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March 2009 | Volume 12/ Number 3
Inside Networking

Contextually Enhanced Unified Communications

Presence is an important feature of unified communications (UC), but is it really enough?

Consider the following situations:

  1. I’m at my desk and have accepted a call on my telephone.
  2. I’m at my desk and have accepted a call from a friend on my telephone.
  3. I’m at my desk and have accepted a call from a supplier on my desk telephone; the supplier has tried six times in the past hour to contact me.
  4. I’m at my desk and have accepted a call from a customer, with whom I’m in contract negotiation.
  5. I’m at my desk and have accepted a call from the finance group and I’m five minutes late for a meeting with my boss.

Let’s say you want to call me. In all five cases, my presence would say “I’m on the phone”, but my receptiveness to being interrupted could vary significantly and depend on your contribution to the task at hand. In these simple cases, the system can try to deduce something about my situation, using information on who I’m talking to, relationships to projects underway, how persistent that person was in reaching me, calendar information and so on.

One important value of IM is as a context resolution mechanism (“Hi, can we talk?”).

More rigorously, let me describe what I consider to be the four key dimensions of contextually enhanced UC:

  • Identity/role: Knowledge of the identity and respective roles of individuals in a work flow is essential to any context-aware communications. The preferences, interests and other attitudes of a user may have a great influence on how information supply is to be carried out and what information is to be provided.
  • Presence/Reachability: This is information on the state of the user, and includes physical activity and applications being accessed. It also includes the disposition of the user reflecting his or her priorities at a particular time. Reachability denotes the sum of all communication media a person has at his/her disposal and is able to use at a given point in time.
  • Location: Location is about where, in which direction and how fast. It also includes information on the surroundings, such as people and objects/devices near an entity.
  • Situation/Activity/Event: This includes the business process needs for reduced time to X, various entities in the decision making process, the urgency of the matter at hand, and any relevant real-time and/or historical content, potentially delivered as notifications and alerts. Even external conditions (e.g., traffic or weather) may impact decision-making activities.

Contextually enhanced unified communications has the potential of delivering substantial added values for end users as well as for communications-enabled applications. IT

Tony Rybczynski is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies at Nortel (News - Alert) (

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