The Age of Ecosystem-Based Communications Emerges
Every industry has a unique set of communications requirements -- an ecosystem, if you will.
Ever since the first cave paintings some 30,000 years ago, man has been trying to find ways to communicate effectively over time and space. For most of this time period image and text have been the dominant tools, and I suspect that these elements are now part of our collective DNA. In the 20th and 21st centuries, man's focus has been on making communications richer and more secure... as long as it involves a phone call. We in the communications industry have seen this as the Holy Grail. But is it?
Today I am seeing a sort of devolution in communications. Uber is the quintessential example. It disintermediated the dispatcher, or maybe it just automated that job. Regardless, a task that previously required a phone call now relies on a series of text and image-based communications. Yes, voice calling is available in the Uber interface, but it is rarely used because the app constantly updates the customer with the driver's location and arrival status. An Uber customer only needs to communicate with a driver if something has gone wrong. The old model, which involved a series of siloed taxi companies in a given geography, has become an ecosystem that has broken down corporate- and government-regulated monopolies.
Dispatching the Old Model
Another example comes from Dispatch, a company with which I recently spent some time. It is using some Uber-like techniques to automate manufacturers' outsourced field-service dispatch processes and put consumers in control of their experiences.
Dispatch lets consumers schedule field service appointments via a mobile app or the Web; the back-end system supports geolocation and multiparty messaging, offering direct communications through SMS and email, or via the app, to independent contractors. Further, Dispatch can provide reminders with the automated ability to reschedule appointments, and can serve up a map that shows the technician's travel progress and estimated time of arrival. Sound familiar?
For manufacturers with outsourced field service organizations, Dispatch offers a feedback loop in the form of ratings at the end of each experience, and metadata reporting that never existed in the old model. This allows manufacturers that outsource field service the ability to respond to customer issues in minutes after an event occurs rather than having to wait days or weeks to receive survey responses or, worse, to see comments posted on social media. In the old model, the manufacturer was never aware of a missed appointment unless the consumer made enough noise.
Dispatch has recently closed deals with some rather large appliance manufacturers, and works with a significant portion of the home warranty industry. If you own a home with a heating or air conditioning system, or visited one of the biggest home improvement retailers, then you will soon have an opportunity to use the Dispatch.me service.
Notable in my description above is the lack of any mention of audio or video communications. Yes, Dispatch supports voice calling today and soon will add video communications; however, like Uber, from a communications or business process perspective, those modes will be the exception, not the norm.
Ecosystem of Communications
Some of these communications features can cross over to other ecosystems; however, collectively, they represent a unique combination that matches the needs of the ecosystem. Effectively, every industry has a unique set of communications requirements. This is what I mean by ecosystem-based communications. If you run an R&D operation that contemplates communications solutions or builds products in the enterprise communications space, then you might consider this in your product planning process. Else, ecosystem players like Uber and Dispatch will create their own from the growing CPaaS options.
As humans, we seek simplicity and the path of least resistance. The communications industry has spent the last seven generations trying to replace the communications tools of the previous 1,500 generations with phone calls. We have reduced calling to a single click, yet for some industries, this is not optimal.
Ecosystem-based communications tools are evolving at this very moment, and that evolution is not based on the confines of a single method of communication. Efficiency of process, not how quickly you can place a phone call, is driving ecosystem development. Further, even as the cost of telecommunications approaches zero, the use of non-phone-call-based communications is expanding. Whether this is driven by simplicity or innate human preference is yet to be determined.
More than 1,000 API-based communications solutions use WebRTC today, as Justin Uberti, a principal engineer and WebRTC lead at Google, has shared. These solutions, combined with mobile and Web interfaces, are solving enterprise problems. These are not one-size-fits-all solutions. The communications industry's solution for the household appliance industry is to create larger, more sophisticated call centers that reduce call handle time and provide voluminous metrics on performance. The ecosystem-based communications industry is focused on replacing or eliminating the need for the call center altogether with the use of alternative, and more convenient, forms of communications.
Perhaps this explains the lack of growth in the PBX/contact center business more than anything else.