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Friday, January 25, 2013

"Portable UC" Tools When You Have To Sit Down

January 23, 2013

Back in the early days of UC, I wrote an article about end user communications needs when “standing up or sitting down.” This was when mobile business users had only laptops and cell phones to communicate when away from their desks. I was then thinking about the user interface experience when an end user is on the go, but still needs communication and information access while away from their PC and telephone desktop.
I later blogged about the role of wireless tablets for UC, when mobile users need larger screens for online information access from portable devices, better than could be provided by small, handheld smartphones or heavy laptops. The “softphone” interface of tablets without keyboards, however, although very flexible, doesn’t really lend itself to fast, error free performance in quickly handling incoming phone calls, messaging or video exchanges. With the recent “UC Keyboard” announcement by PC desktop accessory provider Logitech, initially for use with Cisco’s Jabber soft client, they have updated a standard USB keyboard with new “hard keys” to directly control nine basic real-time communication functions.

Logitech’s UC Desktop Accessories – More “Nails” In The Desktop Phone Coffin

Although desktop “hard” phones are relatively easy to use, they don’t really do too much for a multi-modal UC environment. What made them “easy” to use, especially for incoming call control, were the simple feature buttons for telephony control functions. As those telephony functions became integrated with “contextual” intelligence (“click-to-call”) and multimedia UC enablement of PCs and multi-modal smartphones, the call controls became more complex and difficult for fast, ease of use. It was time to bridge the gap between the simple button set of TUI controls and the screen-based “smarts” of UC-enabled software interfaces. That is precisely the gap that the Logitech “UC Keyboard” fills for desktop PCs and portable wireless tablets.
Besides simplifying inbound call control functions for a desktop PC, the Logitech offering also extends such controls to audio and video conferencing with its basic nine “hard” control keys. To further expand its UC capabilities when you are sitting down to conference with remote participants, Logitech also offers a portable, HD-capable webcam for video conferencing. 
At our recent UC Strategies Experts podcast discussion with Eric Kintz, Senior VP and GM at Logitech for Business, he indicated that their solution would eventually support a variety of wireless tablets that are starting to replace portable laptops for mobile users. While not as “mobile” as handheld smartphones, portable, wireless tablets have a strong role for mobile users in sitting down to do business, including using all forms of communication interactions. The tablet market is exploding rapidly for both business users and consumers, and is therefore in need of convenient, UC-enabled services and user interfaces.

Business Use Cases

There are obviously several types of business activities where end users can benefit from the increased ease of use and operational efficiency that Logitech’s new portable UC Keyboard and webcam offer. In addition, remote teleworkers, as well as mobile consumers, who have to stay in touch wherever they are, will like these devices as part of their personal adoption of tablets. I consider Logitech’s offering as part of the “BYOD” syndrome, where all end users will decide how they want to control their communication interfaces.
As I have long been advocating, one of the biggest targets for UC enablement and therefore for the UC Keyboard offering, will be around the “Interaction Center,” where it will be critical customers to integrate online self-service and mobile applications with on demand, multi-modal contact with live assistance. Customers may be sometimes mobile, standing up or sitting down, customer service agents will probably always be sitting down, and field support personnel will probably always be on the move. Therefore, having the flexibility for supporting these different end users consistently across desktops and mobile tablets, will benefit everyone involved in a customer service process.
Vertical markets,where fast and simple communication controls for shared PCs by employees will be of interest, include:
·        Health care
·        Financial services
·        Retail operations, where personnel are moving around
·        Education
·        “Hot Desking” for any business where some employees don’t have permanent “office” desk
This first offering only integrates with Cisco’s Jabber (IM and Presence), but we would expect that Logitech will eventually provide support for other popular UC clients (MS Lync, Avaya). The lack of adequate standards, of course, is still a big part of the problem, but with the advent of WebRTC, things will get better.        
Copyright © 2013 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mobile Customer Services Need UC

Copyright © 2013 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

UC is not just a single product or service, but is a combination of device independent, communication applications that can be used for both person-to-person contacts, as well as for direct user interactions with automated business applications. According to analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, 65% of consumers are now demanding self-service around the clock, rather than waiting to connect to a call center agent. (Surprise, surprise!) Because of the rapid consumer adoption of multi-modal smartphones and tablets, where the flexible choice of user interfaces from a single mobile device is more necessary than at a wired desktop, Mobile UC is therefore becoming more important to customer interactions with self-service applications before talking contextually to a live person. 
Mobile consumers are all grabbing the latest and greatest multi-modal smartphones and tablets of their choice, but business organizations are just starting to realize its not just “employee BYOD” security that they need to be concerned about. With mobile consumers increasingly accessing online, self-service applications, coupled with UC-enabled “click-for-live-assistance,” as well as time-sensitive, personalized alerts and notifications, the customer service bar has been raised for traditional contact center responsibilities. This will not only make overall customer services more accessible, flexible, and cost efficient, but it will increase customer satisfaction by providing more direct access to information. 
Although virtualized, “cloud” based business and communication software applications have already been increasingly implemented for internal use by employees, moving mobile customer self-service applications to the “clouds” can provide greater operational flexibility and business performance benefits than legacy, premise-based call center technologies. 
Where Will Mobile Apps Live? In Public and Private “Clouds!”  
Self-service “mobile apps” that organizations want to offer mobile consumers for business needs must have the following characteristics:
·        Have to be accessible from anywhere
·        Have to accommodate all popular consumer mobile devices
·        Have to have minimal impact on the user’s device, i.e., be extremely “thin” and not normally require downloading any software application changes to an endpoint’s software “client.”
·        Have to support mobile user choices for multi-media input/output interfaces (UC enabled)
·        Be consistent with existing, online applications
·        Where required, provide for authentication and encryption of any data or transactions that are involved in the application. This will be applicable for those applications that will available only to authorized customers.
·        Provide easy access to relevant community social networking between customers
·        Last, but not least, be UC-enabled for a mobile user to flexibly escalate from any self-service application to access live assistance in any form of contact
(I’m sure there may be more requirements for different vertical market applications, but this is just a top-of-mind basic list for what the customer will want.)
Given that “mobile applications” will be software based, they will constantly be changing and evolving. In addition, “consumer BYOD” means that there will be a variety of mobile and desktop devices and operating systems that must be served by a set of consistent versions of online applications. So, it won’t be just one software application that must interface to the customers and their smartphones, tablets, or laptops, but a matched set of every application that must also share the same databases in common. This makes the challenge of developing, supporting, and managing all self-service applications a lot more complex, and demands that such applications be centralized and location independent for mobile use.
Clearly, this means that “cloud” solutions, whether public, private, or hybrid, are the only practical approach to the challenge of universal BYOD. However, multi-modal mobility requirements also means that all self-service applications, whatever the medium chosen the end user, has to be UC enabled in order to allow flexible contact with live assistance on demand. This will be particularly important, as mobile customers using online self-service apps, will often require the kind of technical assistance that employees get from a “Help Desk.”    
The New Role For Channel Partners and Consultants To Help Organizations Plan and Implement Customized, Cloud-based, UC-enabled Mobile Applications?
While there are many business benefits to be gained by providing UC-enabled mobile self-services through cloud-based applications, the real challenge is in how to do it. Not only is it complex, but also most organizations will never have the IT resources to take on all the ongoing responsibilities for developing, integrating, and maintaining all the customized software involved.
Although we can all envision the future of business communications and the role of self-service applications, the technology tools must still be strategically applied by expertise which is not readily available from internal IT resources. Such expertise therefore has to come from support organizations that are already familiar with operational needs, as well as knowledgeable about new UC-enabled technologies from more than one vendor.
Forget the days when a phone system supplier had all the piece-parts for “business communications.” Today, vendor channel partners, along with independent consultants, are becoming the trusted advisors for implementation planning, technology support, and ongoing management of UC-enabled applications. They won’t replace all the responsibilities of internal IT staffs, but they can provide the basic services needed to move old, premise-based and desktop applications into the complexities of UC-enabled, mobilized applications from private, public, and hybrid  “clouds.”
Most telephone system vendors, as well as the public carriers, have seen the “writing on the clouds,” and are quickly moving to support the next generation of IP telephony, video, messaging, mobility, and UC through hosted/managed services that are “cloud” based. Not only are they developing the necessary software tools for such transitions, but are also helping their VARs and channel partners become qualified to implement and support customized business communications through “cloud” based application services. Take a look at a recent podcast discussion with 8x8 on this subject.
Watch this Mobile UC evolution continue to impact the customer service market in 2013.