November 18, 2014

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The time is now…for Converged Communications

New age communication technologies and devices have ushered in seismic changes in the way people communicate at work, in their personal lives, and pretty much everywhere else.  We are more connected than ever before.  The major building blocks of Next Generation Communications in the enterprise context are: social media, unified communication, contact centers, collaboration and mobility.  Unfortunately, these service offerings operate as independent silos, often duplicating service options between each other as if to reinforce their independence.

I am of the opinion that consolidating services and features will go a long way in convergence and ease-of-use than ever before.

Here are a few examples of service duplication:

  1. Self-service, particularly through voice, is supported by contact centers and collaboration services. 
  2. Contact center favorite - call routing and queuing - are weakly supported by collaboration services as well.  So is presence and availability, albeit by different names.
  3. Multimedia and multi-channel access is available to contact center service representatives and also to office users through collaboration tools.
  4. Practically all tools allow chat, IM and conferences. 

The enterprise collaboration feature set has been growing lately and offers presence and availability status of each person in the enterprise, conversations with each other over chat (IM), voice and meetings, video and content sharing. 

An important yet missing part in the collaboration feature set, however, is support for a full-fledged contact center.  Though there are initial offerings for contact centers over Lync® and Jabber®, I think more features are needed to enable an effective merger of collaboration and customer service.  The advantages are many:  as shown in the picture below, customer service representatives will have immediate access to internal or subject-matter experts (“SME”) through chat, voice or video while they assist customers, not later.  As you can see in the picture, the whole enterprise is now engaged with a customer and not just a few service representatives.  Enterprises doing this will have improved first call resolution.  A small nifty add-on app to the collaboration tool can enable employees to register as SMEs, allowing service representatives to automatically search for an SME.

Mobility and collaboration have more in common than any other set of communication services.  Collaboration-on-the-move, enabled through device based apps provides a seamless experience on any device of choice for the employee.  Many enterprises already allow their workforce with access to enterprise collaboration on their smartphones and tablets through mobile Internet and company LAN.

Traditionally, unified communication has referred to offline store-and-forward voice, fax and email messages, generally converging over email.  With live communications services, collaboration has bolted ahead and left unified communication struggling behind as an old cousin.  It is time to rest the term “unified communication” in favor of new-age “collaboration”.

 

Social media has dominated as a personal time activity. Its relevance to the enterprise isn't well understood, if at all. With close to 3 billion subscribers glued to the screens of social media, it is reasonable to expect it to be of value to businesses. Social media has gained from the immediacy provided by mobile devices and the Internet. Everybody is interacting with everybody else in a geometric progression.  At least some of the attention is timeshared between reading others’ experiences with products and services and writing one’s own. There is no other forum that matches the proliferation or reach of a social media post. No company can afford to ignore the fact that from closed rooms to glass houses of the past, the reputations of businesses are literally made “out in the open” now.

Feeds from social media should be available to customer service representatives in real time to react and resolve, even preempt. By itself, this is a key factor for enhancing brand loyalty like never before – more bang for a dollar, I’d say – and this is what social media holds out for businesses. It is best to consider “social” as yet another media channel through which customers share their experiences.

Finally, a word on Cloud services: A lot of companies, both small and large would not want any IT or communication equipment in their premises, should an optimal choice be available.  Cloud based networks have been around for a couple of decades in the form of web portals.  However, enterprises hesitate to entrust their confidential data to insecure and slow networks.  If and when network security, access speeds, backups and storage issues are convincingly resolved, I think businesses would seriously consider opting for hosted services for their communication needs.

This, then, is the merger of communication silos in achieving the consolidated, converged universe of Next Generation Communications.

I think, rather than committing their investments to piecemeal solutions, this bigger picture is of value in future proofing communication for enterprises.