Presence: Old Hat or New Opportunity?

By TMCnet Special Guest
David Schenkel, senior technology analyst with ADTRAN
  |  December 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Unified Communications Magazine

By now you’ve probably heard of presence, and if you are one of the billion or so consumers who have a social networking account, you’ve probably even used it.

Presence indicates the availability and ability to communicate with individuals (and in some cases organizations, groups, and even things) before you attempt to communicate with them. Presence isn’t a new idea though, and has been in use by consumers as part of bulletin board, chat room and instant messaging services since the 1980s. With the advent of Internet-based IM services in the 1990s and social networking sites as we entered the new millennium, presence has become a quintessential part of online social interaction by consumers. More recently, presence has appeared in corporate IM, IP PBX (News - Alert) and unified communications client software. So is presence just old hat, or does it represent a new opportunity for businesses?

Like all UC applications that a business might invest in, presence provides new opportunities to improve a business’s efficiency by improving its business processes. Presence does this in two general ways. One focuses inwards and enables improved collaboration between workers allowing internal problems and issues to be resolved faster, while the other improves customer intimacy by allowing customers to reach appropriate service workers and resolve their service requests faster and more efficiently. Both work by increasing the success and timeliness of reaching a needed resource within a business by employees, customers, suppliers or partners. This is sometimes referred to in analyst speak as reducing human latency, the time delay in initiating and reaching a needed contact or resource. The bottom line is that presence generally reduces the number of work hours required to operate a business, and that is how it generates a return on investment.

In commercial UC applications, presence can be collected from a variety of sources each indicating your availability to communicate with varying levels of timeliness from a few seconds for real-time devices like telephones and from weeks to years for calendars and duty rosters. Presence information can be derived from classical sources like a PBX, PC desktop, mobile device, IM/social networking, or calendar, but also can come from less traditional sources such as duty rosters, groups and line of business databases that can indicate who is on call, who is in the line of responsibility or part of a responsible group.

 Presence in a UC system improves collaboration processes between employees by enabling them to get in touch with the right resource at the right time, independent of the locations and modes of communication available to employees. For example, if a sales person on a customer call needs to find a technical expert to answer a question on a product capability to make a time- critical sale, presence indicates what experts are available currently to answer the question. The sales person can use presence in a UC client on a smartphone to find an available expert and either click to call, or IM the expert, independent of the location and device in use by the expert, who could be at the office or on the road. Although ROI’s produced by presence for collaboration are real and can be quite dramatic, they provide softer more difficult to quantify ROIs with longer return periods.

Presence improves customer intimacy by providing reduced service times for customers. Presence can be used in contact center UC applications by agents to locate available resources to handle a customer service request, but the most dramatic results can be obtained by automating call flow processes to re-direct automatically customer calls based on presence information. For example, calls to reach a health care provider can be redirected automatically to on duty or on call health care professionals based on a combination of real time presence and after hours duty rosters. Such automation services can employ line-of-business database information about the caller combined with the presence of available resources to eliminate the need to use an intermediary call taker and more quickly and reliably connect callers with a person or service that can directly meet their service request. Both call center and automated direction services provide harder, more easily identified ROIs, which generally have shorter return periods as they both reduce the time required by call takers to handle customer calls.

Presence may be old hat, but it is an important commercial UC feature that represents an opportunity for businesses to leverage other UC features to reduce the time to complete tasks, ultimately generating an ROI based on both improved business efficiency and improved customer intimacy.

David Schenkel is senior technology analyst with ADTRAN (News - Alert) (

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi