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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 31, 2013

Happy UC Migrations In 2014         

It’s the end of 2013, and even though there has been much talk about “unified communications (UC),” there really hasn’t been much action! Part of the reason is that there is still a lot of confusion about what “UC” really means and it’s not just about IP-based, person-to-person voice call connections or (VoIP).
The future of business communications is rapidly being accepted as becoming more mobile, multimodal, IP based, and integrated with business process applications, but what does that really mean for legacy PSTN-based  telephony systems?. The major challenges for every organization, large or small, for moving forward towards that future are twofold. First, understanding how and where the benefits of using the new communications technology will apply to the various operational needs and priorities of the individual business operation. Secondly, planning a minimally disruptive and cost effective migration from their current communication technologies. 
The UC change will basically impact how the legacy wired, premised-based, PSTN-connected telephony system will be subsumed by wired and wireless cloud-based Internet connectivity services, and how Communications Enabled Business Process applications will replace person-to-person contact activities. Such change will obviously be an evolutionary one, so most organizations will face the old syndrome of “one foot on land (CPE, PSTN) and the other in the canoe (cloud services, WebRTC).” So, it will be important to use technology that is flexible enough to connect the old with new.
 I usually like to focus on what the end users will need and want from communication user interfaces, but there is no question that infrastructure and connectivity that end users don’t see, are equally important for implementation planning. Patton Electronics is a well-established technology provider in Europe, but less well known in the U.S., that is focused on providing the connectivity technology to connect all the old endpoints with all the new business communications endpoints required by both organizations and service providers that must migrate to the UC future. As every organization starts their migration planning  towards IP Telephony as part of UC enablement, they will need the connectivity flexibility that Patton’s SmartNode and integration services with Microsoft and IBM UC platforms can offer.
Smartphones and tablets are changing  the landscape of most business applications, expanding end user multimodal access to information and people for both consumers and enterprise employees. BYOD concerns have required organizations to find a way to keep job-related activities separate from personal use of a user’s mobile device. This was done with technology described as “dual persona” container sandboxing on the mobile device, where the business container is controlled by the organization, and the user controls the personal container.
Since consumers and BYOD employees get their mobile devices and services from the wireless carriers that also provide network access connectivity, it is no surprise that wireless service provider AT&T, came up with a cloud-based “dual persona” capability for online business applications under the label of AT&T Toggle (SM). To complement Toggle, AT&T just announced a trial of a mobile app (Toggle Voice, based on AT&T's RingCentral offering) that provides an old mobile phone capability for using two phone numbers for separately initiating, receiving, and billing business and personal phone calls. Such a personal/business dual-reach capability has been demonstrated in the past by companies like Broadsoft, Movius, and Divide, but AT&T might be unique among US carriers in offering this combination of a secondary business number within a business container.
The service convergence of real-time voice calls with online mobile apps will have a significant impact on how end users will interact with companies, especially as customers who need live assistance within the context of online self-service applications. Because mobile consumers can now directly access such online applications for information and transactions through business websites, they will use such access as a first level of engagement, rather than with traditional PSTN phone calls or other modes of contact.
Similarly, because mobile consumers can now be contacted anytime and anywhere, business process applications can be authorized by customers to initiate automated notifications for important, time-sensitive situations (airline flight canceled or delayed, bank account status changes, health monitoring alerts, etc). Such notifications can also provide for convenient, “contextual” responses as well as flexible access to available live assistance.  
“Dual Persona” Mobile Devices Are Not Enough
Many industry observers, including myself, have long talked about the need for mobile devices to accommodate secure use of both business and personal communications and applications. That is being accommodated by various mobile clients and APIs that control different “containerized” online interaction functions on a mobile device.  However, there may be several “personas” that an end user can require, not just a single job-related one, or a single “personal” one. For this reason, BYOD must include the ability for end point devices to use separate and secure “interaction personas” that are personalized for each individual end user. (“BYOP?”)
As a starting point for business communications, job-related personas will typically be implemented by organizations to support their mobile employees and business partners. However, since every business user is a also a consumer and therefore a customer of a variety of public service and product providers, mobile customer services will also have to be accommodated for personalized information access via “mobile apps” and proactive customer notifications. This will be particularly important for health care and financial services.
Customer services are moving away from legacy telephone call centers and IVR applications to support multimodal mobile consumers. This is particularly critical for “BYOD” mobile users who will be using a variety of smartphones and tablets, with different form factors and mobile operating systems, for all their mobile interactions with people and online applications.
Mobile devices must therefore be able to securely and efficiently support different modes of IP communications between people (messaging, phone/video calls, social posts) as well as personalized interactions with a variety of business process applications designed for consumers/customers. In particular, every self-service “mobile app” will need to provide “click-for-assistance” options that will be UC-enabled for the user’s choice of multimodal communication. (This covers a lot of different activities that must be managed by a single mobile device, but the basic mobile device technology that has already been developed for both network connectivity and application access security, needs to be expanded and customized to cover all the real world use cases.
It’s still early in the service development game, but multimodal mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) are rapidly being adopted by all types of end users (BYOD). This is driving the need for mobile communication service providers to securely support separate controls for organizational employees, business partners, customers, and consumers with what I call personalized “Interaction Management Spaces” on their individual mobile devices. 

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