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Big Data and Analytics: A Crisis for Communications?

Big Data and analytics are definitely coming to our user experiences! This may be great news for the users, but it could also be a crisis for enterprise communications as an industry and to the departmental function within the enterprise.

How is this trend showing up?

* Jim Burton's 2011 post suggests analytics as a new Unified Communications subcategory: UC-A.

* IBM, certainly a leader in big data with its Watson offering, is building increasing levels of analytics into IBM Connections.

* Gurdeep Singh Pall, back at the Lync helm at Microsoft, is bringing his recent experience with artificial intelligence at Microsoft's Bing business unit; at the recent Lync Conference, he demonstrated analytics-based workflows and automation built into user experiences to determine if real-time communications are even necessary and if so, to guide them.

* HP now offers an Analytics engine that can monitor a user's typing to infer, retrieve and present relevant data to support the user's current activity or project.

* Avaya brought the idea of relevant information forward several years ago in its Flare experience and includes this capability in new user experience development.

* Unify is highlighting the analytic features of its Ansible development project to enrich the communications experience.

* Almost all enterprise communications providers offer some form of analytics in their contact center offerings and solutions.

* Mobile device apps use analytics to incorporate location awareness into the user's search for a nearby gas station, hotel, restaurant etc.

So the trend is pretty clear, and most of us will welcome this, as it makes our lives and our work experience easier, richer, faster, more enjoyable.

So where's the crisis? It's simple: the communications industry is not ready for big data and analytics. As a result, other vendors, systems integrators, and organization departments (whether in IT or in the lines of business) are leading the way.

In the process, those vendors, integrators and departments will "own" the user experiences, which will include communications tools--both text-based and click-to-call (voice and video). Those tools will likely be simple cloud-based options using a variety of communications platforms. The users won't care and may not even notice that these services have nothing to do with the PBX, IP-PBX or UC platform that the communications team worked so hard to install and maintain. That's a crisis!

Is it too late? Is the enterprise communications industry doomed to have one more opportunity carved out by others? Not necessarily. Probably the way forward could begin with emphasis on things that are already available. In other words, the crisis can be avoided by acting right now--there's no need to wait for some future releases of the vendors' road maps. Here are some suggestions.

1. Get busy with the big data you already have. Most enterprises we work with have let their call detail reporting systems atrophy. Some of those systems aren't even working, while others collect--but never analyze--tons of data . Same with cellular billings; you can get the call detail records, and some enterprises do, but we see few enterprises analyzing the data.

If you have this "big" data, start analyzing it and using it to shape your organization's communications patterns and user experiences. For example, if you find (as we have in a large professional services firm) that 30% of all calls from your company's clients are going to voice mail or are being disconnected in less than one minute (voice mail greeting-hang up), then design and implement better tools to serve your clients--call coverage, simultaneous ringing, presence-based routing, contact center tools, web portals, or other options.

For another example, if you find that your field people are almost entirely calling from home offices and cellular phones to your organization's clients and partners, you can move them to a cloud-based service (wired or wireless), federated or integrated with the (smaller, and therefore more economical) on-premises IP-PBX or UC system to cut costs and improve services.

2. Get busy with workflow design and business applications. Big data and analytics will be most justified where they can streamline workflows or improve business software applications, so get involved at those entry points.

Borrow some analysts from the contact center team or hire some analysts of your own and get involved with the business departments to make sure that your existing communications platforms and investments are used in the new user experiences--rather than letting communications be fragmented across the multitude of cloud-based services that will otherwise show up in your company, buried in the "big data" or "analytics" initiatives.

If your current PBX or IP-PBX is not a good platform for creating "communications-enabled business processes" or CEBP, then install a small premises system or contract for the cloud services that provide a good platform.

There are other things that can be done, too. A focus on Use Cases and Usage Profiles, as suggested in prior posts, is another good action plan.

But the time to get engaged is now. Big data and analytics are coming--there's no stopping them. It is our choice, as managers, system integrators, vendors (even consultants) to get involved, and to own and benefit from the integration of communications with these exciting new tools. Or not.