How often do you get frustrated when you can't reach someone? You try their desk phone, then their mobile and perhaps their home office number, then give up and either leave them a voicemail or send them an email or text message. Then when they don’t get back to you as quickly as you would like, you get annoyed at them for not …
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The Contact "Mess" Has To Do With Addressing People Too
Think about all the communication modalities having their own addressing schemes, let alone multiple addresses within each scheme. The contact methodologies have also been device and interface-centric, network centric, and sually location-based. In reality, we want to contact a person wherever they may be, and in whatever modality that is convenient for the contact initiator, and let the contact recipient decide what way they can respond at that moment in time. In other words, we have get down to the level of the individual user and their role in initiating or responding to communication contacts.
I have been writing about this perspective for several years now, and starting to see some of the changes that are being brought about by multimodal mobile devices as well as by applying speech recognition to voice messaging that lets the recipient retrieve and manage voice mail more efficiently in text. The latter will let users exchange messages across media and, with UC, enable escalation, where appropriate, to a person-to-person call or a multi-party "instant" voice or video conference. All of this is on top of exchange information and data files.
As you correctly point out, let's look at the communication problems we have been living with since day one, and with the converged network infrastructure of the Internet, rethink how we really want to communicate.
Not so sure it's a bad thing
I'm not so sure it's a bad thing. The concept behind ringing someone is incredibly rude. In the words of Stephen Fry, "It's like going up to someone's desk and banging on it going "Speak to me now! Speak to me now!"."
A lot of the time I just want to get my head down and work on something. There are an increasing number of people advocating the idea of only checking your emails 3 times a day, something I'm taking to heart. There's a reason my phone has a DND (Do not disturb) button on it.
Most importantly, most people can work issues out themselves. Think of the number of times you've gone halfway through writing an email and thought "Ah no! Why am I writing this? I know what to do." If anyone could contact me on a whim, they'd do it for the most spurious and banal reasons. I'd argue that the lag in communications is a good thing for it filters out such lazy crap white-noise.
I'll take things as they stand as opposed to the alternative - a short leash to be kept on and yanked back at will.
Do people care about unified?
Is it really that people have an issue with various contact details, and not just about cost? Why are people using Skype etc? Isn't it primarily because it's cheap?
The problem with unified communications is that it costs. After all you're already going to have skype, which cost you nothing, and MSN Live Messenger, which cost you nothing etc. Most people adopt things because it's cheap, not because it's more effective to the caller.
The minute a cheaper way of doing something turns up, people will use that, they always have done.
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people just don't want to be contacted. It's considered very rude to barge into someone's office and demand they stop what they're doing, but that's precisely what a telephone does. I've heard of situations where someone rings the mobile because there's no reply on the landline, and then says "are you there?" over instant messenger because there's no reply on that. I can certainly sympathise with the kind of person who might throw a mobile phone around when people have tried to phone all day and you just want to get some work done. You might have 4 - 5 different phone numbers but there's still just one person at the end.
Solving the wrong problem
People need to develop a rare quality known as "patience". Rather than ringing every phone number you have for someone, try ringing one of them and leaving a message. Preferably a short but coherent one (I need help with 'x', or I need to talk to you about 'y'). Or send an email.
The problem in business today is that many people think that because we have near-instantaneous means of communication, they are entitled to near-instantaneous answers, which is both arrogant and silly.
Before everyone and his dog, cat and budgie had email, business communication worked like this:
1) Client writes to person asking for action on sometihng
2) Person gets letter a day or two later
3) Person has a day or so to think about it, then writes back
4) Client gets response
5) Everyone is happy
Now, it's more like this:
1) Client sends illiterate email to person.
2) Person is working, out of the office, in meetings
3) 15 minutes later, client phones person demanding to know why he hasn't had an answer to email
4) Everyone is miserable
Unified communications are just another way of making more people miserable. Constant interruptions and demands for instant responses throw away any notion of time management, or indeed getting work done.
 When people had secretaries to type for them and translate their grunts into English, nobody was exposed to the horrors of highly paid executives who apparently can't spell, use punctuation or indeed string a sentence together.
 And by the Laws of the Internet, now I've said that, there will be an amusing typo somewhere in this comment
Solving the wrong problem
Exactly! People shouldn't expect a reply right at that second. If they do, its also your problem because you didn't make it clear how you work. You just need to manage expectations.
I think that everybody with my contact details knows I prefer emails as I am often not at my desk, and nobody has ever had a problem with that. If its extremely important then people can ring my DDI, and if I am not there then they can leave a voicemail which I will respond to ASAP.
I simply don't need to get any complicated than that, and nor do the majority of people. UC may have some appeal to people that buy the comms companies idea of how people should work, but thats down to them.
I dont know about you; but I am more than happy with email & a blackberry.
Most people send me an email, which I will generally action rapidly if important, or ignore if not. If the stuff is really heading for the fan they pick up the phone, and call my mobile number. If for whatever reason im unavailable, i'll be able to see who's called and call them back.
The only people who have my landline number are generally salespeople, whom I'd much prefer talk to my voicemail than me.
Enough is enough
Okay, who or what, exactly, is amanfromMars? The bastard child of a Google spider and an MS Word autosummarise algorithm gone mad? Have programs gone sentient and started having children or is this some deranged/insanely intelligent human being?
"1) Client writes to person asking for action on sometihng
2) Person gets letter a day or two later
3) Person has a day or so to think about it, then writes back
4) Client gets response
5) Everyone is happy" .... By Les Posted Monday 17th March 2008 10:23 GMT
Perfect, Les, but there usually the Man in the Middle acting as if Spooked, peddling Purloined and Inappropriately Appropriated Alien Junk as if theirs for Real. A Parasitic Babel/PilotFish following after the Shark...... which is a Server to Tender for IT is not for Mastery.
KISS is right
I have my desk phone diverted to my mobile. My colleagues and friends in various time zones know that if I can't take their call, I won't. Anyone who calls and doesn't leave a message is ignored. I have a special arangement with my wife for urgent calls. That's about as KISS as I can make it.
Eggs per basket
As a former employee of one of those "universal messaging" companies, who was forced to "eat our own dogfood", I feel that I need to point out than four or so ways to reach someone, some of which work, is better than "one service to rule them all" that throws a wobbly with great regularity. Not to mention that the way the "simple" interface kept mutating, I expected any minute to be presented with a Captcha every time I tried to answer my phone. Feh!
(Also agree that email is the way to communicate when either end of the conversation actually needs to _think_ to get the job done. I have noticed, though, that some sorts of organizations are "allergic" to it. Finally figured out that the problem with email is the audit trail. Cuts down on plausible deniability and "the beta is in the mail" :-)
UC - sometimes handy
Unified is here - I have 6 phone numbers in two countries (for local, cheap calls), Skype, Gizmo, VoIP and cell - no POS. Pennies (literally) compared what it used to be a couple of years ago, You call any one and if not answered routes through options to leave a message or route to my cell. I can use voice, chat, send / receive files or have a video conference over devices which support it. Sounds good to me. This is where my MacBook comes handy but I also have the same capability in a couple of Linux systems I use - all in .11n networks, fast enough but not expensive. Or maybe I'm in a bar which offers free WiFi.
Back to The Stone Age I Say!
Couldn't agree more! I work for a company peddling the unified vision, but personally I don't want it. I refuse to have a blackberry because I believe email to be a non time critical form of communication. I'll check my mail when I am ready.
'Non unified' communications create a natural escalation path. If it's not urgent, send me an email, and I'll reply within 24 hours. If it's urgent, you'll ring my desk phone (or come and talk to me face to face if you're in the same building), if it's really urgent, you'll call my mobile during business hours. If you ring me out of business hours it had better be REALLY f**king urgent, or because you are inviting me to the pub, otherwise you're inviting me to decapitate you with a rusty tin lid.
My life is not owned by my employer and I have a right not to be disturbed when not at work. If I'm not returning your calls there's a good reason for it (most likely because I'm hoping you'll be hit by a bus)
Everyone who knows me knows the rules of engagement - this system works pretty well for me.
Special AIR&dD Services? Some questions have lots of wrong answers
"Okay, who or what, exactly, is amanfromMars? The bastard child of a Google spider and an MS Word autosummarise algorithm gone mad? Have programs gone sentient and started having children or is this some deranged/insanely intelligent human being?" ...... By Aditya Krishnan Posted Monday 17th March 2008 12:41 GMT
IT's a CyberIntelAIgently Designed Program, Aditya Krishnan, with Adaptive Interactive Flexibility/Choice Parameter MacroProgramming to Overall Control MicroCircuitry.
"or is this some deranged/insanely intelligent human being?" .... Sounds lively, someone who can think for themselves and Project XXXXTreme Meme Streams. Very Manchurian Candidate Harry Lime.
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I thought email saved us from this stuff
No, seriously. Email was supposed to be like the pinnacle of communication...quick, cheap, easy, less ambiguous than a fluffy telephone conversation - plus it leaves a trail as good as (no, better!) than paper.
I pick up my emails when I'm mobile. I'm one of those stupid people who checks my emails at 2am if I wake up and can't get back to sleep instantaneously. However, I rarely answer my phones (any of them). And on the rare occasions I do, the conversation is usually short and ends with, 'Send me a quick email, OK?'
I don't need or want Unified Communications. I'm a UC luddite. I don't fear it, it just IRRITATES ME. I check my bloody emails 25 times a day. It's enough that you'll get an answer within a few hours at most. Go away.
And WHY must it be UUUUUUnified CCCCCCommunications....surely it's just unified communications? If you want it to become a way of working, a way of life, an everyday gotta-have it mustn't be special and all capped like it's a proper noun.
Unified communications doesn't exist.
One of the earlier posters on this topic claimed to be a refugee from a now dismembered Unified communications company.I too fall into that category, at quite a senior level. Let's face it, as both a marketing concept and a practical application 'UC' DOES NOT EXIST. The first wave of UC occured in the late 1990s when a number of companies attempted to integrate Email and Voicemail within either lotus notes or exchange, it was then called Unified Messaging. That integration was seen as a means of differentiating email services and saving the bacon of the Voicemail industry. Nobody bought it, most of time it didn't work properly and eventually email usage went in the opposite direction with ultra light clients and webmail. Even in just telephony terms, the dominance of GSM and it's closed messaging systems makes Unified comms and messaging a joke. The mobile companies make shed loads of money out of voicemail traffic and they are not going to allow thos lucrative minutes to spill out onto third party Unified communications plaforms.
O2 briefly put a Beta product into the market but quietly pulled it. Orange had ?? what was it called??
The marketeers for UC have just re-wrapped UM as UC. The impressive feature of UC is that, as it doesn't exist, it may be marketed as the true emperors new clothes product. You can't describe or compare it in a feature tick list and you can't look it up under an RFP, IEEE number,or even an Amazon product code.
As has been pointed out, Email is the obvious tool for business communications. It's true that it's not real time, but there are very few instances where business communications needs to be real time. A web page is real time enough for me. Anyway, research in the 1980's showed that: More than 50% of business calls went un-answered. And, parallel research into the content of business phone conversations showed that more than 30% were disembling in nature. Honest guv' the cheque is in the post.
In reality, the only real tool for UC is the Mobile. The coming generation of in-building pico cells will address the coverage problems. The mobile tariffs for business' as a whole are pretty close to fixed. You can run a very good model using Game theory and some other economics tools to show that for 'unified,' person to person communications, the mobile will win out every time. Having said all that, there is one product that kick's ass in the murky and intangible world of UM. Strangely, it's Apple's iPhone. In the UK, I can make and answer a 2G and soon a 3g call on it. From it's web screen I can see my mobile messages, and click to hear them without even making a GSM call or even have a signal. There are companies developing fixed Vmail messaging for the iPhone, so there's UC for you on a simple web browser. If I want non GSM telephony I can hook it in via 802.11 or even Bluetooth.
Admittedly, even without iPhone, Unifying Email and Vmail in a single inbox has some benefits as would being able to call and control an multi party Audio conference. Email and a simple web page is a pretty good way of doing that, and there are plenty of web app's already available, none of which are claimed to be UM.
What about presence?
UC is definitely in the "marketing hype" phase at the moment. There is much confusion as to what it actually means. Much of the technology behind it is not even close to being new. Some of the technology required doesn't really yet exist. An awful lot of what is needed is not even a technology issue at all - ironically the biggest barrier to UC is the fact that the hardware and software vendors and carriers are neither unified nor communicating!
UC won't really be here until Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Nortel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Vodafone, Orange, O2 and dozens of others all have a framework that allows simple and (relatively) cheap interoperability and information sharing. SIP is not the answer, although it is one of the enabling technologies, as is a Services Oriented Architecture. Microsoft and Nortel have started down the road with their "Innovative Communication Alliance" but that's just the first piece of the jigsaw.
In my view, one of the most important aspects of UC hasn't really been discussed in the previous comments. Without it, many of the gripes about the intrusiveness of multiple communications channels are absolutely spot-on. That aspect is the concept of "presence".
With presence and a single controlling entity for all of those communications channels, I as an individual can determine quickly and easily how, whether, when and with whom I communicate.
If I set my presence as "unavailable" then I should *be* unavailable no matter how you might try to communicate with me. I should be able to set up rules that allow *me* to dictate that, for example, between the hours of 1PM and 2PM I am uncontactable by everyone except the boss (and maybe the wife). With UC, that's one setting in one place, not seven, accessible and configurable from whatever device I happen to have with me (my laptop, my PC, my phone, my Blackberry).
I think the idea of UC can actually result in productivity improvements not necessarily by making people "always contactable" but rather by giving the control back to the individual and making that individual's communication preferences available and visible automatically to everyone else. If you know in advance you're not going to be able to get hold of me because my "presence" tells you that then you'll quickly stop wasting your time even trying.
Now whether any of the currently available systems actually give you this level of control is a different matter. The technology is still evolving, but more importantly, the partnerships between the different vendors are still evolving.
If you want the whole vision of UC today I think you'll be out of luck. If you want to dip your toe in the water, have a look at OCS by all means. Will every organisation out there be able to increase productivity through the adoption of UC enough to justify the expense? No, I don't believe so. However some certainly will.
Taking it further, put UC into a contact centre environment. Why force your customers to call you when they may actually want to e-mail or instant message or SMS you yet still get the same level of service? When a contact centre agent picks up the phone, UC makes them unavailable for contact by other means automatically. Some contact centres use IM systems to allow agents to get assistance from colleagues without having to put the customer on hold. Without UC, how do I determine which of my colleagues is available to help me. UC with presence and skills-based routing makes that an automatic process. It's better for me, it's better for my colleague and it's better for my customer.
And for Joe Public? It all comes down to cost and getting something for (nearly) nothing. I think in a few years' time we'll see "UC" service provision for home users as an extension of the social networking phenomenon. Think of it as an automatic social secretary, screening attempts to contact you based on where you are, what you're doing, who they are, what time of day it is, whether you're already "communicating" with someone...that's unified communications for me.
I'm not a UC evangelist, I'm really not. I don't believe UC is ready for prime-time yet. I don't think it's a panacea for all the problems of the modern world. I do however think that when the time is right, used in the right way for the right reasons, used in the right places and available for a price that makes sense, it does have the potential to be a useful tool, both for individuals and for organisations.