UC on the Go
In this Industry Buzz podcast, Dave Michels moderates a discussion with the UCStrategies Experts about mobile UC. Also included are Michael Finneran, Blair Pleasant, Roberta J. Fox, Dr. Joseph Williams, and Clark Richter.
Topics include safety, legal, and privacy issues surrounding mobile UC; the concept of persistent video; and is the future of UC going to involve teaching people how to work and interact in person?
Transcript for UC on the Go
Dave Michels: Hi, this is Dave Michels. We have the UCStrategies team here today by video. Today's topic is UC on the Go. We are going to be talking about expectations around mobile UC, including user expectations, IT issues and vendor expectations. So as with most things mobile, let's first turn to Mr. Finneran. Michael, why don’t you start us out?
Michael Finneran: Yeah, well you are right. There are lots of flavors of UC on the go, and everyone always immediately assumes we are talking about tablets and Smartphones. A part of this really has not taken off that well at all. But for years we have been recommending that particularly when users are roaming international that they use Smartphone clients and UC clients on their laptops either at a public hotspot in a hotel room or conceivably over the mobile network itself, though typically international roaming is one of the last great rip-offs in the cellular business. A big announcement on that Wednesday, by the way, from T-Mobile, who is now going to be treating about a hundred countries overseas as part of the user's home zone.
But at face value it looks like they should be successful. People are already stressed when they are out of the office. They are trying to stay in the loop, and the sorts of tools that we can offer to them, however connected, be it via cellular networks, Wi-Fi networks, hotel networks, should keep them as connected as they are in their home office. A lot of the tools have been difficult to use, so I would like to hear from some of the other experts about what their experience or success or lack thereof, has been in trying to get the UC capability really extended out to those mobile users.
Dave Michels: But let me ask you, I was just at the STC conference last week and they talked about the legal issues around driving. And they suggested that there was some employer liability if employees are expected to be on the phone while driving. Do you have any thoughts on that topic?
Michael Finneran: I have very strong feelings on that because I don’t think anyone should be operating a cell phone when they are trying to operate a car. Most people can’t do the car thing well enough to begin with, and adding the additional complexity of the cell phone to it is more than a hazard. Invariably when you pass that guy who is lomming along at 45 miles an hour in the left hand zone in the big SUV when you pass them, they are always talking on the cell phone. People just can’t. The phrase they have come up for it is called “inattention blindness,” and indeed there are liabilities. There have been cases settled for tens of millions of dollars.
So if you are on work hours and driving a car and get into an accident, invariability the lawyers are going after the deepest pockets they can find and that’s going to be the employer. But just for common sense, certainly texting is insane. You really cannot concentrate very well on two things, and the more complex the conversation, the more likely you will be ignoring something. And they have done some great studies. For example, have somebody involved in conversation and look how often they move their eyes. Essentially they get tunnel vision. Sometimes they are lucky enough to get home without killing somebody, but you are just making driving more difficult than it has to be.
I should add that I have suggested this policy to virtually every customer I have done policy work for in mobility, and not a single one has taken me up on it because the salesmen will all kill them. But it’s not a good idea.
Dave Michels: So what does an employer do to minimize their exposure? I mean if the sales folks are just going to be doing it anyway, how do you get by this liability issue without just looking the other way?
Michael Finneran: You can’t, plain and simple. I mean, the best you can hope to do is ensure that they follow – or your policy states you must do whatever is required by the local laws, which generally means hands-free. But the reality is that’s a fig leaf. It makes absolutely no difference at all whether you are wearing a headset. And of course in New York you’ll regularly see people who won’t hold the cell phone here (by their heads); instead they hold it here in front of them (on their laps). So they still have one hand on the wheel. They’re not paying any attention, but somehow they seem to think if it is not held next to their head it is less of a danger. It’s insane.
Blair Pleasant: I actually had something happen last week. I was driving and California has new laws and I was turning on the headset because I was in my husband's car so I was actually trying to turn on the Bluetooth so that I would be hands-free, and a cop pulled me over because he thought I was texting. I explained that I was trying to be safe and do the right thing by turning on my Bluetooth, and he said, no, you have to do that before you even get in the car. We cannot even see you turning on the Bluetooth or doing anything that looks like you might be texting or using your phone. He basically said if we see you even touching your phone you can get a ticket.
Dave Michels: I had this weird little situation where I was in California where I think it is illegal in California, that’s where you are, Blair, to be talking on the cell phone while driving. And I didn’t want to talk on the cell phone, but I wanted to listen to a podcast, which I figured was no different than listening to a radio station. The only way I could get the podcast was on my phone and because my phone has a small speaker the only way I could hear it was to hold the phone up to my ear the whole time.
So I was driving with the phone up to my ear listening to a podcast, not conversing, and for some reason that’s a legal distinction except for the fact that I was holding a phone up to my ear which would have made it a ticketable offense. It’s a very gray area, but I am not sure how you can make it not gray. But let's move off driving a little bit. Roberta, what are your thoughts on mobile UC?
Roberta J. Fox: Well, thanks, Dave. A good thing for using video today – I want to make a point. Here is my mobile device that has basically everything I can do, right? So I have that. But here is the bag with all of the gadgets and accessories. This has my Bluetooth, my wires, all of the adaptors, the power plugs, the extension cords. So it’s very pedantic, but all my apps are on this little device, but everything to use it is on this one.
So some of the gotchas are, if I went to a conference, like my first UCStrategies UC Summit last year, I had the brand new ZED10 and I forgot to take that custom little adaptor, so I couldn’t charge it. So it’s the little things. Lighting is another one that sometimes gets us where you are in a bad place and you cannot see your screen. Or, I don’t have nails, but if I had big nails... It is those funny little things that you don’t always think about. But when I was getting ready for this, I am going, “this is crazy because this weighs more than my phone.” But I keep it with me everywhere now.
Dave Michels: Do you have a separate pouch like that for all of your outfits that match or is it just a coincidence today?
Roberta J. Fox: No, no, it is just that all of our clothes are branded, with the Canadian tax structure... I also wanted to add a point just from a traffic perspective. If you are conscientious and pull over; in Toronto we have some parts of the highway that are 26 lanes. There is new tracking – people pulling over to take the call are causing accidents because they are trying to be safe. So that is another one. But yeah, so this part here, the “gotchas” for me for the UC apps on the go are the peripherals and accessories.
Dave Michels: One topic that is coming up more is about employee confidentiality and privacy. Putting aside the NSA Prism story here for a moment, I saw ESNA, for example, ESNA has a new mobile client that has location awareness and can display employee's locations on GoogleMaps. It’s an interesting idea and I know that in fact AVST has something similar – they don’t do the GoogleMaps integration, but they have location awareness within their application, called ATOM. As employers roll this stuff out, is there a requirement or maybe – I will say expectation – that this information is confidential, or not? Does anyone have any thoughts on that one?
Joseph Williams: I did a design project when I was with Lync for a Swiss pharmaceutical in Basel. And if you remember Basel, Basel sits at the intersection of Switzerland, France and I think Germany. And we had to make it location aware in terms of which features were activated because the company believed there were different privacy rules for each of the countries. So the enterprises are thinking about it. I just don’t know that they have collectively done anything interesting.
Dave Michels: Well, Joseph, legal issues aside, would you have an expectation if you were an employee who had a mobile client on your personal device, BYOD device, would you assume that the employer would treat that information confidentially and only for certain eyes? Or is it a feature that everyone knows about?
Joseph Williams: I would assume that if it is an employer-owned device that the employer would be recording or data mining anything that was going on. That seems to be the reasonable expectation in this post-Prism era that we live in.
Michael Finneran: I actually ran into that with the city of Chicago. One of the first places to start using location tracking was in cell phones for city workers so we could find out where the housing inspectors were sleeping. Eventually there was a complaint from the union which they settled in an interesting fashion.
One, the city agreed not to monitor them when they were not on the clock. So not after 5 p.m., not during the lunch hour, and they actually sold them on the idea that it was actually a safety mechanism because if they ever got in trouble at least they would know where to send the cops. So it kind of goes both ways, but you do have a lot more control, it appears, if you are dealing with a unionized work force than your traditional management force.
Blair Pleasant: But what if someone is using their employer-provided device after work hours? Does the employer still have the right to see where the worker is?
Michael Finneran: Well, as far as I am concerned, no, however those sorts of things will be spelled out in a union contract much more so than a standard management employment agreement. But it’s funny, when the economy is weaker and jobs are harder to come by, employees seem to be all too willing to give up more and more of their personal freedoms just because they have a job. So I am not the biggest supporter of organized labor, but there are some good things to be said for unions.
Clark Richter: Isn't this just kind of an extension of some of the stuff that companies already do with information from call logs? Inside sales people are measured on their calls out. I know companies like Accenture, they manage through instant messaging. They know if you are working if you are at your computer and your boss actually monitors that. Isn't geo-location just an extension of that?
Dave Michels: During work hours, possibly.
Clark Richter: Sure, yeah, definitely during work hours.
Roberta J. Fox: I was just going to say a wonky one we had to work with was where municipal government gave their snowplow/sand/road clearing contractor corporate devices with GPS so that they could manage route times and trip times. And we had to write the performance measures into the service level agreements because they had contracts that stated that you had to get the snow plowed by such and such a time and the sand distributed.
So the municipal government developed the solution and said, you want the contract, here are the devices. And it was actually a very cost-effective way, and the vendor did not really mind it because they could say yes, see, you can tell we were there. Initially there were concerns about it but they ended up having some pretty positive results and it was a win-win for the drivers and the dispatchers and the municipality. So that was an example where not UC on the go but information on the go was a positive.
Dave Michels: All right. Let me switch it up a little bit. Blair and I were recently at ITExpo and in their start-up count there was an interesting company there called Perch. And Perch was doing something called persistent video. The idea of persistent video is that the video is just always up all the time, creating a two-way video channel effectively as a permanent window.
Now earlier, I don’t know, five years ago, I knew a couple that was fairly close. They were both home-based workers in different homes and they would set up a persistent Skype session the entire day. And throughout that day they would take their phone calls, they would do their work, they would have meetings, they would do all these things and they created a similar environment as cubicle workers. You can slightly overhear things, but at the same time instead of being home alone you can always shout over, “oh that was an interesting phone call,” or, “what are you doing now,” or, “nice new jacket you got,” whatever, creating more of an illusion of an at-office environment even though they are both in their individual remote locations. Do you think persistent video is something we are going to see a lot more of? And any thoughts on that particular topic?
Michael Finneran: Well sure – my son and his friends have been using persistent video for years. It was like a video play date. They usually used the Apple tools, FaceTime. They would be talking on their phones to somebody else, playing video games, and just the window was open to one of their pals.
Joseph Williams: I just wanted to say particularly here in Seattle this is a GoPro culture here, where people fire up their GoPros and they walk around with them all day long. That element of unified communications is really interesting because I don’t know how you digest that, unless all you have is one friend and you are just digesting their stream.
Dave Michels: Yeah, it’s kind of on the edge there of unified communications because really – it’s passive, right? Like I said, it is recreating that cube environment or recreating a window, a portal to a different dimension, a different world. I like the idea...I am not sure I like it on a desktop environment, but I could see it as you are walking down maybe in common areas or something like that where you can see into different sites, area, or something like that. The reaction at ITExpo, by the way, is very positive. A lot of people really like that concept.
Joseph Williams: So I will get to that. So I am at Seattle Pacific University. We are building a new dorm and there is a real-time camera on the construction site that the construction vice president monitors in real time. And he actually has that open in a Lync window, and uses that to share that out with other people on the job. So persistent video is going to work where there is a persistent value to having a visual record of something. I just have not seen it programmatized into a product yet.
Dave Michels: Yeah, that is what Perch is doing. Go ahead, Roberta.
Roberta J. Fox: Yeah, I was going to say one of the ones we did recently that was a VoIP UC project but we had to end up redesigning the LAN, corporate LAN was for public transit. And what we wanted to do and the union agreed, was to have the persistent video where the people are fixing the buses and the trains, because it used to be two mechanics and then it went to one. And so they could, if they disappeared too far down for too long in the pit, then the safety officer, which is part of security, could also say, “hey, they’ve gone.” They chose they would rather feel more comfortable with video than to have constant audio streaming because we were going to have it where you could keep talking along and be constantly recorded. And if you hollered for help, they didn’t really like that, but they said okay, if they see the person fall down, they were okay with being constantly videoed, they just didn’t want constant audio. So that was a good thing for safety but literally, as you can imagine doing it if you have got 10 or 12 bays in a big huge facility – and you are doing a lot of video, it is going to be interesting to work through the mechanics to what the guys said about what it means to them, right? That is the part that is the unfinished piece.
Blair Pleasant: I think like anything, it’s going to be based on the use cases. And for some companies it is going to make sense and for others it is not. You really need to think about the use cases where it does make sense and where it is not creepy and overwhelming. Safety and transportation, things like that, it definitely makes sense. For the typical desk worker, office worker, I don’t really see the value yet.
Roberta J. Fox: Healthcare would be cool too, though.
Blair Pleasant: Oh, absolutely, and that’s what I mean. There are going to be certain verticals, certain use cases, where it’s really going to be valuable and make sense. But I think we need to really think about where it does make sense, not just throw it out there because we have the tools and technology to do it.
Dave Michels: But where is it a company policy or company culture for that matter like you are suggesting, where is it a culture issue versus a personal issue? One of the examples I am thinking about is response time. I think that with the era of mobile devices and instant messaging, that there is a much shorter expectation on response time. I can remember years ago if you sent an email towards the end of the day, you did not get a response until mid-morning the next day.
And that response time seems to have compressed in general but that’s because people are always checking their devices at dinner, restaurants and responding. Now that’s easy for me to understand and all of us, we are all independent and we work all the time. But if you are an employee at a large company, do you think that expectation is there for them as well? Is it a company issue or is that a personal issue? Do you think individual people are okay to set their boundaries around that? I sent an email to Joe; he is not going to respond until tomorrow because he never does.
Roberta J. Fox: I will take that one. We had some roles in that same municipality where they wanted to have it where the system would be based on job roles. So if you were an on-call public safety officer, then the emails would go through. But if you were off-shift, the messages would not go through. So the CFO asked if they could have it that they could define the rules of when things go after hours and not. So that was interesting – they were willing to do it, messaging, video, email and other things, but they were looking to have things automated by schedules. The senior exec said – “we do not want our folks to overwork. We do not want them to feel the stress of thinking that if they are off shift they do not have to worry about those.” So that was, to Blair's point, an interesting view as well. They were looking to the industry guys and gals to automate making that easy. Maybe that’s a next business for somebody.
Dave Michels: Well, maybe the next business, too, is maybe around training or etiquette training.
Blair Pleasant: I have been talking about that for years. I have written several articles and white papers about etiquette and do’s and don'ts and best practices for using these technologies. One thing that came up a long time ago when IM first came into vogue is in that a lot of companies, it became rude to call somebody without IMing them first to ask whether it is okay that I call you. And that is happening more and more. So those etiquette policies are just so important. And I do not remember the URL but there is definitely a couple of articles that I have written on UCStrategies that talk about some best practices and etiquette guides that companies have written.
Dave Michels: Good. Anyone else on that?
Michael Finneran: I’m from New York. We don’t have any manners.
Dave Michels: I thought it was just you all this time. Particularly as we introduce video, and on our own experience here with this video session, there are so many issues. I wore a striped shirt – not smart on a video call like this. Lighting is an issue; sound is always an issue. It seems that we have had a big move away from training. And I remember rolling out the new voicemail system in the late '90s and we had mandatory training on how to use the new voicemail system. I cannot imagine that taking place today.
And so as companies have moved away from training and figure it out on your own, know it on your own, is that a recipe for disaster as we move more into this remote UC? I have written many papers like Blair. I always held the contention that “reply all” should require a license before you get that button activated in your email button. How would an organization go about ensuring maximum productivity with these types of tools besides just putting them out there?
Blair Pleasant: Well, I have been such an advocate of training and again, I have written lots of articles about how training is just so important. And the thing that happens is that a lot of companies just roll out UC and collaboration and some of these technologies thinking it is intuitive and we don’t really need to do trainings. But what happens is there are so many different features and capabilities so people are going to use the obvious ones, but they’re not going to use the ones that they have not been trained on and the ones that they do not really know about.
An example I give a lot is I was talking to a salesperson who sells UC and I asked about how do you like the model capabilities and being able to access UC on your mobile device? And he said, “oh really, I can do that?” And because he wasn’t trained properly he did not know about all the different capabilities and things that he could do. So to not train to me is probably the biggest mistake companies can make when they are deploying UC.
Michael Finneran: Of course, I come from the other school, which is the mobile school which says, if you need a manual to go with that thing, you screwed up the design. It should be self-explanatory. That is the expectation today and if they are missing it, maybe that’s one of the problems we are having moving UC.
Clark Richter: Yeah, I would like to chime in there. I think one of the real end goals from an end user experience standpoint would be as much transparency as possible with not only UC but technology. Now it is not necessarily achievable with every technology but if you can accomplish that then it kind of makes the training point moot if it is transparent.
Michael Finneran: Well, our difficulty getting this video up would be more than a testimonial to that.
Clark Richter: Exactly, yeah. And when technology does not – UC is not transparent, when you are doing meetings like this, I remember when I was at Citrix and we introduced HT Faces into the online meeting tool. We would spend the first 20 minutes of the meeting getting it to work. So it almost became counter-productive. Now there we were in a situation where we had to eat our own dog food, so to speak, and get it to work, and that’s part of the process.
Dave Michels: All right. I want to wrap it up. I am going to give you all an opportunity to respond to this last question and then we will wrap it up with that. There was a recent Wall Street Journal article about how phone consultants are being hired by organizations to come in to teach their millennials how to use a telephone. The problem the story was talking about was a lot of them don’t reach for the phone very intuitively. They prefer to use IM and email and other forms of communication. And the need for the consultants is sometimes to close a deal you need to pick up the phone, and that was the nature of the story.
And so it is interesting how things have turned so far to an extreme that what we consider intuitive and normal is now requiring a phone consultant to remedy. So with that, my question that I want to pose to you is this: is the future of UC going to involve teaching people how to work and interact in person? Right now we are getting office spaces smaller but they are still there. They have hoteling spaces.
Are office spaces going to go away and are people going to be working in their natural environment and they are used to being able to control volume levels and what you see on your computer, and if you cannot attend things live you just play it back later and things like that. And then when they get into a live situation they are paralyzed. Is that going to be a problem or is that just ridiculously science fiction? So let's just go down the line. I do not know if everyone has the same line as I do, but I have Blair on the left so Blair, what are your closing thoughts on that topic?
Blair Pleasant: I think that will be really scary if that’s what it came to. I mean as far as teaching people how to pick up the phone, yeah, I have two millennials and I am always yelling at them to pick up the phone because I am tired of them IMing me 10 times back and forth. I always say after five or six IMs back and forth, pick up the damn phone. But they still know how to do it. I mean, they don’t have to be taught how to do it. And saying that because we are working in different environments people are not going to know how to interact live and in person, I think that’s stretching it a bit too far.
People are still going to communicate in a way that makes the most sense for them in the type of job they are doing with the types of customers and people that they are interacting with. I don’t think we are quite becoming robots yet and we are going to know how to interact for hopefully a long time.
Dave Michels: Okay, so let's put some words in your mouth. So your position is that the remote experience will continue to be more and more like the office experience and not necessarily eclipse it and redefine it. Is that okay?
Blair Pleasant: Right.
Dave Michels: All right, Clark?
Clark Richter: Where do I get that job to be that phone consultant?
Dave Michels: Yeah, obviously Clark, you advertise in the yellow pages. That’s where everyone looks.
Clark Richter: Exactly. So my main comment on the millennials is I think they are just too empowered, and I think you need to at some point kind of take a step back and force some things on them. It’s somewhat a lot of our faults for raising them in that kind of fashion, but nonetheless, sometimes you just have to push stuff on them, I think, and not necessarily adopt everything to their needs and requirements.
Blair Pleasant: Oh, I like that, tough love.
Dave Michels: All right. You are lucky to have a job and shut up and smile. All right. Joseph?
Joseph Williams: Well, I actually am one of those who will not pick up the phone. I like unified communications because it allows me to tailor how I interact with people. I have pre-millennials – actually, I guess they are millennials, in the family, and they are very robust in the way they interact. So my biggest thing is so when I am at the office, I am really not interacting face-to-face with people in my area. I am running around campus visiting different people in different places.
So the concept of an office in place where I don’t move is wrong anyway. You are on my iPad mini right now. I do more work off the iPad mini and UC than I ever do at my desktop. So whether I am at Top Pot Donuts, or sitting at the airport, it really doesn’t matter. Work is where it is and I need technology that can support that. I think that’s where we are headed.
Dave Michels: Well, it’s not nice to be at a donut shop if you are doing a video call because everybody gets hungry. Michael?
Michael Finneran: Well, I will take a somewhat contrarian view because I am a people person and I see a decided anti-social element that gets dragged in with all of this technology. People should be comfortable to deal with other people. But of course, it is going to be a matter of degree. I have done assignments for people, multiple assignments, spec the whole job out, deliver the product, and never once talked to them on the phone. It’s not my most comfortable way of working; I would much rather see people in person, get to know them and whatnot but that’s me. But I will echo the point that maybe we should get the millennials more used to what it is to be adults than permanent IMers.
Dave Michels: Okay, Roberta?
Roberta J. Fox: Well, in various parts across Canada, I don’t know about the U.S., but they have actually stopped teaching cursive writing which is going to be scary because this whole generation doesn’t know how to write. So my suggestion to the public schools and high schools and even Joseph, at university levels, is how about we develop and teach courses on communications, protocols and etiquette based on the type of device so that people know how to use it?
And I am so committed about this topic of how to use the right mechanisms and processes based on your devices that my first book is going to be about the virtual organization. But I think let's start down at the younger ages, and if they are not going to teach them how to write, let's teach them how to communicate and do it right.
Joseph Williams: I will sign you up as a guest lecturer, Roberta.
Roberta J. Fox: No problem. I can outline my book there. But yeah, it is important. There are different rules based on different types and let's learn how to use them.
Dave Michels: Well, I think that the change is more inevitable than I think most of you would think. I find it already difficult. I do a lot of briefings and the typical briefing format now is some sort of slide share technology and sometimes when I get emailed a deck of slides I find it difficult to figure out what page we’re on. Sometimes, even worse, I have been in situations where I had to take notes via pen and paper and those are never as organized and neat and tidy and useful as my digital notes. I think that we are going to see a big move away from what we would consider normal, what we grew up with normal, and I think that’s going to be very awkward even for us over the next 10 years to return to an office environment.
I was talking to some folks, now granted this was at a video company, where they used to all go to the meeting room; they had their meetings in the conference room. And the video company had desktop video in everyone's desktop. So they started having desktop video conferences even though they were all in the same hallway and they found that better. They found that easier because they can again control what they can see, control the volume levels, they can take their notes on their computer.
And then of course they started adding people who were remote and going back to the conference room setting is awkward. You can’t hear things and you can’t see each other's screens and it’s awkward. It gets to the point where it is like well, this is ridiculous. Let's just go back to our desks so we can get some work done.
I think we are going to see this permanent shift – I think we are in the midst of a very significant, profound permanent shift, but that’s my take. And because I was the host I get to have the last word, so you are all wrong.
With that I will thank all of you experts for our video conversation on this, and I look forward to our next meeting of the minds. Thank you.