What’s Wrong With This Picture of UC?
As UC technology increasingly expands into the business marketplace, it means that more end users are beginning to take advantage of its capabilities for flexible communications. This movement is being driven heavily by mobile users who now have mobile, multimodal endpoint devices that can support all forms of communications between both people and between automated business processes and people. That last point is particularly important, because it highlights the benefits of minimizing the need for requiring other people to always be involved in delivering information or in performing simple online transactions. (Faster, more efficient "self-services!")
In a recent report published by Wainhouse Research and authored by Senior Analyst, Bill Haskins, there was a nice attempt to help organizations plan a UC implementation, based on the needs of different types of end users. There is no question that UC capabilities will vary from user to user, as well as under their dynamically changing circumstances. So UC functionality is not something that is "fixed," but must be dynamically available as a service to all types of end users, whether inside or outside of an organization. That means that whether an end user is an employee, a business partner, or a consumer/customer, they all need the benefits of UC for their interactions with others. In this context, UCaaS in “clouds” becomes very practical for implementation planning.
What is most important, however, is that with direct mobile access to online information and transactions, we can't keep thinking that UC applies only to person-to-person contacts. Furthermore, when it comes to person-to-person contacts, we can't limit such communications to just “real-time" connections. With increased user accessibility through different modes of communications, we are seeing a dramatic increase in various modes of asynchronous and near real-time messaging, including email, mobile texting (SMS), business process notifications, voice/video messaging, and social messaging. With text-to-speech and speech recognition technologies, we are also seeing the ability for message senders to create messages with voice, but the messages are sent and/or independently retrieved and responded to in text or voice by the recipients.
The point here is that messaging is a major element of business communications and also a key component of UC, typically referred to as "unified messaging" (UM). Being able to switch from a telephone call attempt to a voice message is an old telephone answering technology that's been around for decades, but limited by the old, voice-only Telephone User Interface (TUI). Now that end users have multimodal capabilities with smartphones and tablets, the door is open to handle all forms of visual messaging and information exchange, which can, if needed, be escalated to a real-time voice or video connection "contextually." That is what UC flexibility is really all about!
So, Where's UC Messaging?
What is unfortunate about the Wainhouse white paper is that it doesn't say a single word about messaging of any kind, other than IM capabilities. IM is definitely important and a practical stepping point to voice/video conferencing, but still suffers from the limitations of requiring federated presence in dealing with contacts outside of an organization. But, even if that problem is eliminated, the need to communicate asynchronously is still an important part of the UC picture.
The real world user needs for different modes of communication is well described in the Wainhouse paper, but limited to real-time contacts only. The easiest fix for that is to simply add the messaging options to their current list of real-time communications for analysis. Not only will this reflect a true balance of communication modes, but it will also show the practical path for interoperability needs between synchronous and asynchronous usage.
The good advice in the Wainhouse report for evaluating different user communication needs is fine, but UC HAS to include the power of asynchronous messaging options as well. This will include messaging activities between automated business process applications and people (notifications), which will produce further efficiencies by providing more "context" for users when they need to follow up with other people. This is just like forwarding a text message with attachments does in email. With smartphones and tablets, we can have our real-time conversational voice "cake,” and "eat" our visual information, too!
Just trying to be constructive about properly defining the role of “UC” in business communications!