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Is Conferencing Your New PBX?

Communications technologies are tools in service of personal and business objectives, not an end in themselves. Sure, sometimes the objective is just to communicate with someone to build a relationship or share some love, but even then the purpose is the relationship and the sharing, not the tool itself.

For this reason, the communications tools we choose at any time will vary based on what we are doing. If we're sharing with family members in a different time zone, we might choose Skype or Facetime. Similarly, when our focus is on accomplishing some business objective, we will choose the appropriate tools for the job.

Usage Profiles Highlight Tool Choices

Usage Profiles are an effective method to highlight the different patterns of communication tool choices for different organizational roles and responsibilities (see my earlier post, "Usage Profiles Key to UC Success"). In five of the eight Usage Profiles -- Collaboration, Field, Retail, Information Processing, and Production -- we find that communications is now based in software applications. In many cases, a simple posting of information or processing of a transaction or an auto-generated email or notification is all the communication required.

When more communication is needed, the first real-time tool is increasingly an instant message (IM), text message (SMS), or a post to a workstream communication and collaboration (WCC) app (see related post, "Risky Times for Enterprise Communications and Consultants"). From there, a tap on a name or number will launch a voice or video call either through the user's smartphone or through a connector to a communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) provider.

Meetings are then the remaining communications-based function. Teams, including contractors external to the enterprise, use meetings to coordinate their status. Managers use meetings to keep their organizations informed. Sales, service, and executives meet with customers and clients. Training uses meetings, whether real time or recorded, to support people's skills and to share new information about policies, procedures, and benefits. And, since seldom can all participants be in one place, conferencing technologies come into use.

Conferencing Systems Lead the Way

As a No Jitter reader, you certainly know many great conferencing systems are available today, both for on-premises deployment and, increasingly, as cloud-based services. These conferencing systems provide high-quality voice and video, support access from almost any device ranging from a basic telephone all the way to high-end telepresence-type rooms, and provide tools for sharing and editing content and for recording the sessions, as appropriate. Essentially all conferencing systems support voice connectivity directly through a browser or a software client specific to the conferencing system, though many users still have the habit of calling in from a phone.

Conferencing system sessions can start either in a pre-planned way, such as from a calendar appointment or a meeting room device, or in an ad-hoc way, such as by clicking "call" or "conference" in a multiparty IM/chat session or WCC team room.

Most advanced conferencing systems also support outbound calls to parties who are invited to join the meeting, and those calls are launched from the conferencing system rather than from/through the PBX.

As enterprise-level communication consultants, UniComm Consulting often analyzes our clients' PBX call detail records. In most cases, more than 20% of all the phone calls on the enterprise's PBX are going to conferencing systems. Often, the other calls are primarily related to customer services. Internal person-to-person communications is increasingly via IM/chat or WCC rooms. In other words, the patterns described above are reflected in the call detail records (you easily analyze yours, too -- Excel pivot tables are magical for this purpose).

Optimizing Around Conferencing

Which brings this to a point. For most people in most enterprises, a PBX-controlled telephone is no longer required. Neither the business applications nor the conferencing systems need the features of a PBX -- any generic phone will do. These generic phones, such as in the break room of a production or retail environment, can be connected via a directory-enabled gateway and the phones' numbers can be managed through the gateway or the enterprise directory (Active Directory or LDAP).

The conferencing system then becomes the voice and video communications tool of choice whenever more than two people need to meet. (Of course, the conferencing system can be used for only two people, as well.) The user starts a conference differently than a phone call, but the voice communication is the same, or better, once connected. Also, the conferencing system provides a much richer communications and meeting environment than a basic phone call.

Even better, it is usually the case that the cost per user for a conferencing system or service is less (or far less) than the cost per user for a PBX system or service.

So, consider the option of buying conferencing licenses for a major portion of your enterprise's users, based on each user's Usage Profile. Offset the cost of the conferencing system or service by reducing the maintenance costs for those users' PBX licenses or, if you're buying a new PBX system, reducing the number of licenses purchased in the first place.

The users in the selected Usage Profiles will likely have communications capabilities built into their workstream applications or other business applications and will certainly have a company-provided smartphone, PC/Mac, connected mobile device, or generic phone station. The users will embrace this conferencing-centric methodology because it matches the way they work. Most likely, the users won't even know they don't have PBX features, since they will never try to use those.

Give this suggestion a try in your enterprise. It can simplify your communications systems, lower the costs, and give the users a rich set of tools that better match their requirements. Good luck!