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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[October 9, 2003]


By Art Rosenberg

We Can’t Be Everyone’s “Buddy” All The Time!
The Need For Something More Than IM

Since writing my last column on the payoff of converged communications to the enterprise, I completed a preliminary analysis of the survey of enterprise organizations that are members of the International Association of Messaging Professionals (IAMP), the former Octel voice mail users’ group. Although the members have common voice mail systems, they use different telephone systems and different e-mail systems. The purpose of the survey was to track the migration patterns of enterprise organizations from traditional telephone and messaging communications to IP-based converged communications.

Migration is still moving slowly, since only 23 percent of the responding organizations have started their convergence planning or implementations, mainly because of cost considerations. More importantly, however, the survey showed a lack of understanding of what converged person-to-person communications will do for enterprise users.

While access to information is always going to be important, that problem is rapidly diminishing with online databases, applications, high-speed connections and wireless devices. In fact, there is really too much information around and users have to be very selective in managing their “knowledge.” The real problem is communicating with people in a timely manner, because people make day-to-day operational business decisions, give opinions, take responsibility for follow-up actions and coordinate what other people do. As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know!”

Unlike computer application servers, people can’t simultaneously multi-task different forms of real-time communications with other people very easily, and their time availability for real-time communicating has to be managed very carefully and dynamically. That’s why person-to-person communications activity cannot and should not be confused with information access, even when information access is part of a collaborative conferencing session between people.

As mentioned in my last column, the emphasis on replacing TDM networks with VoIP and TDM telephony servers with IP telephony servers (IP-PBXs, IP voice mail servers, IP IVR systems, IP contact center systems, etc.) is primarily geared toward reducing costs for the enterprise and facilitating traditionally difficult and expensive CTI (computer telephony integrations). However, there are other layered elements of the converged personal communications puzzle that provide direct benefits to both individual end users and indirect benefits to the enterprise organization and working groups as discussed in my last column.

At the bottom level, everyone understands the value of sharing a common network infrastructure for voice and data in terms of reducing enterprise costs. However, because of legacy voice technology investments, business needs, budgets, etc., convergence networking infrastructure implementation will take place differently within each enterprise 

At the next level, where IP telephony “communication application “servers come into play, “hybrid” IP/TDM approaches are practical considerations to ease the transition from legacy TDM servers (PBXs, voice mail, etc.) and communication devices (telephones). However, this is the level where new servers can be added to support additional needs required by IP-based connectivity, as well as new user functionality required by a variety of converged multi-modal communication devices. Such new servers will provide unified message management (“unified messaging”), personalized call management, instant messaging based on “buddy lists,” and will also include speech conversion interfaces, primarily for mobile users with handheld devices.

There is, however, a new hierarchical control requirement for IP-based communications that supports personalized, communications management for both contact initiators and recipients and a variety of communication devices and modalities. We see Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) as being the key to supporting the personal layer of contact accessibility and modality management.

Presence management, which basically checks online IP connectivity and text chat availability status, started with instant messaging at the PC desktop and got into a standards war between the big service providers who didn’t want to lose customers through interoperability with their competition. IM has been growing rapidly at the individual user level as a powerful modality of real-time message exchange among users who are pre-identified as members of permissions-based peer groups or “buddies.”

While IM provides excellent real-time contact management for established work groups sitting at PC desktops, it doesn’t work so well for temporary, dynamic communication relationships. It doesn’t integrate smoothly (yet) with the other forms of person-to-person communication that enterprise users use, including voice phone calls, e-mail, voice mail, SMS, application alerts, and multi-modal interfaces for wireless handheld devices.   

IM has also raised concerns for contact recipients because it exposes their online status equally to everyone on their “buddy list” at all times. This has lead to a need for “differentiated presence” information to be tied to selective “availability” for different classes of personal contacts who may wish to use IM for communicating at different times. But when current IM is not an available mode of contact for a contact initiator, other communication alternatives need to be provided, especially for time-sensitive situations.

The reverse is also necessary. As an example, e-mail technology has already been able to latch on to IM by including a link in an e-mail message that will enable the message recipient (who is not necessarily on a “buddy list”) to immediately click to the sender’s IM service when the “availability” indicator is “on.”

Part 2

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