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March 24, 2009
UC Productivity , People "Accessibility”, and the Death of “Dumb” Touch-Tone Telephones
The basic objective of business communications is to improve accessibility to both people and information. The Internet and the World Wide Web has already made tremendous inroads in providing “virtualized” search and access to information, so the remaining challenge is to maximize similar ease of access to people. That is the fundamental objective of unified communications (UC), whether it is “person-to-person” or (automated) “process-to-person.” Conversational voice telephony is not going to disappear from the UC picture, in fact it may increase significantly because it may become easier. However, how people will be initiating and responding to phone contacts will certainly be changing.
The birth pains of UC, however, are deeply entwined with the migration of legacy, voice-centric TDM telephony to converged IP-based telephony and the media flexibility of multi-modal “smart-phones.” Disruptive changes have started taking place at all layers of business communication technology and usage, ranging from wired and wireless network infrastructures to “cloud-based” communication applications to new forms of end point communication devices. As UC-based services extend more flexible communications access beyond the boundaries of location, organization, networks, and devices, they have started to threaten the legacy telephony technologies of both enterprise organizations and service providers.
Communication “Availability” vs. “Accessibility”
While presence-based “availability” has been a differentiating factor in supporting the productivity benefits of UC for “person-to-person” contacts, it should not be confused with contact “accessibility.” Being “accessible” doesn’t necessarily mean being “available” for a voice conversation, but the reverse is also true - being “available” doesn’t necessarily mean being “accessible.”
To have a real-time interaction with a person, it will be necessary for that person to be both “available” and “accessible.” On the other hand, it will be sufficient to be just “accessible” to communicate via all forms of messaging. As messaging activity increasingly dominates business and social contact activities, the need to maximize individual user “accessibility” via more flexible endpoint devices will become universal.
Maximizing People “Accessibility” With Mobile, Multi-modal Devices
What triggered this article is the acknowledgement in the industry press that personalized, multi-modal mobility and “smart phones” will take over business communications the same way it is taking over the consumer market. What that means is that the business telephone, as we have long known it, is going to change dramatically into a flexible, multimodal, computerized device that can accommodate more than voice conversations. Not only will such devices allow efficient visual access to information from web-based portals, but they will also allow telephony functions to integrate “contextually” and seamlessly with all forms of screen-based text messaging and business applications.
It is therefore necessary for enterprise organizations to “cut to the chase” and start planning and prioritizing how their existing telephony technologies must slowly change to maximize the operational business benefits of UC and how such changes will include prioritizing the different UC needs of individual “end users.” The flexibility of mobile or desktop “smart-phones” coupled with UC, can maximize individual end user accessibility and productivity, as well as associated business process performance. Depending upon the contact needs of specific end users, however, the UC ROI “bottom line” will be heavily dependent upon the replacement of “dumb,” voice-only telephones as a primary communication device wherever they are used!
The confusion for IT management that has long surrounded the definition of “unified communications” because of the convergence of its different technology components is now also hitting the definition of mobile “smart phones” (Read Matt Hamblen's post at: http://www.infoworld.com/news/feeds/09/03/16/Cell-phone--smartphone----whats-the-difference.html?source=gs)
See also what is now being labeled as “media phones” for the wired desktop. The software elements of “smart-phones” are like PCs and laptops, ranging from mobile operating systems to software clients to a variety of business and consumer applications that must support different user interface options and device form factors. All of this makes the choice of devices more personalized and complex, rather than a “one-size fits all” that an enterprise could supply in the past to employees.
What Does That Mean To Enterprise IT?
While individual end users and their job responsibilities will determine what endpoint devices they will carry with them for all their person-to-person communication needs, there will still be other enterprise responsibilities that IT will have to fulfill. These will include the need to cost-effectively support all business communication activities, including business “process-to-person” contacts and information access.
For openers, all forms of communications will generate traffic that needs to be supported by adequate broadband network capacity, both wired and wireless. Because of mobile access and contacts with customers or business partners, such connections will extend beyond the domain of enterprise controlled private networks. On the other hand, automated business process application contacts with end users will require appropriate information access security and integrations between communication applications, better known as Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP).
Given the dynamic flexibility of UC-based contacts, usage traffic will vary dynamically from the siloed email and telephone traffic of the past. This will make projections of UC traffic and private network needs difficult to specify in advance, but is especially important for estimating cost savings that can be derived from usage-based hosted UC services.
When it comes to supplying mobile endpoint communication devices, the enterprise will need to shift to supplying business client software, not hardware, for devices that will accommodate both personal/consumer needs and secure business process applications. The term “Dual Persona” has been used to describe this capability for a single device to manage all forms of contact (incoming and outgoing) for a single individual user. This should help support the challenge of “multitasking” between applications, between people relationships, and between job and personal responsibilities.
“Smart-phone” Flexibility and End User Productivity – UC-U = UC-I + UC-R
When it comes to measuring the “soft” user productivity ROI of UC, which looks at individual end user time saved because of ease and speed of communicating, the term “UC-U” has been created. This is differentiated from the business process ROI of “UC-B,” which looks at the total performance of a business process task in terms of elapsed time and quality, and is dependent to some extent on UC-U benefits that can be very dependent upon endpoint device UC flexibility that mobile and desktop “smart-phones” can provide.
But we really must look at UC-U from the two user roles in communications, the “initiator” and the “recipient/respondent” roles. Each role has its functional needs that must be supported by flexible application, network, and device capabilities to achieve end-to-end efficiency and effectiveness. So, when evaluating all the pieces in a UC solution or service, the productivity benefit for contact initiation (UC-I) should be evaluated separately from contact reception/response (UC-R). While most people will need both kinds of capabilities at different times, there will always be business processes where the value of one will be more important than the other. More significantly, it will be necessary to monitor communication activities to insure that end users exploit each type of capability properly to maximize both UC-U and UC-B.
What Do You Think?
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