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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[September 29, 2004]


By Art Rosenberg

How Shall I Contact Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Person-to-person (newsalert) communication contacts used to be simple - not always possible, but simple! Telecommunication was tied to a physical location. Whether it was a mailing address or a phone number, there was a fixed point of contact. If the person you want to contact in real time (telephone) is not there or is busy doing something else, your communication attempt would have to shift to leaving a message with someone or on an answering machine at that location or wait for a later attempt.

Then along came electronic messaging, both email and voicemail, which made the message mailbox “virtual.” That meant the person owning the mailbox didn’t have to be where the mailbox is in order to retrieve the messages or to respond to those messages. This, in effect helped make electronic messaging a practical way for people to communicate asynchronously, because it was easier and faster than paper messaging.

But, messaging wasn’t “real-time!” Recipients didn’t know when they received new messages unless they were connected to their messaging systems through PCs or telephones with message waiting indicators, etc. If the message was “urgent” or time-sensitive and the recipient was not at their phone or desktop PC, it was necessary to notify them of the arrival of such a message (and deliver it as well) via some “always on” device. That’s where radio pagers and cell phones came into play for supporting timely message delivery.

The Many Ways
A new study of enterprise users by Penn, Schoen, and Berland that was commissioned by Siemens showed the following:

  • “67 percent of workers say they must leave multiple messages in different places when seeking immediate responses.”
  • According to the study, other communication complaints include:
  • · Delayed decisions because colleagues fail to respond in a timely manner (65 percent).
  • · Malfunctions while traveling or working remotely (56 percent).
  • · Inability to locate or communicate with colleagues (59 percent).
  • · Inability to access timely and accurate information (51 percent).
  • · Inability to respond to a missed client call in a timely manner (48 percent).
  • · Lack of synchronization among various communication tools (43 percent).”
  • All of this inefficiency adds up to loss in individual productivity (Micro-productivity) as well as lower group productivity (Macro-productivity), which is even more critical to enterprise performance. These losses of user’s time and responsiveness are “soft” metrics that are still hard to quantify, but are really more significant than the “hard” reduced communication costs that are touted so much for enterprise ROI (definenewsalert).

Once users start carrying “always on” cell phones with screen displays, they are now accessible for all forms of “real-time” communications, including”

  • Traditional phone calls
  • “Find me” or “One number” services that provide the option to screen calls, launch a call notification, and make an immediate connection
  • Presence/modality-based “Tell me when” notification to a failed contact initiator when the recipient becomes accessible.
  • Voice mail message notification and delivery
  • Email message notification and delivery
  • Immediate text message delivery (Short Message Services and wireless text messaging)
  • Immediate delivery of multimedia messages (Multimedia Message Service)
  • Instant text message exchange (IM)
  • Instant voice messaging or half-duplex voice connections, better known as Push-to-Talk (“walkie-talkie”)
  • “Buddy list” screening for real-time connections*

Since person-to-person communications will often involve someone who is mobile communicating with someone who is not mobile, cross-modal communication capabilities (e.g., text-to-speech, speech-to-text) will always be a practical consideration for insuring that both parties can communicate flexibly. With video coming on strong at the device and IP network level, video conferencing is another modality of person-to-person communications that will added to the mix.

Who Needs All These Flavors of Telecommunication?

  • At first glance, one might think that we have simply accumulated a variety of contact technologies that were useful at one point in time but may have now been rendered obsolete by newer and “better” alternatives. But, if you look carefully at the contact initiator’s requirements for making contact, you might see how all of the above alternatives may indeed still be useful at some time to everyone.
  • Voice vs. text – This is applicable to all forms of messaging, both asynchronous and “real-time.” Although the choice may be based on personal preferences of either the contact initiator or the recipient(s), it will be typically be dictated by any one or more of the following variables:
      • Communication device capabilities
        • Screen/keyboard
        • Voice/TUI
        • Multi-modal combinations
      • Environment of initiator or recipient
        • Meetings
        • Noisy environment
        • Non-private environment
        • Silence Required
      • Nature of communication
        • Conversational discussion
        • Exchange of information, documents, files
        • Interpersonal interactions
        • Language and spelling concerns
  • Real-time Contacts – The need for immediate contact for either speech or voice communications will vary depending on the following:
        • Urgency, deadlines of subject matter for either party
        • Time efficiency for both parties
        • Interruptive impact on recipients
        • Identity and priority relationship of initiator to recipient
        • Network and device accessibility
        • Availability triggers (e.g., presence notifications)
        • Cost of real-time access vs. non-real-time access
  • What address information does the contact initiator have for the recipient?
      • Phone no.
      • Cell phone no.
      • IM address
      • Email address
      • Street address
      • Embedded reference in a document, message, data file
      • Just a name, title, company, location
  • All these parameters are implicitly employed by contact initiators to determine how and when to launch a person-to-person contact. The triggers for contact initiation can be anything, including just hearing someone’s voice, having the name mentioned by someone, seeing a name or topic in a document, being “notified” of recipient’s availability, etc. What users need, therefore, is the flexibility to dynamically respond to a trigger and efficiently make a successful communication contact of some kind, regardless of the circumstances of the communicating parties. That is the heart of timely person-to-person communication.

“Different Strokes for Different Folks!”
It is obvious from the above variables that the ability to communicate in an effective and timely manner will depend upon both initiators and recipients and the dynamic circumstances of both parties. The challenge, of course, is how can effective communication contacts be negotiated easily, efficiently, and without negatively impacting the time and privacy of others.

The answer is that it all depends!

First, it is unrealistic to expect all users to have the same kinds of communication needs, devices, and communication relationships. Not everyone will be mobile in his or her job responsibilities, nor have the same time-sensitive requirements with everyone they communicate with. Communication convergence, by definition, will mean that individual users will be able to interact effectively and independently regardless of the differences in personal needs, devices, and services.

Second, for those enterprise users who need to communicate efficiently on a regular basis, provision must be made to selectively provide dynamic availability and accessibility information to people they want to communicate with frequently. There are many new ways that this can be done efficiently and semi-automatically through the exploitation of personal address books, coupled with presence management that is multi-modal and can work across all networks and devices. This will involve standards-based, network-wide, federated directories that won’t necessarily be controlled by a single service provider.

Finally, we always have to consider the worst-case situation where a contact initiator is not known by the recipient but the subject matter is still “urgent.” This situation will typically be governed by the type of address used by the initiator, i.e., publicly available addresses like office phone numbers or email addresses. Usually, cell numbers and IM addresses are not so available to strangers. Such situations are often transient, when a critical problem arises and the communicants are only in touch until the problem is gone.

In such cases, it is not sufficient to simply block all unknown contact initiations completely, but traditional forms of contact screening can be applied with both programmed rules and human judgment. “”Follow me” or “One-number” services will require such screening to be practical for all real-time modalities of personal contact.

Desktop Flexibility and Cross-modality
Although we always like to point at multi-modal communications as being most useful to mobile, on-the-go people who are going to be limited to handheld devices, sitting down at a desktop device, wired or wireless, will also have needs for cross-modal flexibility. The dynamics of person-to-person communications often result in the need to shift modalities during the course of any communication contact.

So, all the ways we can initiate a communication contact mentioned at the beginning of this article, could require escalation to other modalities. This can apply to the desktop devices, where the PC used to retrieve an email message is then used to move to IM or to initiate a telephone call back. Obviously, presence management will be most useful here.

Modality Management
Once contact with the recipient is made in the appropriate modality, however, it is no longer “presence management” that is required, but simply the ability for both parties to switch to a mutually desired modality of communication, which we can include under the label of “modality management.” This will require interoperability between various communication servers and devices that will allow “seamless” switching of modalities across a converged IP network infrastructure.

This is analogous to the ability to switch a voice call on a dual-mode cell phone seamlessly between a WAN (newsalert) connection to an on-premise WiFi connection as announced by Motorola, Avaya, and Proxim. The difference is that the users may or may not have to switch devices in order to switch modalities.

The limitations that caused us to use different modalities of person-to-person contact and communications in the past are not going to disappear because of the emergence of converged, multi-modal networks and devices. Similar limitations will still remain because of individual user circumstances and the existing communication relationships (if any) between contact initiators and recipients. For these reasons, enterprise communications will require the flexibility of the various flavors of contact that have already proven useful in the past. With convergence and multi-modal communication devices, we just need to enable users to manage all this flexibility easily and effectively.

What Do You Think?
Do you agree that we will still need to keep all the different ways of making contact and communicating? If so, how do you think these technologies will adapt to becoming cross-modal? Who will end becoming the service providers for mobile enterprise end users, the network “portals” or the wireless carriers? Because communication modality is so dependent on the capabilities of user devices, who will end up supporting handheld devices for mobile enterprise users, the wireless communications services or the enterprise?

Let us know your opinions by sending them to [email protected]

Converged Communications Services Roundtable
I will be moderating a very interesting panel of services-oriented providers who are targeting both consumers and mobile business users. We will be examining the implications for convergence between enterprise CPE and wireless communications services, as well as for supporting end-user interfaces for multi-modal contacts of all kinds. This will be a free-for-all discussion that will address hard questions that you may have always wanted to ask but didn’t know who to ask.

The roundtable will take place at the Internet Telephony Conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 6, 2004 at 3 P.M. at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. I look forward to seeing you there. For further information, go to www.itexpo.com

New White Paper Report: Progress and Direction of Enterprise Migrations to Converged Communications
The Unified-View has just completed a new white paper report on the state of the industry and the enterprise market for communications convergence. Sponsored by the non-profit Unified Communications Consortium and leading providers of enterprise voice telecommunications technologies, the report summarizes the availability of key converged voice application products from the industry, as well as a realistic and objective assessment of the progress that enterprise organizations are making in migrating to communications convergence. The latter information is based on recent market studies of enterprise organizations from a telecommunications user perspective. The study provides practical feedback on the readiness of the market for new converged voice technologies.

One of the enterprise studies was sponsored by the International Association of Messaging Professionals (IAMP) in preparation for their annual conference October 17 –21 at the Biltmore Hotel in the sunny (and still intact) Coral Gables, Florida. Visit the IAMP conference website at http://www.amireg.com/iamp2004 for more information about this independent enterprise organization.

For a free copy of the new report when it is released, please contact me directly at [email protected]

Art Rosenberg is a veteran of the computer and communications industry and formed The Unified-View to provide strategic consulting to technology and service providers, as well as to enterprise organizations, in migrating towards converged wired and wireless unified communications. He focuses on practical user requirements, implementation issues, and new benefits of multi-modal communication technologies for individual end users, both as a consumer and as a member of enterprise working groups. The latter includes identifying new responsibilities for enterprise communications management to support changing operational usage needs most cost-effectively.

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