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It's 2009; Do You Know Where Your Phones Are?
We all know that Unified Communications (UC) is creating new options for user communications within business processes. These changes are beginning to significantly affect the types and numbers of telephone sets being deployed, and in our consulting practice we see the following three types of changes.* A shift to mobile devices: When customers examine the use cases for specific employee categories in their enterprise, they often find that some employees are almost entirely mobile, seldom sitting at a desktop on a regular basis. As a result, some enterprises are choosing to use only the mobile device to support the user's business communications. When that s the decision, dial plans need to be carefully considered: Some enterprises include the mobile devices in the enterprise dial plan using IP-PBX station numbers and software to route calls to and from the mobile devices via the enterprise communications system. Others only provide the mobile device and the appropriate phone number on a corporate contract so that the device, the information on the device and the phone number all belong to the enterprise, should the employee change status.
This issue was discussed during the User Forum at VoiceCon Orlando 2009. Karen Bailey, Voice and Communications Services Delivery Executive at Wells Fargo described the One Phone practice used in the former Wachovia unit of Wells Fargo. Basically, staff can choose to have either a desk or a mobile phone, but not both. You can watch the video of that user forum here.
* A shift to soft phones. Two major trends add momentum to the growing use of soft phones as the preferred primary or sole user interface for enterprise communications. The first is the convenience of "click-to-communicate" capabilities available in new UC software clients. Whether the software client is provided by the IP-PBX producer (e.g. Avaya one-X, Cisco Unified Personal Communicator, Siemens OpenScape or almost every other provider) or by the desktop software provider (e.g. IBM SameTime, Microsoft Communicator and a few others), the effect is to launch and conduct communications from within a software program. Sometimes, users still want to have the desk phone ring for voice communications; others, though, become comfortable with a wired or Bluetooth PC headset for the conversational portions.
The second trend is the move to virtual offices. This is a big money saver -- with metropolitan office space costing around $27 per square foot per year and average office space at about 220 square feet per employee, an enterprise can avoid as much as $6,000 in office costs per year by enabling employees to work from home. The preferred solution in that case is clearly the soft phone. Even if the user wants a desktop phone, it will likely be an existing home phone to which the soft phone routes the voice media stream via the PSTN.
* A slow, emerging shift to Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) and related application interfaces. Increasingly, all the communications tools needed for certain employee use cases are being built into application software and portals accessed from PCs and mobile devices.
Of course, using services oriented architectures (SOA) and Web services, these tools can be provided by the previously mentioned vendors that provide soft phones, but the tools may not correlate directly to a phone number on a PBX. Many examples of this exist, including recent panelists at VoiceCon Orlando from JJ Food Service, Global Crossing and Abilene Christian University, who described the integration of communications into the business processes for route drivers, service engineers, college students and professors.
Just recently, Allan Sulkin posted an excellent feature on No Jitter highlighting a 22% year-to-year decline in quarterly "line station" shipments for the top six suppliers. The feature attributed those declines primarily to the economy, with some questions about the effect of the "Other" category, such as Open Source solutions. But the economic downturn may be masking a more impactful and longer term shift from traditional telephones and their "line station" shipments to new UC modes.
If you're an enterprise buyer, consider the three alternate approaches outlined above. If you're a communications systems provider, check where your phones are, and possibly shift your new offers and solutions to participate in these alternatives.