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The Death of Presence

One of the provocative comments coming from Cisco collaboration executives at the company's recent Collaboration Summit is that presence is dead. Cisco Spark supports no presence model, and the new thinking at Cisco is that a person's presence and working context is irrelevant.

This philosophy is a sharp contrast to the thinking behind most of the enterprise collaboration tools presently in the market, as well as a marked departure from Cisco's stance of a few years ago when it considered presence and context as critical elements of a collaboration ecosystem. This "old" concept of presence is well represented in Cisco's own Jabber UC app.

Cisco's Rowan Trollope at Collaboration Summit

I have often articulated the importance of presence in the statement "presence is the dial tone of the 21st century." But the comments about presence from Rowan Trollope, SVP and GM of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, and Jonathan Rosenberg, the group's CTO, have got me thinking: Is presence really so important after all? As they noted, people often ignore presence state, sending instant messages even when presence status shows a person as away, busy, or in a meeting.

As I consider how people work -- and how I work -- I have to admit finding some merit to the argument that presence is dead. In the mobile world, we send SMS messages without any presence information available to us. If our intended recipients don't respond in timely fashion, we may follow up via email or, if the matter is urgent, by phone. Presence state and contextual status don't really seem to matter in this scenario. Furthermore, if people in an organization always have their Cisco Spark or other mobile clients running, then it can be argued that they are always "present."

Yet, in an environment when I do have access to presence information -- say among those with whom I am federated with in Skype for Business -- I really do pay attention to presence and context. Here are some instances:

But, per the Cisco execs' point that people with mobile devices running Spark-like clients are "always present," and given that we regularly send SMS messages irrespective of what someone is doing, does the traditional UC presence paradigm still have value? Even if we are in meetings or driving, most of us will glance at and, depending upon our engagement level in the meeting or our hands-free capabilities in the car, often respond to an SMS. Thus, does presence and context really matter anymore?

The value of presence is going to depend on who you are working with and how you work with them. IBM, for an example, has an unwritten cultural policy for Sametime users: Don't lie about your presence status. Because people can trust and honor each others' status settings, presence is extremely valuable in IBM's culture. This is particularly true if the UC client has some way to notify a person when someone's presence status changes.

Being able to trust a person's status is key to using presence successfully. If presence status cannot be trusted, then presence has no value. Furthermore, of diminished value is a presence engine that does not integrate with calendars, phones, and other systems that trigger changes in presence status based on meeting schedules or telephone off-hook status.

Unify's Circuit collaboration tool, which is many ways works like Spark, supports a presence model that doesn't seem to get in the way. Rather, it maintains the concept of presence with which so many of us are familiar. Will Spark enterprise users one day ask Cisco to implement a presence capability within the tool? That remains to be seen, but for now, in Spark, presence is dead!