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The Heart of Business UC: 'Contextual Contacts'

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March 01, 2012

The Heart of Business UC: 'Contextual Contacts'

By Art Rosenberg

During a recent discussion with my UC Strategies colleagues, we talked about where and when legacy business telephony will be going as mobility and UC-enabled applications move into the business world. In particular, the discussion revolved around legacy telephony systems based on PBXs and desktop hardphones. It is clear that traditional phone calls won’t disappear, but will be subsumed by desktop softphone interfaces and Mobile UC as an option for communicating more efficiently with people who often away from a desk.

The vagueness of the term “unified communications” (UC) has caused much confusion in the industry, as business technology vendors try to position their products and services as key to enabling UC interoperability. From the technology perspective, communication application integrations, endpoint device independence and network connectivity independence play the leading roles for UC implementation planning by IT management. However, with multi-modal UC and personalized BYOD mobility considerations, it is time to use terminology that individual end users as consumers will understand and minimize the need for end user “UC training.”

Bringing Communication Contact Flexibility Down to Individual End User Roles

If you look at the role of the individual end users in any kind of communications, they are either initiating a contact or the recipient of a contact. Each of those roles exists for every end user and the flexibility of UC can be applied separately to those two roles. That is really the level that UC functionality has to address, not the particular communication application that is being used.

So, the “contact initiator” needs to be able to communicate with people multi-modally, i.e., real-time or asynchronous connections, text, voice, or video, include information references (voice/text message threads, document attachments, URL links, etc.), single, multiple addressees or whoever is currently associated with the subject matter and is “available” to receive the contact appropriately. This may all sound very intuitively obvious, but without “contact” intelligence and UC flexibility, end users are stuck with blindly initiating contacts that are not efficient or successful. Such communications inefficiencies must be avoided in order to “optimize business processes” that involve people.

Looking at the other side of communications activities, the “recipient” of a contact also has functional needs and responsibilities that need to be managed and supported. First and foremost, recipients have to be made aware of a communication contact of any kind; “notifications” are the common denominator for all types of communications, particularly if they are time-critical. However, notifications are also a form of communication and need flexibility in how they are delivered.

Not only do notifications have to be dynamically delivered in the medium that is most appropriate for a recipient’s restrictive situation, e.g., driving a car, sitting in a meeting, in a noisy or public environment, but also any “urgency” priorities have to be recognized. The latter can include the fact that a response has not been made within a critical time frame/deadline required or expected by the contact initiator.

Personalizing Notification Control

As mobility and the use of automated notifications increase, it will be important for the end user/customer recipients to dynamically control the “what” and “when” of such notifications. So, for example, I would want my bank or credit card company to let me know when certain account thresholds have been reached, as well as when specified account events take place. Collaborative groups will want to be notified that a conference call needs to be set up and scheduled. 

Back in the old manual telephone answering service days (before Caller ID and email), subscribers were able to specify “If Message” instructions, that when an expected caller identified him or herself to an agent, those special instructions for handling that particular caller could be applied, including delivering a specific message to that caller. So, this will be a form of personalizing “programmed” outbound interactions with business process applications, which will be facilitated by the recipient’s use of multi-modal mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) that can dynamically accommodate various modes of notification. Healthcare applications will be a prime target for such capabilities. 

From a user experience perspective, of course, all of this has to be extremely simple and “idiot-proof.”

Mobility and “Contextual Contacts” to the Rescue

Needless to say, what I am describing would be very difficult or impossible to do with legacy business communications technologies. UC came into the picture as a means of integrating siloed communication applications, but that couldn’t help the lack of flexibility or accessibility that Mobile UC needs. It really wasn’t until Apple (News - Alert) announced the first multi-modal iPhone back in 2007 that UC could really take off.

However, having more flexible and mobile devices was not enough. Maximizing the benefits of UC involves tapping into personalized “intelligence” that minimizes the efforts of both contact initiators and recipients in performing their respective roles in business communications. That is being accomplished by what I described as “contextual” in a futuristic white paper I wrote for Microsoft (News - Alert) in back in 2007. Although I discussed “contextual contact initiation,” context will be equally important to contact recipients in order to efficiently manage their increased accessibility via mobile endpoints (smartphones, tablets).

Contextual contacts will be exploited by all types of end users (consumers, business users) as mobility and BYOD policies exploit multi-modal mobile devices. In addition, desktop users will also be able to simplify “click-to-contact” UC capabilities with contextual intelligence and screen incoming calls and messages based on their priorities as well as those of the contact initiators. Finally, contextual information can be exploited for traditional messaging exchanges between people and from automated business applications, enabling message status to generate notifications to insure timely responses or alternative contacts (“Contextual Messaging”). This capability will fall under the category of Communications Enabled Business Processing (CEBP).

“Dual Persona” separation of personal communications from job-related contacts will add additional flexibility of end user controls over their contact availability. This is vitally needed to support BYOD mobility policies. We expect to see contextual contact intelligence to be “virtualized” and separated but also being able to support new “notification” needs of individual end users, either as initiators or recipients.        

Big Question for CIOs

What role should the CIO play in planning for innovative change in business communications, especially in redesigning business applications to exploit CEBP and Mobile UC?

CIO Collaboration Network

Edited by Rich Steeves

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