Communications technology has been in a constant state of transition since the appearance of the Internet and, soon after, the appearance of VoIP. Briefly, the office phone system became the IP PBX (News - Alert), then became the hosted PBX, and now we are seeing a large effort to move from something that looks and acts like a phone or a phone system to the next thing – usually called unified communications.
If you ask 10 telecommunications professionals to define UC you will get at least 10 different definitions – indeed, there has been a large and ongoing debate about how to define UC. Rather than weigh in on that debate, my goal in this article is to propose a business methodology for considering how the concept of UC is relevant and when a business VoIP service provider should apply the technological advances made accessible by UC integrations to its advantage.
Nuts and Bolts: What is Available?
In 2015, the transition from premises PBX to hosted PBX is in full swing. Practically speaking, what this means is that more business phone systems are housed in data centers that are running a host of other cloud applications. Essentially, the phone servers, email servers, CRM servers, storage servers, billing servers, database servers of all stripes, etc., can easily talk to each other. The result is that accessing information and rolling up communication media into common streams is a cinch, relatively speaking.
In short, with almost a decade and a half of insistence on including programmatic interfaces (APIs) for all new software builds and over half a decade of smartphone/tablet feeder apps showing how to turn these APIs into mobile real-world means of communications, there is very little information that is inaccessible on purpose.
Of course, there are still some incompatibilities to be sorted – such as video codecs, use of common presence protocols, and encryption standards. However, WebRTC – the new panacea for common communication standards – is already breaking down some of these walls.
What is Possible?
With the technology for integration so far advanced and the emergence of WebRTC, the better way to ask this question might be: What is not possible?
Some of the notable UC applications integrate access from any Internet-connected device – desk phone, smartphone, tablet, computer; allow all relevant media types – voice, video, documents; and can archive and organize historical media like voicemail and conversations.
Here are a few that have impressed me:
Acano is a shared workspace for scheduled meetings and for situation meetings offers extensive collaboration and historical recall of meeting progress. Access is provided from all devices.
Voxer is an application for management of a rolling field workforce (plumbers, taxi drivers, etc.) with walkie-talkie communications coupled with historical recall and rich media sharing.
Zoom offers integration of videoconferencing, online meetings, and presence management into a single service accessible from any device.
Bottom Up or Top Down?
How do you decide from the growing list of already amazing UC accessible technologies and already-baked applications what makes sense to offer to your hosted PBX – or prospective hosted PBX – customers?
Here are a few rules of thumb.
Usability is key. From smooth delivery, to clear user interfaces, to intuitive options for setup and preference management, users are easily frustrated by poorly presented software – even poorly presented great software.
Be as specific as possible to a target segment. For instance, if you are targeting companies that run field services, understand what they are doing in the field and build features to meet niche needs. In a testing phase, get detailed feedback from your market ahead of deciding on UC features.
Don’t overwhelm your operations team. UC features and applications each require support and in-house expertise. If you introduce too many different options for too many business segments at once, you risk sub-optimal delivery. Focus.
The move to unified communications is creating another exciting transition in telecommunications technology that, for the time being, is an evolution of the PBX. Service providers will see that certain integrations – depending on their target audience – are important to offer simply to keep up with the market. Listen to your clients, they will let you know what they like and don’t like.
Edited by Maurice Nagle