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February 2007
Volume 10 / Number 2

Presence and Context based Communications
Emerging Communications: The Next Wave

By Walter Kenrich, Feature Articles


Presence technology has been around for many years and is finally gaining traction in the marketplace. A new paradigm of context based communication that is the evolution of presence is beginning to emerge. It will be exciting to see how this new paradigm of ubiquitous communications develops over time.

Communications methods have undergone tremendous changes over the past few years. Only 20 years ago the “big iron PBXs” (define - news - alert) that served as companies’ switchboards were considered state-of-the-art. Today, we take voice mail for granted in our business and personal lives. But, when it first appeared, early voice mail systems were proprietary and very expensive and, consequently, voice mail was only available to the largest corporations.

Fast forward, and we find today’s workforce depending on and expecting complete mobility and accessibility. Traditional communications models have evolved into more fluid and flexible ones, with many ways to organize, communicate, and collaborate. Personalizing communications and having a variety of tools to communicate has become an integral part of operating a successful business and managing our personal lives. Companies large and small rely on a vast array of business communications tools to efficiently and effectively communicate with each other and, more importantly, with their customers.

In the never ending work cycle of the Internet, physical proximity and time constraints are diminished because users can be virtually anywhere. Whether at home, at a client site, on the road, or in different time zones, users and customers need and expect more options from their communications platforms than ever before. They require the ability to communicate anywhere and anytime.

A growing number of businesses are geographically distributed and are now employing virtual or home-based users. Because of this paradigm shift, having the capability to let users choose where, when and how they communicate with peers or customers is growing more and more complex. Businesses are coming to the realization that access to various communications methods — voice, email, instant messaging, SMS, etc. — is essential to remaining competitive. Likewise, customers want to choose the most convenient methods of communicating with an organization. So, communications vendors must continually redefine new communications paradigms.

Mobile or remote users require the same level of access as their corporatebased counterparts to stay connected to the enterprise and within easy reach of their clients, suppliers, and colleagues. I am sure just about everyone reading this article has worked remotely at some time and wished they could find out quickly and easily if a particular colleague or team might be available and what was the best way to contact that individual or group.

The first wave of enhanced communications, seen a handful of years ago, had limited support and lacked useful features and open standards. However, new technologies of presence and contextbased communications technologies now offer effective and intuitive presence management tools, which also minimize communications disruptions. These technologies provide office and mobile workers dramatically improved access to customers and colleagues; they enhance employee productivity and help maintain consistent, high-quality customer satisfaction.

To meet the new requirements for mobile and remote communications head on, businesses require a suite of rich, robust features to help users stay productive. Optimized presence technology enables more effective communications and collaboration for a geographically dispersed and mobile workforce, while reducing disruptions for “always-on” workers. Presence allows users to instantly assess the status of coworkers, initiate conference calls, and access contact information. As a result, they spend less time chasing down multiple phone numbers, transferring calls, or sending never-to-be-returned messages, and spend more time solving problems and doing creative work.

The distribution of the corporate workforce across time zones and locations complicates the task of communications among disparate locations. It’s often difficult to know what communications method is best to connect with a particular person at a distant site, as well as to determine whether that person is in a position to do what needs to be done.

Presence technology can make any type of communication or collaboration more effective while reducing communications disruptions for the workforce. How much more productive could your workforce be if they could eliminate the time wasted trying to reach someone who was not available? Presence technology solves this problem by providing a person’s status and availability to communicate via certain modes in real time.

The Next Step
Presence can give us insight as to whether a person is available, but it lacks the context-based sensitivity to determine which method of communication is best for that individual based on location, the type(s) of devices available, and personal preferences.

For example, the location and preferred communications methods of a sales person who is constantly on the road will vary depending on ongoing business and environmental factors. In this case, the role of a context-based communications platform would take into account the following:

  • Location — Is the individual in the office, at a client site, in a hotel or airport, or at a child’s school play?
  • Devices — What communications device(s) are currently available to the individual: office phone, IM client, cell phone, SMS, or other device(s)?
  • Preferences/Rules — Which people and by what methods does the individual wish to allow access? What rules or preferences has the individual indentified or activated?

Let’s look at a possible real-world scenario in which context-based communications could play an important role in our personal and work life. You are in a sensitive meeting at a client site and do not want anyone disrupting your meeting, except for your boss or your spouse. With the combination of presence and context-based communications, you can be assured that only your boss and your spouse will be able to see that you are available to discuss an important matter. In this case, based on a personalized set of context rules, your boss might see, for example, that you can be reached via your cell phone, while your spouse could be alerted that you should be contacted only by text messaging. You could configure your profile so that all other colleagues and friends would see that you are not available to be contacted by any means at that particular time.

When you leave the client site, you can then revise your profile to make yourself available, based on your communications preferences for particular individuals and contact methods.

Presence combined with contextbased communications enables users to optimize the way different people can contact them. Using context-based contact rules, users can set up different preferences for the communications method by which they want to be contacted by various peers, customers, or family. They can also specify how and when they wish to be contacted, depending on their location, availability status, available communications devices or even their mood (for example: “I am rushed so only email me”). Users may only want their most valued customers or their boss to contact them via voice, SMS, or chat, no matter when or where they are, while having everyone else contact them only by voice mail or email during particular periods of time. This capability substantively redefines the communications paradigm that existed years ago.

Walter Kenrich is vice president of product management, SMB Division for Vertical Communications. (news - alert) For more information, please visit the company at

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