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Habits Are Things We Do Without Thinking

I've been thinking about habits lately, because for Unified Communications, video and other emerging technologies and services to really take off, our communications habits--and how we think about communications--will have to change.

The silver lining in today's economic slowdown is that it creates incentives to adapt our attitudes, practices and habits. Travel-related costs and hassles make conferencing--web, audio and video--more appealing. And when travel is required, it's increasingly important to be able to replicate the capabilities available on office desktops. Not surprisingly, mobility is already one of the key triggers for UC adoption.

The economy isn't the only factor driving change in our communications habits--the forces unleashed by Moore's Law remain unrelenting. Computing power continues to increase, and at lower incremental cost. That power and cheap storage overcome a multitude of limitations that have hampered progress in speech-to-text and text-to-speech applications. In the not so distant future, we'll be accessing databases and applications with direct speech input rather than via keyboard strokes.

A whole new generation of communications technologies, products and services is on the way. Last week, No Jitter reported a flurry of activity involving video and telepresence, speech technologies, social network tools, and on Nortel's decision to spend $10 million to buy DiamondWare, whose technology, "uses wideband, stereo capability and custom spatial positioning that can deliver real-time interactions in 3D virtual worlds and meetings, online gaming systems, and multimedia applications."

Now I've never woken up thinking that more "custom spatial positioning" would improve my day, but who knows, maybe it will become a foundation for my next generation of communications habits.

So the good news is that new capabilities are coming and we are in an economic climate that encourages using new or different rather than habitual modes of communications. But for habits to change, products need to get better.

All too often, even technologies and services that have been around a while still don't work as advertised. Members of the VoiceCon team recently participated in a basic web/audio conference, and it was a disaster. The audio was crap and while those at the remote location could see the slides, they couldn't see the video that was embedded in the presentation. Instead of the meeting being a time-saver, it was a time-suck. Similarly, even simple conference calls are often bedeviled if participants are using softphones or, in some cases, a head-set.

This tension isn't new, but in these tough economic times, UC and the new wave of communications it represents, need to deliver sooner rather than later. So far, the UC vendors have yet to offer tightly integrated and interoperable products. The disjointed offerings make it tough to confidently predict ROI and so writing a UC business case remains more art than science.

Tom Nolle, writing last week on NoJitter, offered some sound advice: "The big that worker productivity is the key priority for all the senior management I've surveyed. Productivity improvements should be the focus of budget presentations, with as much specific about the 'how' and 'when' as possible."

Tom's reminder to concentrate on bottom-line results is timeless; it's a habit that never goes out of fashion. But our habits for contacting one another, accessing human and information resources and expressing ourselves to our colleagues, business partners, suppliers and customers will change, and it's up to those of us in the profession to lead the way.