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Feature Article
June 2004


R U Ready? Presence Management In Today's IP-Based World

BY ALLEN DRENNAN & DAVID COLEMAN

Presence, or the ability to show others that you have logged onto the network � and for others to know you are there and available for interaction � is very powerful and can be used to cut cycle times in a variety of processes dramatically. But, there is much more to presence than just putting up a �buddy list.� Today, presence is an integral part of IP-based phone systems, Web conferencing, and instant messaging applications and has the potential to transform a variety of third-party applications, such as CRM and Supply Chain Management software. This article explores both the challenges and evolution of presence management.

 

Presence Management Defined
Presence is often defined as a simple, visual display of who is available throughout an organization, regardless of how large or distributed an organization may be. However, there is much more to presence then just a �buddy list.� Presence can be the touchstone by which another application, such as remote control or Web conferencing can be launched with a �right-click.� In the case of IP-PBX phone system vendor Mitel Networks, presence is integrated into the company�s Your Assistant software, which enables the caller to escalate from a phone conversation into a number of other collaborative tasks, such as e-mail or IM. A list of some of the features and functions a presence management system should have are listed below:


� Ability to integrate with the corporate directory (LDAP) and support organization structures (group management);
� The ability to send pop-up messages to a group, or organization-wide;
� Ability to change status, limit or grant access;
� Ability to add custom status (extensibility of presence);
� Disable ability to manually change status (i.e. lock-down, call environments);
� Automatic �idle/away� status;
� Automatic �Auto Reply� messages;
� Ability to detect �status� on phone (on/off hook) or mobile device (PDA, Blackberry);
� Ability to support detection of �agents, avatars, or aliases.�
 

The Directory-Driven Presence Model
How we organize ourselves often dictates who we communicate (and collaborate) with and the topic of the interaction. An enterprise-worthy presence management system needs to be able to reflect this corporate or organizational structure, and one of the most common ways to do this is to reflect the corporate directory structure. Although LDAP is becoming the most common structure (with both Lotus and Microsoft supporting it), it is important for a presence management system to support a variety of different structures such as:


� Win NT Domains;
� Microsoft Active Directory (ADS), a specific LDAP implementation;
� NetWare eDirectory; or
� Novell GroupWise.


Some enterprise presence systems use an organizational structure that allows the corporation to organize users under multiple tree objects at any level. This makes it possible to organize users by location, department, and role (multi-departmental). Users can also appear under various subjects at different positions in the directory tree. This makes organizational structure grouping virtually limitless. Network managers can use presence management tools to organize users under various structures in the directory and can be centrally controlled using profiles. Group management can also be decentralized, by allowing groups of users to organize themselves without the intervention of the network manager, using the automated workgroup creation feature.


Leveraging the existing directory architecture of the network is an incredibly simple way to populate the presence system and decreases the man-hours and costs associated with both its creation and maintenance. In this particular contact lists and group chat capabilities. Another potential pitfall to SIMPLE is that SIP uses both TCP and UDP (User Datagram Protocol) as transport layers. TCP includes congestion control, whereas UDP does not, thereby opening the door for packet loss during times of network congestion. In addition, according to one industry analyst, presence awareness might be problematic with SIMPLE. However, the peer-to-peer capability of SIMPLE can be a benefit because it avoids putting a heavy load on the servers. The initial message connection goes through servers, and then after that, all the data carried within the message goes directly between clients allowing you to support a lot more users with a particular hardware configuration because much less message traffic is passing through the server.


The other standard, XMPP, is an XML-based data-transport technology that may be better suited than a signaling technology to handle IM and presence. According to its designers, one major benefit of XMPP is that it can be extended across disparate applications and systems because of its XML base. Bell South, for example, is using XMPP as a building block for constructing real-time, digital call-center applications. XMPP is seen as a very robust communications protocol � not just for IM. XML as a messaging structure allows users to tie into other applications and can offer more services to the enterprise. Vendors, carriers, and users don�t have to make much in the way of modifications to XMPP. It is highly extensible as opposed to SIP/SIMPLE, which requires some fairly specific customization in order to support both IM and presence.

Presence And Status
Having a presence management system hook into the PBX to determine if your phone is on or off the hook, and to let people know you are busy and can�t be disturbed can be very useful when used correctly. If the presence system supports agents, an agent can be launched when a message comes in so it can check your schedule to see if you�re in a meeting (and based on rules, weather you want to be interrupted or not).


One of the problems associated with status is that many people forget to put up an �away� or �busy� message. For presence to be useful, it must accurately reflect the up-to-the minute status of that person. So having a way for the system to automatically detect keystrokes (for instance) and put up an �away� message after �x� minutes is much more reliable than having the users initiate status themselves.


But, along with the detection of presence, the detection of status is just as important. It is not enough to be able to activate an away message to indicate you have gone to lunch and are not available for an IM or phone chat. What about when you are on the phone, in a meeting, or just typing on your keyboard but want to be available to certain people?


What if you want to customize your messages, or show a different status to different people depending on their role? For example, you don�t want to show your boss the �away� status all the time, most likely you would like to know when they are trying to contact you no matter where you are! But you may always want to be �away� when an aggressive salesperson is trying to contact you. So based on the role of the person trying to contact you (either inside or outside of the organization) you may want to show a different status, or no presence detection at all (stealth mode). In addition, a desktop or laptop PC is not the only device we use today for communication and collaboration. More and more mobile devices are becoming an integral part of collaboration. The rules for presence detection and status should follow you, no matter what device you are working on.


The overall solution to many of these problems is to use either proprietary or standards-based solutions for IM and presence to allow third-party application and business logic to manipulate presence within the IM solution. Integrating existing technology with real-time presence provides these capabilities.

Presence Authenticity
In some systems your presence can show up in more than one place at one time. For example, if you log on under one name and then log on later from another computer or device (say your PDA) under the same or another screen name. How does the system detect if your presence is authentic? How does it resolve which presence rules should apply? This has the potential to become a new form of identity theft in the near future.

Conclusion
In the near future, we will not only be collaborating with other people, but their agents (software routines that can be used to accomplish an online task) as well. An intelligent agent could possibly represent you at an online auction, in a remote meeting (taking notes for you to review later) or scouring the Web for a specific type of information you are seeking. As these agents become more prevalent, we will have to learn how to interact with them. Presence management systems will undoubtedly evolve and become more sophisticated to deal with intelligent agents. For example, it may be possible to disallow contact with agents, much like today�s Caller ID tells us who�s calling before picking up the receiver. The downside to agents is that spammers can use this technology to proliferate IM spam (SPIM).


For now, we will continue to see presence evolve into a critical function that will be added to a wide variety of applications (i.e., project management tools, healthcare software, stock trading applications, etc.). Presence, as seen today in a variety of telephony, Web conferencing and instant messaging applications, can be very valuable and save a great deal of time where it is most often spent � communicating, collaborating, and coordinating.

Allen Drennan is founder and CTO of WiredRed Software, a software provider of company-wide secure IM, alert notification, and Web conferencing software solutions. For more information, please visit the company online at www.wiredred.com.

David Coleman is founder and managing director of Collaborative Strategies (CS), a leading analyst firm covering collaboration technology and its use. Coleman is also the editor of the �Inside Collaboration� newsletter. For more information, please visit www.collaborate.com.



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[ Return To The June 2004 Table Of Contents ]

 


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