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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Business Conversations Need Voice, But Visual Information Too!

With all the new forms of access to text information and messaging, including email, SMS, social, IM, unified messaging, voice-to-text messaging, etc., one wonders what will happen to traditional voice-only conversations over the telephone. Don’t worry too much, because such voice communication contacts are still efficient and important for person-to-person interactions. Whether done over the legacy PSTN, over VoIP connections, or with mobile devices, voice conversations will always be important and necessary. The only thing is that sometimes voice conversation alone is just not enough to do the job!
Let’s face it, trying to describe a situation or an event is not always easy or accurate and is often more time consuming or confusing to the person trying to understand what is being described. So, talk alone is just not enough for faster and better understanding, and therefore traditional voice calls are also not adequate for better and efficient information exchange between people.
“A picture is worth a 1000 Words” – Is video worth a 1000 pictures?
Without trying to quantfy the benefits of sharing pictures or videos vs. just written or spoken words, we know that both can be much more informative in describing something. But, what has not been considered seriously before, is the value of also having the power of voice conversation dynamically combined with the visual information of pictures and videos.
Sure, we have always sent such information before or after a voice conversation, but with the power of unified communications (UC) and the use of multimodal devices, it really is time to close the information exchange gap for dynamic interactions between people who are not sitting together in the same room.
Verbal discussions are very useful for exchanging opinions and highlighting the importance of issues that are being discussed, but not that efficient for describing a specific problem. That is where showing a document, a graph, a picture, or a video clip will be much more effective and more time efficient than just spoken or texted words. In scheduled conference calls, such visual information is usually sent ahead of time to participants, so that they are better prepared to discuss things. However, with the ability to quickly include mobile participants wherever they are, the reference information to be discussed may well have to be exchanged in real time during the conversation.
What people really need to see during a business voice conversation
Zeus Kerravala, in a recent post on No Jitter about collaborative teamwork, decsribed the way people exchanged information as “Audio conferencing allows users to talk to one another. Video conferencing enables us to see each other, and Web conferencing allows workers to share information such as slides and Word documents.”
The only thing I would disagree with in his description, is that video is primarily to “see each other.” Seeing other participants in a conference call is nice but not always critical to the discussion. What is more important is to see a “problem,” not just hear it described, and video may be the best way see what happened or is still happening. So, video conferencing really needs to be seen as an important option in business communications that delivers information about the problem, not just for watching people talk.
Video information can now be delivered over the Web along with voice (WebRTC), not just for “collaboration” by business users, but also as needed by consumers with their smartphones and tablets, as well as by customer assistance staff responding to a customer need. Amazon’s “Mayday” button approach is somewhat limited because it uses video “one-way” to show only the customer service agent on camera, along with shared access to the customer’s tablet screen. The more general case for customer assistance or any business discussion would allow every participant to show pictures or videos of what they are talking about.
With IP network technology and multimodal personal endpoint devices now available to all types of end users, we can now support the combination of visual information and voice. We just need to package things up properly for users to dynamically exploit the combination of visual media with voice conversation more easily an effectively when required. UC flexibility will certainly be key to this flexibility for exchanging any form of information while talking about a problem.  

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Is “Unified Communications” Really “Unified Interactions?”

At Micrsoft’s recent Lync conference, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft’s new head of Lync and  Skype, came up with yet another term for what those two product offerings will do for business communications, i.e., “Universal Communications.” It doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement over what we at  UC Strategies have been calling “Unified Communications” (UC). After all, what is the big difference between “unified” and “universal?” My feeling is that either term is acceptable, but the real problem is that people think “communications” means it is only about person-to-person contacts.
If you look up the definition of “communications” in Wikipedia, you will find that “communications” is limited to contacts between people.
Communication (from Latin commūnicāre, meaning "to share" [1]) is the activity of conveying information through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, visuals, signals, written, or behavior. It is the meaningful exchange of information between two or more living creatures.
True, it used to be that, before interactive computing, the only way a business transaction could be performed or business information could be accessed remotely was through a live person (telephone, mail), but that has really changed with direct consumer access to online applications through multi-modal smartphones and tablets. Rather than just person-to-person contacts, users can now get or give information by interacting with online applications, and, vice versa, people can receive alerts, reminders, and timely notifications from automated applications (CEBP). So, “communications,” as commonly defined being just between people, is really not adequate for what is actually happening in computer-based business activities.
Time To Upgrade “Communications” To “Interactions”
Don’t get me wrong! We still need person-to-person contacts, but now we need to include contacts between a person and an automated application. The way I see it, both types of contacts may be considered as interactions – interactions between people or between a person and an automated application. In addition, either type of interaction can be two-way, i.e., a person or application contacts you or you contact a person or an application. Since there are many efficiency benefits to be gained by minimizing the need for involving another person in accessing/delivering information, or performing a routine transaction, that choice should now become a flexible option of any self-service application.
If we now look at what we are “unifying,” “optimizing,” or “universalizing,” it’s not the old definition of “communications,” but rather any interaction with people or with automated online applications. What is also most important, is that the flexibility to dynamically choose the mode of interaction is now practical with increasing end user adoption of BYOD multimodal mobile devices that can support all the mobile user’s situational needs. Further, when one user wants to talk but the the user can’t hear, or one user want to type text but the othe user can’t look (e.g., driving a car) speech–to-text and text-to speech conversions can be brought into play for contact exchanges.
“Unified Interactions” (UI) Hits The User Interfaces On The Head
As BYOD takes hold with multinodal mobile device use by all kinds of end users, the flexibility for more efficiently exchanging information and conversation in different modes becomes more practical. Now we are hearing a lot more about the “User Experience,” which really depends on the User Interface (UI) with both person-to-person contacts and interactions with online applications that are rapidly becoming more mobile than just restricted to desktops devices.
What “Unified” means is that the different modes can be dynamically used by people involved with any form of interaction with other people or with an automated application process (inbound or outbound). In a real-time videoconference session, some people can be “on camera” with video, while others can only see the “video,” but still participate in the voice conversation; all participants may also be able to see any form of information that is exchanged (document, messages, video clips, etc.) If you want to call that “Universal,” fine, but I think the real focus should be on whether interactions will be just between people or between both people and online applications.  

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