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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Doctors Can't Text?

UC and CEBP Can Provide Fast, Secure Communications For Mobile Service Providers and Consumers

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

Health care activities have long been recognized as a big target for UC flexibility, particularly for mobile end users and for personalized automated notifications. However, a recent announcement by the health care industry’s Joint Commission showed the potential for another way UC-enabled applications can play a key role for convenient and efficient contacts.

The Joint Commission stated that texting medical orders directly is not acceptable because of authentication and record keeping requirements. Needless to say, the convenience of using mobile smartphones and tablets would be limited. However, while person-to-person texting is prohibited, person-to-process-to-person should be acceptable, and that’s where Mobile UC flexibility and CEBP come into play.

The doctor who wishes to initiate a medical order can simply do so through a mobile app that first requires secure access and authentication, including a written signature or voice ID if necessary. The order can be input as speech or typed, and then becomes a text message that is then deliverable to authorized recipients, which can include hospitals, pharmacies, and the specific patient. The voice recording of an order is also useful for validating a record of the medical order.

The patient involved can be immediately notified and have access to a copy of an order to be aware of what will be done and to quickly follow up with timely usage of any medications involved.

Doesn’t that look like a multi-modal UC application to you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

UC Interoperability For End Users

Copyright (C) Unified-View, All Rights Reserved.
November 20, 2011

UC Interoperability - Separation of Church, State, And Also End Users

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

Unified Communications (UC)-enabled applications must be supported in various ways and “interoperability,” a loose label being used to describe a major challenge (See No Jitter post) in supporting UC’s operational growth. For many providers of UC applications and services, interoperability simply means getting old and new communications applications to work together at various levels, including network access, application user interfaces, and endpoint device form factors and operating systems. However, we also have to consider interoperability as a means of gracefully transitioning from the past to the future. This will not only be a challenge in transitioning technologies, but also challenge to the role of an organization in controlling access to both its information resources and its communications between people (internal staff, customers, and business partners).

When it comes to UC applications, we have to consider is who is providing and supporting those applications as well who is controlling their use at the endpoints. That is why we need to look at business communications from the organizations perspective ("church"), the service provider perspective ("state"), and lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the individual end user perspective.

Business communications (particularly voice telephony) are transitioning away from hardware-based, location-based technologies to "open" software and "virtual" applications that can more easily interoperate with each other. They are also shifting to application-driven real-time notifications and multimedia self-services rather than requiring person-to-person phone calls for real-time information access and delivery. Bottom line is that traditional requirements for enterprise communication control is expanding away from just the wired premise desktop to multi-modal, mobile BYOD devices that will be primarily controlled by the individual end users through UC and shared for the many different contacts with other organizations that the individual end user has “business” relations with.

These technology shifts would suggest that much of yesterday's real-time, voice-only desktop telephony requirements will be significantly reduced in favor of multimedia user interfaces, asynchronous forms of personalized contact, and real-time mobile notifications, with the option of "click-to-call/talk/video" connectivity based on accessibility and availability (presence). End users will be initiating voice conversations differently and managing responses to such contacts differently than traditional call management.

So, the basic question really is how will that transition take place from the perspective of enterprise technology? Will it shift (slowly or quickly) completely or partially (hybrid) to virtual cloud based IP network services that can satisfy application customization, management, and security needs? That's where standards and interoperability become key and both the industry (technology providers, service providers) and the markets still have "one foot on land and one foot in the canoe!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

The "UC Contact Center" For All Business Communications

Copyright © 2011 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

November 13, 2011

Welcome To The New “UC Contact Center”

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

It is getting very apparent that the current shifting of communications technology to software and mobile, multimodal devices (smartphones, tablets) is also driving business communications towards greater flexibility in initiating and responding to business contacts between people and with automated business process “apps.” Most importantly, with a flexible UC framework, business communications can now selectively accommodate all contact and informational access needs for end users both inside and outside an organization. Such flexibility will have a significant impact on the traditional, telephone-oriented “call center,” enabling its transition to a true, two-way “contact center” between people and business process applications.

Unified communications (UC) has been defined by the experts at UC Strategies as “Communications integrated to optimize business processes.” That definition seems to have held up well to cover both “communications” and “business processes,” but it leaves open the question of how and when UC can best be implemented.

Because voice telephony is moving to more flexible, efficient, and less expensive IP networking, it is now being viewed as part of general UC capabilities. As such, all business telephony technologies have to be rethought in terms of UC flexibility, and one of the most important areas is the good old “call center.” While leading providers of contact center technology are revising their product offerings under various product names, they really are all expanding telephony call center functionality with multimodal UC capabilities.

The Evolution of the “UC Contact Center”

It all started with the telephone and business callers having to leave messages when they couldn’t speak to a person that could deal with their needs. Before answering machines came into play, “message desks” in large organizations wrote out simple pink message slips identifying the caller, while commercial “answering services” collected transcribed messages for subscriber retrieval when they did not answer their phones (busy, ring no answer). Later, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) technology queued incoming calls for assignment to the next available “agent.”

Such communication services were not restricted to handling incoming calls, but also included outbound dialing to notify the call recipient of an urgent call and, if appropriate, cross-connected the caller to the recipient. In other cases, the answering service included a “dispatch function” to alert a field service person via their wireless pager to call in and retrieve message information from the operator who took the call.

In an attempt to minimize the use of live agents to give callers basic information and handle simple transactions, the call centers started using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies to handle incoming calls. However, because of the limitations of the telephone device, caller input was done via the Telephone User Interface (TUI), where all input was made through the Touch-Tone keypad, and all output was done through pre-recorded speech. Needless to say, IVR was useful for only simple applications, and anything complex required the call to be transferred to a queue for a live call center agent.

The “call center” name transitioned to “contact center” many years ago with the growth of the Web and consumer email usage, but one of the real benefits of UC and multimodal smartphones that can now be offered to consumers/customers is to increase easy-to-use self-service applications for information access and transactions. Not only do self-services, if done right, increase user satisfaction with on-demand access and responsiveness, but they also reduce the amount of labor costs to service such customers.

Outbound vs. Inbound Calls

“Call centers” were primarily designed to handle incoming calls from customers who didn’t want to speak to a specific person, just someone who could answer their questions and perform transactions, like make an appointment, change their service information, etc. However, outbound calls were also distributed to call center agents to deliver notifications, reminders, solicit new business, etc. The problem with outbound calls is that there is no guarantee of the accessibility of the person being contacted, so automated outdialing technology was introduced to detect ring/no answer, busy lines, answering machines, etc, before assigning the live call to an agent. If the phone was answered by an answering machine, voice mail, or someone other than the specific person (callee) desired, the calling agent could only leave a message.

With the increasing use of mobile smartphones, not only can a specific person be contacted for a phone connection more easily, but also personalized messages and notifications can be delivered quickly and easily in text or speech to their personal devices. This will be particularly important for time-sensitive notifications such as health care, financial services, and emergency situations.

To add further business benefits from mobile, multimodal smartphones, automated business process applications can initiate such outbound contacts, along with immediate access to self-service functions, without requiring a live agent. With UC capabilities, however, “click-to-contact” options will still allow the customer to access live assistance and expertise contextually from within the notification or self-service application. That minimizes labor costs while still enabling easy and selective access to live assistance for a better customer experience.

The “UC Contact Center” For Internal Users and “Job Contacts”

When you mention the term “contact center,” the old image of dedicated agents handling calls to and from customers is triggered. However, as business users increasingly use mobile smartphones and can benefit from “dual persona” separation of “job contacts” from personal contacts, they too can benefit from timely notifications and on-demand access to live assistance within the organization.

Job contacts can include both traditional “person-to-person” contacts for collaborative activities, as well as contacts through Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP). Again, both person-to-person contacts and timely automated notifications can be efficiently utilized when the recipients are using multimodal smartphones. So, there will be many business process “use cases” that can benefit from the combination of UC and the centralized, multimodal “UC Contact Center.”

Bottom Line For UC Planning

For these reasons, all legacy call centers have to be on the top of the list for UC migration planning. There will be implications for how dedicated contact center “agents” are trained, monitored, evaluated, etc. for maximum job performance in a multimodal, telecommuting environment. Customer interactions will likewise be affected by CRM issues that will change because of dynamic mobile contacts, both inbound and outbound.

Now is also the time to trial self-service applications for both customers and for internal users to insure that the user experience will be most effective when deployed for general use. Such trials can be done more quickly and less expensively by exploiting CaaS (Communications as a Service) offerings, before finalizing procurement and implementation decisions.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

IBM Sets BYOD Example

Copyright © 2011 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

November 1, 2011

IBM ‘s BYOD Approach Shows The Way To Enterprise Mobile UC

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

I have long suggested that business UC implementation planning include mobility use cases for several practical reasons.

  • Mobile users have greater need for UC flexibility
  • Mobile business users will also be mobile consumers
  • Business applications that deal with time-sensitive notifications can benefit from end user Mobile UC
  • Mobile accessibility will require federated presence information that UC can support
  • Messaging with “click-to-call/chat” is becoming more practical with mobile smartphones
  • Mobile access to web portals make multi-modal devices more effective for application interactions

The big news in business communications is that IBM is supporting employee use of their own mobile devices (smartphones, tablets), while focusing on secure access to internal information. By the end of the this year, 100,000 IBM employees will be able to securely access IBM internal networks with their own devices and network services that will also be used for personal applications and entertainment (dual persona). In 2012, another 100,000 employees will also be BYOD enabled.

Employees will be paying for their own devices and will require loading IBM management software for security purposes. In addition, IBM will require passwords and use VPNs for access to information applications. Initially, IBM will provide contact and calendar access through its Lotus Traveler.

In addition to allowing employees to use public mobile apps, IBM will also provide approved third-party and internal apps from its Whirlwind app store, launched in late 2010.

IBM’s move to BYOD will expand the role of UC for its mobile users, enabling both person-to-person contact flexibility and CEBP notifications from time-sensitive applications. IBM’s BYOD policy is setting an example for large organizations to migrate their legacy telephony business communications to a more cost efficient and productive virtual and mobile UC environment.

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