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Unified Communications Magazine May 2008
Volume 1 / Number 6
Unified Communications Magazine
Joe Hildebrand

Presence Unification

A primary attraction of the unified communication (UC) “revolution” is the promise of making networked interactions more convenient and efficient. In large measure that means reducing communication delays.

By Joe Hildebrand, Presence Enabled

Why is this so important? Because the effective half-life of information is continually shrinking. Back when messages were sent by sailing ship, it took two years to send a message from, say, London to Calcutta and then receive a reply. Successive technological advances (steamships, air mail, overnight mail, email, and instant messaging) have reduced that latency to mere seconds.

But now our business processes are struggling to catch up with the expectations introduced by these innovations. In domain after domain, we are finding that real-time interactions are more valuable than the old store-and-forward approach. Instant messaging (IM) and SMS trump email. Voice chat trumps voice mail. Whiteboarding trumps PowerPoint. And so on.

Consider the example of something as simple as timesheets in a large consulting organization. Clients can’t be billed appropriately until consultants have provided information about their billable hours. Yet weekly email blasts to the entire consulting staff exhorting everyone to complete their timesheets are quickly ignored because they are so impersonal. If you always complete your timesheets on time, the reminder is insulting. If you’re in the middle of completing your timesheet, the reminder is a distraction. If you’re offline or traveling when the reminder is sent, it may get lost in the flood of store-and-forward messages you receive when you log in again. A smart reminder system would know the “presence” state of your timesheet (e.g., completed), your interaction with the timesheet system (e.g., currently filling out a timesheet), and your network availability (e.g., offline). It would then tailor its reminders to the true state of these factors, not just send out a one-size-fits-all message that in fact fits few people in the organization.

UC promises to solve these problems, enabling people and processes to choose the most appropriate, efficient communication mechanism available in a given context. But what unifies communication? For some it is a single application that provides a window onto multiple communication modes. Unfortunately, technologists seem to be inventing communication modes and tools faster than they can be unified. No sooner are voice, email, fax, email, and IM unified than early adopters start to shift their communications to wikis, blogs, “lifestreaming” services such as Twitter, social networking applications like Facebook, and who knows what’s next. Plus, that doesn’t even take into account the wealth of industry-specific and company-specific applications that often provide the lifeblood of everyday interactions in the business world: trading services, sales force automation tools, enterprise resource planning systems, and the like. So it’s simply impossible for “one ring to bind them all” — if that ring is a one-size-fits-all software program or web portal. In today’s diverse, fast-changing environment, with new tools and requirements emerging almost daily, communications can be unified only with the most flexible of building blocks — not a particular application, but an extensible substrate that can act as a catalyst for real-time interaction using any communication mode.

In other words, what truly unifies communications is presence.

A key consideration in choosing a presence technology is making sure that it truly enables unification. The ideal technology must be extensible to encompass new types of communications, in addition to today’s UC requirements. It should enable presence inputs from any device or application. It needs to be comfortable in a multi-protocol world, supporting IMPS, SIMPLE, XMPP, and their various extensions. It needs to aggregate presence information from multiple devices and accounts, within and across organizational boundaries. And the presence technology needs to be efficient enough to update presence information from all the users and devices on the network in near real-time.

These are tall orders, but these requirements are starting to be met by some of the next-generation presence systems and APIs on the market today. Choose wisely, because as grand unification of presence unfolds, you don’t want to be stuck with a dead-end dial tone.

Joe Hildebrand is CTO of Jabber, Inc. For more information, please visit the company online at www.jabber.com.

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