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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.        
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