From IP Telephony To Presence-Aware
BY VIJAY K. BHAGAVATH, Ph.D. & TIM MILLER
Enterprise IP communications has come a long way. Since its inception in
the early 1990ï¿½s as a toll bypass technology, it is now a mature VoIP
communications solution experiencing a phenomenal 25-percent annual growth
rate as estimated in the 2003 Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA)
Telecommunications Market Forecast Report.
Of all IP communications solutions, presence-aware communications,
currently associated with devices such as telephones and PCs and
applications such as instant messaging (IM), is fast emerging as a new
metaphor promising to fundamentally transform business communications.
Presence-aware communications has sparked strong interest from businesses
and corporate users because it allows people to instantly connect with
individuals or members of a workgroup. The growth in enterprise IM
deployments and the widespread use of IM for routine business communications
interactions is proof-positive of the interest from IT and business
executives in presence-aware instant communications. In fact, a recent
research report published by IDC estimates that 76 million enterprise users
worldwide routinely use instant messaging for business communications
Yet, current presence-based solutions still leave something to be
desired. IT and business executives find fault with the current model of
presence-enabled communications, implemented in IM or IP telephony clients
because of the tight coupling of an individualï¿½s presence awareness with a
specific device or application. The inadequacy in the device presence model
can be obviated by a comprehensive presence model that is device and
application independent, and is modular for low-cost integration into
communications-intensive workflows in complex business processes like supply
chain, order fulfillment, or customer service. The end-goal needs to be to
simplify workflow and accrue ROI from IT investments by:
- Substantially reducing transactions costs ï¿½ currently constituting
about 65 percent of the GDP; especially given significant third-party
supply and mediation of information processing services in their corporate
networks and supply chain;
- Enabling faster and more timely business decisions; and
- Ensuring consistently high levels of customer and employee
Multi-resource presence-aware communications, by definition, implies
communications solutions that incorporate presence awareness at a device,
user, and group level.
Device presence, collectively referring to the presence from physical
devices such as telephones and PCs, virtual devices such as IM and
attributes such as geographic location and network type, is todayï¿½s de facto
presence model. Device presence, currently implemented rather restrictively
in devices like desk phones and applications like IM, is typically recorded
in enterprise servers (e.g., Microsoftï¿½s Live Communications Server or Lotus
Workplace Server) and is displayed via visual icons within office
applications like Microsoft Outlook or Yahoo! Messenger. Presence associated
with telephony devices such as desk phones can be either displayed on the
phone screen or within a PC-based soft-client application.
Device presence, while a good starting point when the device or
application best suited to reach a person is known, remains inadequate as a
reliable means to communicate with an individual. This is the common
experience many of us face in everyday business situations because sending
an IM to an individualï¿½s IM client like Yahoo! Messenger, doesnï¿½t guarantee
a response within a reasonable time.
Calling a person via a PC soft-client, after first verifying that the
individual isnï¿½t currently on the phone, can also be a game of guess work.
The routine often starts out with calling the personï¿½s office phone, leaving
a voice mail if unavailable, then trying his/her mobile phone, leaving
another voice mail, if unavailable, and so on. The result is often times an
endless stream of call-me-back voice mails.
The solution to the communication scenarios just presented lies in the need
to introduce two higher-level presence concepts: user presence and group
User presence aggregates presence from various devices, applications, and
attributes such as networks and locations to present a unified and
aggregated view of an individualï¿½s presence status. This allows users to
dynamically select their preferred device or application for real-time
contact, facilitating instant access among corporate employees and their
partners and customers.
User presence enabled applications also allow users to easily define
rules ï¿½ either explicitly or via automated links to utilities ï¿½ to
dynamically set their reachability through different devices or
applications. These rules can be based on attributes such as time-of-day,
location, and the people attempting to contact them.
As an example: When a product manager is on the road, he can establish
rules that allow only sales reps and his supervisor to reach him live via
his cell-phone, while restricting other priority contacts to reach him only
via IM. He can route all other non-priority communications to his unified
Group presence generalizes the user presence concept across a group,
aggregating individual usersï¿½ presence into a workgroup. The presence
aggregation rules can be set according to the needs of the workgroup ï¿½
individual, quorum, majority, or all members. Individuals can use a group
presence-enabled application to connect instantly with an available member
of a group.
For example: A tech-support rep can instantly contact an available member of
the Project-X development team, by simply clicking on the Outlook
click-to-call icon: ï¿½Project-X dev team.ï¿½
Both user presence and group presence, by virtue of enabling instant
person-to-person interactions, have significant workflow and business
process impacts. The impact ranges from simplifying communications-intensive
tasks in workflows involved in customer-service, order fulfillment,
tech-support, or B2B supplier interactions, to individual and workgroup
productivity improvements. The productivity benefits are especially evident
in taking the guesswork out of contacting employees to set up conference
calls and team collaboration sessions using presence-aware applications.
Vertical Presence-Aware Solutions
We describe two business scenarios in the following paragraphs to exemplify
everyday business situations that stand to significantly benefit from a
presence-based communications solution that is tailored to meet the needs of
the firm in the example.
Scenario: A loan officer in a branch office can accelerate mortgage loan
approvals through an instant review process that typically involves getting
a quick second-opinion from one (or more) senior managers at headquarters.
By clicking on the audio conferencing tab from within their PC-based
application a loan officer can request, in real time, a second opinion on a
mortgage approval. While the bankï¿½s competitors may take days exchanging
documents among loan officers to approve a loan, the use of a presence-aware
conferencing solution empowers the loan approvers to confer and close the
transaction in minutes.
Business Impact: The bank can significantly improve its turn-around time
for loan approvals and other financial transactions requiring several
approval levels from employees scattered across geographic locations, using
a presence-aware conferencing feature integrated into its vertical PC-based
applications. Metrics that will be positively impacted include: 1) revenues,
2) customer retention and satisfaction levels, and 3) overall business
costs, due to reduced need for specialists at every branch.
Scenario: Hospitals can utilize a presence-aware instant communications
application to improve communication with staff and patients. A customized
version of Microsoft Outlook or Yahoo! Messenger enhanced with visual or
voice-activated presence tabs, like ï¿½internal-medicine-charge-nurse,ï¿½ enable
staff and patients to instantly communicate with an available charge-nurse
in the internal medicine department.
Business Impact: The hospital gains by enabling its staff to communicate
instantly with its colleagues in a more natural, unscheduled manner, rather
than utilizing pre-arranged online interactions ï¿½ which are often
impractical in a hospital system. Metrics that will be positively impacted
include: 1) improved patient care and higher employee/patient satisfaction
levels, and 2) faster turn-around time to administer complex patient
diagnostic procedures, which translates to lower operating costs and higher
The impact of todayï¿½s device-oriented presence communications with
applications such as IM is interesting to compare with the business impact
of the two user/group-presence-aware business communications solutions
scenarios just described.
IM-style interactions benefit a firm by enabling speedy chat-style
interactions in the workplace. Business processes that utilize user and/or
group presence concepts, imbedded in enterprise applications, allow business
users to remove the guess work out of reaching people involved in critical
workflows. This improved workflow normally results in increased employee
productivity, faster sales closures, and improved customer satisfaction
Vijay K. Bhagavath, Ph.D., is a Senior Strategist, and Tim Miller is
Director of Product Planning for Siemens Information and Communication
Networks, Inc., a leading provider of network and applications technology
for enterprises, carriers and service providers.
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