October 05, 2010
Michael Ely of Aspect Dishes on Communications
By Erin Monda, TMCnet Contributor
Aspect, a company specializing in enabling organizations to translate unified communications into real business results, has made several advances within the communications industry over the years.
That is why it was such a pleasure to speak with Michael Ely, director of systems architecture at Aspect.
Ely: In my opinion, the most significant trend in communications today is the influence that the consumer market is having on the corporate infrastructure. Previously, the industry was always first to implement new technologies. Consumers would get new gadgets only when the cost dropped enough to be marketable. Today, the next-generation consumer is the early adopter and employees are frustrated that the corporate infrastructure isn’t keeping pace. As a result, we will see single devices emerge that will allow users to utilize different capabilities based on whether they are in a corporate or consumer environment. Corporate infrastructures will also have to adapt to new technology at a much faster pace.
TMC Representative: What is the one product or service the market is most in need of?
Ely: With the myriad of communications options, people today still need the equivalent of a personal attendant to manage or route calls on a situational basis. For example, a call from my wife can go directly to voicemail if she just wants me to stop and get milk on my way home from work. If she’s calling to say that her car broke down and someone needs to pick up the kids, however, that can be brought to my attention right away. The ability to create personal workflows that allow a caller to indicate urgency through an interactive voice response (IVR) is what’s needed. These capabilities exist natively in contact centers – and being able to leverage them for the enterprise worker and not just agents would be a great asset. The ability to share presence with certain individuals on home and mobile devices will help, but personal communications management is still key.
TMC Representative: When will unified communications go mainstream?
Ely: I think many would argue that unified communications already has gone mainstream. It just hasn’t been fully leveraged across all platforms and media types. Social sites, like Facebook, show when a friend is online (presence) and enable immediate communications (chat) – adding “click-to-talk” is a simple extension. Within businesses, it’s tough to break away from the PBX (News - Alert)-based phone system that has worked for years and has a certain comfort factor. With the introduction of instant messaging, simple extensions for remote call control allow these traditional platforms to live on, yet still provide the ability to incorporate presence and other unified communications attributes. It’s strictly a matter of when IT departments will justify the investment. And most, if not all, have some form of plan in place if they haven’t implemented already.
TMC Representative: Who will win the smartphone wars? Tablet wars?
Ely: While RIM still has a major presence in the corporate world, Apple (News - Alert) is gaining fast momentum and I believe will soon overtake. The turning point will be when Apple caters to IT departments controlling and monitoring activities on corporate devices.
Tablets are still very much a clear winner, though new technologies which can allow the expansion of smart phone displays and interfaces to larger sizes will make a huge impact. Ultimately, I think the devices will merge into components which serve as small enough for portability, but expandable to act as PDAs, book readers and possibly PCs.
TMC Representative: Has social media changed how you communicate with customers?
Ely: Social media has had a greater impact on how our customers interact with their customers since we’re primarily a B2B model. For any B2C company, though, handling social media becomes critical not only to know what customers are saying, but to use it to engage and inform customers. Look at the number of businesses that people ‘friend’ or ‘like’ on Facebook. Providing communication channels for these next-generation consumers to interface with businesses, including knowledge base access, entering reviews, as well as requesting assistance and receiving proactive communications, is now a requirement to maintain the attention of a fickle customer base.
TMC Representative: Nearly every phone manufacturer is now incorporating support for wideband codecs. Will we finally see widespread HD voice deployments in 2011?
Ely: Unfortunately, no. While certainly the audio quality is better, the bandwidth and processing justifications aren’t there yet and most corporate environments are satisfied with being able to understand the other party. Cell phone audio quality is no longer a significant selling point for most vendors. Since many voice deployments require an intermediate processing component (PBX as a B2BUA for example), wideband codecs typically require more computing power and network bandwidth for little direct ROI.
TMC Representative: What are your thoughts on the viability of mobile video chat or conferencing?
Ely: Video in general is still underutilized and underappreciated in corporate communication. So the leader here will again be the consumer market, where being able to see the person you’re talking with becomes the norm and not the exception. Since Skype (News - Alert) and numerous other PC-based tools with video calling have been available for years, having these abilities on mobile devices could drive an exponential increase on usage since people are no longer tied to their computers. As such, contact centers that address consumers’ needs by using kiosks and, eventually, video connections, is certainly coming – but still a little way off.
Ely: Each certainly has its competitive advantage with the ongoing introduction of new capabilities that continue to raise the bar. Personally, I think Google is well positioned for market uptake. It tends to be more open and less restrictive, with people already developing hundreds of applications.
TMC Representative: Some have suggested wireless networking will soon replace wired networks in the enterprise. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Ely: Unless technology makes wireless almost as fast as wired connections, established businesses will continue to use wired primarily for optimal performance, as well as physical control, while supporting wireless connections for portability. Consumers, on the other hand, have already moved to an almost exclusively wireless environment with the network router becoming the key interface point. As more smart phones support switching from cellular to wireless data networks seamlessly, this will push wiring out of existence in the home.
TMC Representative: What impact has the growth of cloud-based services had on your business?
Ely: There is definite interest in cloud services, especially the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) to eliminate configuration and support of installations on each corporate computer for new or smaller businesses without an established IT infrastructure. Google services are also popular for small organizations (churches, non-profits) that don’t have the resources to maintain their own servers. We certainly see a need to participate in providing cloud offerings to support small, highly distributed contact centers. Major corporations are using their corporate data centers as ‘private’ clouds in much the same manner.
TMC Representative: What do you think of the net neutrality debate?
Ely: Companies have always given preferred treatment to customers that spend more with them, whether they explicitly talk about it (like airlines) or not. I think this debate is over-rated, especially since some media types, such as voice, need to be prioritized over other media types, like IM and email.
TMC Representative: What is the most overhyped technology in your opinion?
Ely: The most overhyped technology in my opinion is smart phone applications. The bulk of applications are downloaded and never used or used only a few times then never called up again. I don’t need a smart phone app for my grocery store (unless it instantly lowers my bill without me having to do anything).
TMC Representative: You are speaking at ITEXPO West 2010. What is your session about?
Ely: IP Contact Centers done right! A lot has been said regarding the impact of IP in the contact center but, regardless of the experiences, the undeniable fact is that IP is changing the industry. It has allowed new business models to emerge and finally deliver on all past promises, freeing contact centers from paying the hefty price tag of the traditional switches or dealing with forklift upgrades and embracing open source software and its associated advantages.
In the session, attendees embarked on a journey through the IP Contact Center – its benefits, its challenges, deployment scenarios, technology decisions, and more – and hopefully left with an understanding of how to effectively deploy a state-of-the-art, next-generation IP contact center.
TMC Representative: What will attendees take away from your session?
Ely: IP contact centers are the norm, not the exception. The contact center cannot be a closed off division of the business. It is an integral part of customer interactions, especially as today’s customers expect to interact with companies at their own convenience. This has become essential for a positive customer experience.
TMC Representative: Please make a bold technology prediction for 2011.
Ely: As Microsoft enters the market with Phone7, the competition for smart phone vendors, especially in the corporate environment, is going to make deciding on a standard cellular communications platform for businesses more complex. I predict companies will simply give up trying to supply and manage their employee phone usage and allow employees to use any device they want with significant authentication and validation required.
Erin Monda recently graduated from W.C.S.U. with a degree in professional writing. She primarily writes about network technologies, including cloud computing, virtualization and network optimization, however she also has a focus on E911 technologies and legislation.
Edited by Erin Monda