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Focusing on UC in the "Enterprise"

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September 26, 2008

Focusing on UC in the "Enterprise"

By Art Rosenberg

With the rapid uptake of mobile, personalized “smartphones” displacing usage of legacy desktop voice-only telephones and PCs for both information and people access, I think it is time to acknowledge that new unified communication (UC) applications are going to be used by both consumers for personal communication and information services as well as by business users in any size organization.

This means that UC capabilities must support both traditional direct “person-to-person” contacts, as well as new, more automated, multi-modal “person-to-process-to-person” routing of real-time connections and asynchronous messages. In addition, business process applications must also be able to proactively initiate contacts with individuals as automated “process-to-person” notification services.
Enterprise UC really has three different perspectives that must be considered for implementation planning of these UC capabilities. These are:

Business process improvements
Individual end user requirements and benefits
Technology implementation alternatives and priorities

The question that seems to confuse the enterprise market in these days of drastically changing technologies is which perspective is most important and in what order should they be addressed?

UC Experts Say Start With “Top-down” UC Operational Planning
Telecommunications industry veterans Marty Parker (News - Alert) and his partner, Don Van Doren, have put together an excellent online presentation that objectively focuses on the “whys” and “how to’s” of UC implementation planning. Rather than start with UC infrastructure needs or even integration of new UC applications, Marty suggests beginning with finding important, high-value business processes that need more efficient and effective methods of communicating and accessing information by people. This “top-down” approach particularly targets business processes that strategically help generate revenue, such as those that involve customer-facing personnel, rather than looking to simply reduce communication or labor costs.

Their basic approach to UC implementation planning is to identify operational business problems that are caused by communication delays with people, sometimes referred to as “human (contact) latency.” Referring to such operational bottlenecks as communication “hotspots,” Parker provides case studies that show that the greater flexibility and efficiencies of new UC communications technology can change and streamline business processes. This can help generate greater productivity from an organization as a whole (as opposed to individual user productivity) or what UC calls “UC-Business” productivity.

Actually, if you think about it, the benefit of UC is not really limited just to a single organization, but to all partner organizations and any customers involved in a common business process. So, UC should be viewed as new communication technology that improves upon existing capabilities that all involved organizations and individuals will want to exploit and utilize. Once such operational needs, benefits, and changes are identified and prioritized, only then can application and infrastructure requirements and implementation alternatives be meaningfully evaluated and pursued by IT management.  

UC at TMC’s (News - Alert) Internet Telephony show in L.A.

The show had a reasonable turnout, considering that there were other events in the country competing for the enterprise IT audience. While many of the sessions were focused primarily on voice telephony from an enterprise infrastructure or hosted service provider perspective, about 15% of the sessions were concerned with UC application technologies. What was unfortunate to see is that almost every speaker still had to give their own definition of “UC” before launching into their presentations. Such definitions were generally about the “why” (improving personal user productivity and reducing costs) and more pointedly about the “how” through IP telephony infrastructure and voice applications.

However, 25 percent of those UC sessions focused on UC and contact center applications, one of which was a panel discussion that I moderated. This is where UC ROI is tied to more than just cost savings because it can increase revenue generation and customer retention. Since customer contacts are increasingly originating from desktop PCs and mobile “smart-phones” (through web-based online information and self-service portals), email, SMS, and IM contact applications are also starting to drive customer-initiated inbound voice connections through “click-to-talk” UC capabilities. UC technology not only exploits “presence” availability of customer-facing support staff (“agents” and “experts”), but can also extend to proactive outbound contacts to “available” customers from both customer-facing personnel and automated application notification services.

Observations by “Customer UC” Panel

The customer contact perspective of UC, which I describe as “Customer UC,” looks at information access and live assistance contacts from a “customer perspective. It must be treated differently because customers will control the choice of UC communications that they will use for both initiating and receiving business contacts.  

Panelists discussing some “hard questions” in my session, represented Interactive Intelligence, which has come up with a flexible, software-based, “all-in-one” platform for all enterprise voice and telephony UC applications that federates with desktop IM capabilities, Aspect (News - Alert), which is moving all their operational contact center applications to a common SIP-based platform, and NET, which is primarily focused on a common IP network infrastructure to support “Customer UC.”

Some quick answers to questions discussed:

Difference in need between large and small organizations for Customer UC implementations? – No, not from the customer perspective. JAS: We are seeing more interest in hosted models for small organizations. They oftentimes don’t have the IT organization to manage the products and turn to a SaaS (News - Alert) provider.

Who should be in charge of Customer UC planning? - Combination of LOB management, operational call center management and IT management.
What should the first step in Customer UC planning be? – Incorporate into overall UC implementation planning strategy to prepare for new customer demands (online, mobile).

Key considerations for presence? – Availability of “Agents,” experts, partner personnel, and customers (for outbound contacts). JAS: clearly, presence is critical for contact center agents. Detailed-level presence won’t be replaced by “available” “not-available” states. Also a rich client, not a consumer-grade client will continue to be critical for the contact center.

Impact of UC on self-service applications? – Multimodal user interfaces for mobile “smart-phones,” desktop softphones, permission-based outbound (proactive) live and automated application contacts with customers (“CEBP”)

Agent handling of “multimodal” customers? – May be difficult to train agents to switch modalities of interaction with customers (Voice conversations, IM, email, SMS, shared information, etc.). Also more complex to manage agent multimodal performance. Consider separating agents into groups by mode of interaction, although they can be rotated across such groups.

Biggest barriers to Customer UC implementation? – Defining multimodal customer access, what that really means for all constituencies, cultural changes within an organization, infrastructure changes to support migration to UC capabilities, costs.
Top mistakes to avoid? –
-        Not getting business management involved in UC implementation planning to prioritize operational problems and UC benefits
-        Not soliciting key end users in high-value business processes about their communication activities and work environments that will benefit from specific UC applications. Don’t assume that end users will ever know what “UC” really means!
-        Planning only for voice-based communication applications
-        Looking only at premise-based hardware solutions
-        Ignoring the increasing role of personalized (handheld), mobile communication devices and services to help minimize “human contact latency”
-        Using communication application software platforms that are not “open”   
-        Ignoring the role that automated business applications will play in initiating time-sensitive contacts with individual end users
-        Ignoring the need to facilitate acceptance and adoption of new UC communication capabilities by end users

Is “UC” the right place to focus? – Not really, if that focus is exclusively on the “platform.” Instead look at what business problems you are trying to solve and what communication applications end users will actually need and use to minimize or avoid those problems. Find an “open” UC platform that will also efficiently deliver both new UC solutions and interoperability with existing communication applications to cover different end user needs. This will be particularly important for the SMB market, which will exploit hosted or managed services, rather than premise-based technologies.

Why is UC so hot right now? – Microsoft gets a lot of credit for getting companies to look at it from the desktop, but Apple’s (News - Alert) iPhone and other mobile smartphone devices are starting to drive interest in the mobile consumer services markets. Overall, however it still comes down to specific business problems, specific end users, and specific solutions.
What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: [email protected] or (310) 395-2360.

Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to TMCnet. To read more of Art’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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