with no guarantee of contact

· Not getting any useful contact information when there is no one to answer the call attempt

· Leaving a voice message (when there is a busy signal or no answer) would be the beginning of “voice mail jail,” inefficient voice message retrieval, manual message transcriptions, and the delays of “telephone tag.” These inefficiencies are exacerbated when there is no efficient means of timely message notification, message “reply” options to outside callers, or “call return” capability.

For a call recipient (callee), the lack of the following can reduce efficient call activities as part of a business process:

· Having access to an incoming call regardless of location and network connection (mobility)

· Getting immediate call notifications regardless of other activities

· Knowing who or what kind of caller is calling

· Knowing why they are calling

· Have contextual information about prior contacts

· Getting selective notification of urgent or expected telephone messages regardless of location or mode of notification, along with immediate message access and response (reply) in any modality of communication

· Have the ability to multi-task non-voice forms of messaging while in voice conversation with a caller

Voice calls have always been the primary means of real-time, person-to-person business communications until the recent advent of Instant Messaging (IM), which also brings with it the benefits of a rich, visual interface and “virtual” access, rather than a fixed location like a wired desktop telephone.

Enter Presence Management

IM introduced its own brand of more efficient contact initiation through presence management and a personalized “buddy list” of people whose IP network accessibility and availability were dynamically tracked in real time. These evolved into public enterprise services that monitored network device connectivity as well as personalized status information supplied by individual users sharing the service. The primary benefit of presence information has been to enable an authorized contact initiator to check the current contact accessibility of a specific recipient for an IM exchange, or, if directly integrated with the recipient’s phone system, it can indicate if the recipient is already “busy” on a phone (“telephony presence”).

Presence information does not necessarily, however, create faster communication contact. Presence indicates “connectivity” but not really “availability.” Prospective senders of asynchronous email messages, therefore, would gain little from such presence information, other than perhaps the fact that because the recipient is connected online to the Internet at the moment, they are therefore likely to be notified about and have convenient access to a new email message.

However, because IM is both real-time and, unlike a voice connection, allows visual multi-tasking, it has become an alternative means of initiating a voice phone call between people who have a ”person-to-person” relationship. Rather than guessing about the availability of the person to take a phone call, presence information and IM communication allow the contact initiator to check for accessibility to a call recipient and request permission via IM to make a call before blindly making a call attempt. With such a “pre-call” connection that is phone-number independent, all sorts of contextual contact information can be presented to the callee before the voice connection is actually made. Think of it as an IM-based “screen pop,” which can also provide “click-to-call” capabilities.

That kind of capability can reduce much of the human latency described earlier that has become the main productivity target of UC.

Mobility and Presence

Whatever benefits presence technology can bring to traditional business phone calls, they will be further increased when applied to phone calls to or from mobile users. A voice call or message is often a practical form of contact interface for mobile people away from their desks, but dynamic availability and costs are more of an issue for mobile users. So, not only do mobile users want to avoid wasting time calling others fruitlessly, they also want to avoid taking calls when they are busy with other activities. Accordingly, they will need to manage the retrieval of voice message information they receive more easily and efficiently.

Voice mail technology is now being targeted to exploit more efficient visual interfaces of “smart communicators” (aka “smart-phones”), which can accommodate email, SMS, and IM, as well 3G web applications. (Witness the popularity of the iPhone’s “Visual Voicemail!”) In addition, automated transcription of voice messages into text messages, like email and SMS, is becoming a practical service offering for voice mail recipients.

Minimizing “Human Contact Latency”

While better and more flexible user interfaces indeed contribute to increased end user productivity by a few minutes, e.g., contextual “click-to-call,” and IP network connections will reduce the costs of access, significant business process efficiencies will be also be derived from reducing the delays of “blind” contact attempts that fail. This includes calling phone numbers that are usually busy, don’t answer, or are answered by the wrong party.

Business communications are no longer just “person-to-person” contacts, but increasingly “process-to-person” or “person-to-process-person” contacts, like telephone self-service (IVR) applications that allow access to any available live assistance. Business process applications can also proactively exploit the flexibility of UC as contact initiators to deliver information messages immediately and directly to a person. Unified messaging capabilities enable such messages to be delivered in any mode that the recipient requires.

The bottom line, however, for reducing human contact latency is that individual end users, whether inside or outside an organization, have to be able to initiate and respond to business contacts wherever they are, in whatever modality of contact is available to them, and as independently of the other parties as possible. The primary exception will remain synchronous conferencing (voice, video conversations) that are specifically “person-to-person.” This is where callers may benefit from “ASAP” (As Soon As Possible) call connections that will exploit federated presence and availability management technology along with “smart-phone” mobility. That combination will make a voice connection as soon as all parties are available and accessible.

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"I Want My Unified Communications!"

July 20, 2008

What Will Business People Call “UC?”

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

As a result of the complex convergence of communication application functions, network infrastructures, and user interfaces, technology providers are being forced to redefine their telecommunication product and service offerings within the context of unified communications (UC). One of the better objective descriptions of all the application functionality that the industry is starting to offer to the enterprise market can be found in a new and comprehensive UC market analysis report from long-time analyst and UC Strategies co-founder, Blair Pleasant, CommFusion, LLC. For anyone contemplating getting into business communications, this experienced and objective analysis of who is doing what in the industry is a "must read."

Everyone may agree that “UC” and IP Telephony will be gradually swallowing up traditional voice telephone communications in both the business and consumer markets, but it has not exactly become a useful term for end users, nor yet created any viral demand from end users. There are practical reasons why this is so, including:

· UC technologies are still evolving and not as a single “package,”

· Communication functions are becoming more software based and device-independent, and therefore evolving differently from different technology providers,

· New multimodal devices are offering a variety of different form factors for UC capabilities and flexible user interfaces (visual, speech) through 3G mobile “smart-phones (e.g., Apple iPhones), desktop PC “softphones” and IP screenphones,

· New interoperability standards for end-to-end network contacts are still being defined, especially for person-to-person, real-time presence and availability (“federation”),

· Technology staffs are getting reeducated and consolidating their responsibilities for supporting IP telephony and data applications.

These factors are delaying the pace of actual implementations of “UC,” and are also causing confusion in the marketplace about how to migrate cost-effectively to a UC environment. More importantly, however, is the need for individual end users to understand what UC will do for them as contact initiators and contact recipients in all forms of business communications. Without that understanding, there is little end user demand for implementing UC, which makes it easy for IT to postpone UC migration planning.

Will “UC” Ever Mean Anything To The End User?

It is also unfortunate that there are different value perspectives of UC that cloud understanding of business use of UC. We have enterprise business management, who are primarily focused on why and what UC technology will do to improve operations and the “bottom line.” We have IT management who worry about the cost of technology implementation and support, including replacing legacy telephony investments, integrations with other technologies, information security, system reliability, operational administration, regulatory accountability, and Total Costs of Ownership or Usage. And last, but not least, we have the individual end users, both inside and outside of the organization, that will need to adopt new ways of communicating enabled by UC, in order to realize expected efficiencies and operational benefits.

While it is all well and good to define UC from a technology and business operations perspective, end users will still only see their own communication application user interfaces, not the infrastructure. So, for them, email will still be text messaging, but, with UM/UC, exploiting the flexible use of speech interfaces and responses in other forms of message delivery and callbacks. With the new ability of the contact initiator to function more independently of a contact recipient, the two parties may not even know what technology each is actually using – they only see a message or a call (voice or video) request notification.

For this reason, end users will still focus on the specific communication applications they want to use, i.e., voice conversations, real-time or asynchronous messaging (with information exchange), exploiting the flexible choice of user interfaces they need/prefer at the moment, but not really caring how the infrastructure works to allow such flexibility. For the user, UC may mean the convenience of selecting how they want to communicate, but it won’t replace the specific communication applications they want to use. All they want from UC is seamless interoperability between all the modes of communication they can access from their communication device of choice.

Needless to say, the communication device they use will have to be “multimodal” in order to enable the flexibility of UC, particularly necessary when mobile. So, its no wonder that the arrival and rapid adoption of ‘smart-phones” by consumers will be the biggest driver for UC demand. The question is, will this demand be viewed by end users simply as part of their “mobility” requirements, as opposed to “UC” requirements for their desktops?

Unfortunately, enterprise IT has been very resistant to supporting end user mobile “smart-phones,” but perhaps that will start to change now that Apple’s new version of iPhone software provides more functionality for the needs of business users. Like the PC in the past, end users will decide what tools and services they want to use to do their jobs and probably what to call them. So, don’t expect the names of the major application “piece-parts” of UC to disappear in favor of just “UC,” nor will a proprietary software “UC” suite be able to lock out best-of-breed service options.

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Metrics of UC Productivity

Filling A Gap Between UC-U and UC-B: Is It "UC-G?"

by Art Rosenberg , The Unified-View

The recent UC Summit, organized by UC Strategies, was highlighted by defining productivity benefits at two different levels. One was for the individual end user who gained personal time-savings and convenience from UC technologies (UC-U), the other was the performance efficiency of a business process in terms of both quality and speed of process completion (UC-B). Some of this was described in the eBook, Unified Communication Cutting Through the Hype, published earlier this year.

While both perspectives are Publish Postvalid and important, there is a gap between the two. Because most business processes and work flows involve more than one person, it becomes critical to business process performance that all the individuals who are involved in the process (work flow) do so as efficiently as possible. That means that they must be able to initiate contacts with people as quickly and flexibly as possible, and be accessible and respond to contacts in a timely manner as contact recipients, to minimize any delay in the process as a whole. If a key decision maker or action taker should be delayed for any reason in their ability to communicate, that can impact a currently active time-sensitive business process with delays that could have significant consequences to the organization. So, the benefit of UC improving personal productivity (UC-U) for communicating more flexibly, more easily, and faster in any work environment, can also have a direct impact on (UC-B).

I recognized this years ago when first looking at the need for UC. I suggested then that UC-B performance must take into account the performance of individual users who can cause such delays to the performance of the “group” as a whole, especially in time-critical situations. Having alternative resources to fill the human availability gap is a typical business strategy that has long been used in call centers, for example, to handle real-time phone calls. However, whenever there is a requirement for a specific expertise or authority, then such an individual has to maximize their communication accessibility and responsiveness for the efficiency of the group and the business process, not just for themselves.

“Group productivity” or “UC-G” can be described as the flexible accessibility for everyone participating in a business process to receive and respond to timely information and people contacts as quickly as possible. UC capabilities, coupled with mobile accessibility, will maximize UC-G for the individual user as well as the business process. For this reason, it will be important to identify specific users who are key to a high priority business process and insure that they are fully equipped to exploit the benefits of UC technologies. So, for example, doctors and nurses who must be notified that a patient is in a life-threatening state, cannot afford to be without mobile devices that allow them to be accessed by people and information wherever they are. Business situations have similar kinds of demands when there deadlines or costly problem situations that need to be fixed as quickly as possible to minimize losses.

UC flexibility has to extend beyond the business premises and include people outside the organization who are involved or affected by a business process. This means that premise-based UC alone will not be adequate when customers and business partners need to be involved in a time-sensitive business process. UC-G will therefore have to involve capabilities like “federated presence” in order to deal with such outside contacts as effectively as possible. Similarly, contact metrics to track communication efficiency with people inside or outside the organization will be useful in identifying UC needs that the organization doesn’t have direct control over, but which will still impact the organization’s business process performance.

What do you think? We welcome your comments.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Should Voicemail Die or Join UC?

July 12, 2008

The Voice of the Users – Should Voicemail Die or Change to Fit UC?

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

Michael Arrington, technology writer on the web, caught my attention by posting a blog entitled “Think Before You Voicemail.” It started off by saying “Voicemail is dead. Please tell everyone so they’ll stop using it.” I think that the message has some merit but for whom, the callers or the call recipients?

He goes on to complain about what everyone already knows, that voice message management and retrieval has always been awkward and inefficient (compared to text messaging). His blog certainly struck a nerve with his web audience, generating over 250 comments up till now, debating whether voicemail should die or not. (Many observed the truism that personal phone calls deserve voice messages, but we are most interested in business contacts here!). The bottom line of all the comments shows that change is needed in handling messages, but it’s really up to individual users to decide how they want to send or to receive any type of message.

The main cause of the voice mail problem that Arrington complains about is due to the fact that the bulk of voice messages come from failed called attempts, better known as “telephone answering” or “caller messaging,” and telephone interfaces are limited to sequential voice output, coupled with cryptic touchtone codes for user controls. For the typical caller who landed in “voicemail jail,” it is pretty simple to just leave a voice message like on an answering machine, but for the recipient, it is not so simple to manage voice messages compared to text messaging on a screen interface.

Who Is Really Controlling Voicemail Use?

Legacy enterprise voicemail systems were designed primarily for two kinds of users – internal ‘subscribers” who had the benefit of sending and replying to other voice mail subscribers on the same company system or voice mail network, or outside callers who could only leave a message as second prize if their call attempt failed because of a “busy” or “no answer” condition. Because of the richer information content afforded by email, most business enterprise voice mail systems today deal primarily with outside callers and their voice messages. “Call return” capabilities allow a callback to be initiated, but those return call attempts are just as “blind” as the original call. (That’s we get the legendary “telephone tag” stats that say, “three out of four call attempts don’t reach the intended party.”)

Traditional telephone answering voice messaging has always really been under the control of the contact recipient, not the outside caller, who is not a “subscriber.” So Arrington’s admonition, “Think Before You Voicemail” is not really appropriate for callers who don’t have any choice, other than to “zero” out to an operator or hang up, once they land in “voicemail jail.”

Time to Change Voicemail?

Now that screen-based “smartphones” (like Apple’s iPhone or RIM’s Blackberry) that accommodate both text and voice messaging are becoming the desired communication device of mobile consumers, it is certainly time to question the role of traditional voice mail as an application of business UC. More importantly, as I have been stressing in my column, it is time to consider the needs of the caller separately from that of the recipient, because they are certainly not identical.

Even though there is much talk about SIP-based “telephony presence” enabling a caller to quickly ascertain the accessibility of a person for an immediate voice connection (regardless of the device that needs to be connected), there still remains the question of effectively communicating when you just can’t connect for a person-to-person voice conversation. With the flexibility of unified communications, however, there are now alternatives to voice messaging from both the caller’s as well as the callee’s perspective.

These include:

· “ASAP” (As Soon As Possible) calls can automatically be arranged as soon as both parties are available using federated presence capabilities. It would still be appropriate for the caller to leave a message regarding the subject/purpose of the call, like in email, so that the call recipient will be able to properly be prepared for the callback.

· The call initiator can opt to use IM to make contact, if at a multimodal desktop or mobile device, and the contact recipient is indeed available. This approach is rapidly becoming a popular way to contact the recipient first, than initiate a voice connection by a “click-to-call” action, if appropriate.

· If it becomes necessary to leave a message asynchronously, voice is still convenient and efficient for the caller, but the recipient shouldn’t be forced to retrieve the message only with a voice/telephone interface (TUI). Transcribing the voice message into text enables the recipient to manage message retrieval and disposition more efficiently as part of email or mobile SMS messages. As I mentioned in my column last year, new “voice-to-text messaging” services are rapidly appearing as a service for recipients to replace their legacy voice mail messaging technology. However, there are other improvements that can be made to insure that such messages also enable more flexible response options.

So, we don’t see voice messaging as being “dead,” but the old limitations of voice mail should be a key starting point for the benefits of UC to be realized by the next generation of “callers” and “call recipients.” The question now is how will enterprise voice mail systems transition to UC, where voice transcription to text and visual interfaces can replace the shortcomings of the TUI? Can we give outside callers more control over their voice messages and still protect the recipients need for managing their accessibility and time efficiently?

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.