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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

UM Will Be Biggest Piece of UC

October 12, 2008

UM Getting More Complex But Key Gateway To UC

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

The term “unified messaging” (UM) first showed up in the early days of electronic messaging, when email and voicemail were the only kids on the block. All that UM tried to do then was to have a voicemail system emulate an email user to check for new email messages and then report that those email messages were waiting to be picked up, i.e., simple email message waiting notification. The definition of UM has changed considerably since those early days, as has the world of messaging in general.

As information becomes readily and instantly accessible on the Web and people become more mobile for both information and communication access, real-time person-to-person contacts will really become more difficult because people will become overloaded time-wise. The highly touted “presence” capabilities of UC won’t make busy people more “available,” it will just give them more intelligence for managing their real-time priorities. As a result, asynchronous multimedia messaging will become more prevalent for business communications and UM will become the biggest, practical cornerstone for UC flexibility, especially for mobile “smart-phones.”

Voicemail Has Always Been Confusing

Ever since its birth in the ‘70’s, “voicemail” was torn between doing mailbox-to-mailbox voice message exchange and the “telephone answering” function of caller voice messaging. Since email quickly outpaced voicemail for the former, voicemail quickly became even more focused on incoming call management and caller messaging. (Enterprise voicemail statistics even way back then showed 70% of the voicemail messages were caller-generated)
Voicemail systems had even moved into the realm of sending fax messages to be sent to stored and forwarded to printers and telephone-based caller self-services through IVR technology, but, today, online information portals and increasing adoption of personalized 3G multimodal mobile “smartphones” are starting to displace legacy Telephone User Interfaces (TUIs) for such interactive applications.

UC Power to Asynchronous Messaging

Caller messaging will be affected by several aspects of UC, including telephony presence, which will let callers know if and when the callee will be available for a voice conversation. However, presence has not been of much value for asynchronous messaging, because there is no “real-time” availability required. When it comes to asynchronous caller messaging, there are still practical problems of person-to-person message delivery that need attention. These include:

· Enabling the caller to control message delivery parameters such as “deadlines,” after which there a message that is not picked up should be handled in alternative ways, e.g., returned to sender, sent elsewhere, etc.

· Enable message “importance” to be changed dynamically (increased or decreased) by the sender after it has been sent, but not picked up by the recipient.

· Provide the caller with the option for using voice input for message content creation, but sending in text format. (Current new voice-to-text messaging services are a recipient-controlled option, not caller-controlled.)

· Enable the caller to be aware of message notification capabilities that the recipient has enabled, so that they can be comfortable with sending a message that may have time sensitivity. This may allow the sender to choose the most appropriate form of notification, including “none.”

· Enable the voice message recipient to avoid having to manually back up or skip voice message playbacks or having to transcribe important information in a voice message to text notes. The latter is also important since voicemail systems don’t let you store voice messages for very long and the information cannot not easily be passed on to others in voice form. (New speech recognition technology now allows voice-to-text messaging delivery as service offerings, but they haven’t yet been fully integrated under UC.)

Sender Message Delivery Management and UM/UC

With so much information accessible on the Web, along with “always on” mobile accessibility, people will become less and less available in real-time for person-to-person contacts. That leaves asynchronous messaging as second prize for people who want to initiate those person-to-person contacts. What presence will increasingly do is let people know that people are just not available at the moment for an ad hoc voice conversation.

We don’t need presence to let us send a message, but as described earlier, it would be useful for senders to have more control over the messages they do send, in terms of mode of notification and delivery.

There is also the old issue of who owns that message. Ever since the early days of postal services, English Common Law had the “Mailbox Rule,” which gave ownership of a letter placed in a public mailbox to the addressee, not the sender. Email and Voicemail systems generally still use that rule for sender messages, but with the power of “virtual” IP communications that are not location-based, it may be time to change that rule.

The bottom line is that unified messaging will play an increasingly important role in UC for business communications, especially when messages become contextual UC gateways to voice conversations, conferencing, and self-service business process applications.

New Report On UM Solutions

So what is actually happening in the world of UM technology products?

My colleague at UC and COMMfusion, Blair Pleasant, just updated her market report on Unified Messaging (UM) solutions for 2008. She did a great job of rounding up the technology offerings that have been labeled as unified messaging (UM), but, just like what has happened with “UC,” “UM” has gotten more complicated.

Not only are the offerings different from each other in various ways, but Blair even had to come up with new subcategories of UM (e.g., “Enhanced UM”) to encompass the new “voicemail” functionalities that are part of both the voice messaging and call management playbooks.

Included in the extended user capabilities of “Enhanced UM” are things like:

· Cross-modal conversion from voice to text message content
· Visual, screen-based user interfaces for voice message retrieval (“Visual Voicemail”), caller information and call management (call screening)
· Speech-enabled user interfaces instead of traditional Touchtone TUIs for input
· “Find me, Follow me” personalized call routing to several phone numbers
· Call return to reply to a caller voice message with a contextual call initiation (like “click-to-dial”)

It seems that this new UM report leaves real-time (synchronous) message exchange, e.g. presence-based IM, in the UC, not the UM domain. However, immediate notification and delivery of messages is a real-time aspect of UM.

UM flexibility would support what is now being labeled as “communications enabled business processes” or CEBP, where either calls or messages can be contextually initiated to a specific person on behalf of another user (“person-to-person”) or for an automated “self-service” application process (“process-to-person”). We do have to start thinking about business process applications as if they are unique individuals that we communicate two-way with too!

What Do You Think?
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