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The Next Phase in Communications

In October last year I wrote an article that appeared on this site titled The Next Phase in Unified Communications, where I discussed what I see as the 3 phases of UC evolution.

The first phase is UC for User Productivity (UC-U), best illustrated by the click-to-communicate concept. It has taken a number of years to evolve, but most vendors offer this capability today.

Phase 2 is UC for Business Productivity (UC-B), and it is what most vendors are promoting today. This is where the big ROIs can be found--integrating communications into business processes or CEBP.

Phase 3 will be UC-Analytics (UC-A), but it has not yet reached the broad market. UC-A adds analytics and metrics to business processes. We have started to see UC-A in contact center applications, where key performance indicators (KPIs) like average time in queue and first call resolution have long been used. Over time we will see these same type of analytics spread to many communication interactions from conference calls to instant messaging.

Keeping with a contact center example--we are starting to see calls being monitored in real time for key words and phrases. During an interaction (call), a system looks for phrases such as "cancel service" or "let me talk to a supervisor" to indicate that a caller is dissatisfied. A supervisor can be advised of the problem call and a series of problem resolutions could be presented to the agent while the caller is still engaged with an agent.

We are starting to see the evolution into the UC-A Phase, but it is not likely to be defined as "unified" but rather what many now call Social Business. Here are some things that are driving this change:

* Social networking accounts for 22% of all online time.
* Next year, smartphone shipments will outpace PCs.
* The social data analytics opportunity will grow to 1 Zettabyte this year.
* There are four billion cell phones on the planet--400 million of which are capable of running 2.3 million applications.
* 200 trillion text messages are received every day in the U.S.
* There are also 140 million tweets each day.
* Facebook now has over 700 million registered users.
* The average US teenager sends over 3,000 text messages a month.
* More than 25% of U.S. consumers aged 18 or older have already given up their voice landline for voice.
* Companies are starting to drop their phone number from promotions and replacing them with Facebook and Twitter tags.
* Congress and the White House are increasingly communicating with their constituency using social media--now if they could just communicate with one another....

Then consider the changes that are coming to the traditional voice market:

* There are over twice as many mobile phones as there are wired phones in the U.S. today.
* 150 million PBX and key system lines are expected to move to VoIP in the next 3 years
* The early IP-PBXs at the end of life and accounting write down--estimated to be nearly 20 million lines by the end of 2012

This all adds up to major change. Vendors and enterprises are learning from the behavior of consumers. They are recognizing the value of mobility and the benefit to have access to new types of information. However, they also understand the importance for security, manageability, reliability, resiliency, ROI and investment protection.

There will be many factors driving the next phase in communications and I will write about them in the future. Two of the more important ones will be: the evolution of endpoint devices and Social Business.

As those 150 million PBX and key system lines move to VoIP and the early IP-PBXs are replaced, enterprises will be looking at endpoint options. When you analyze the rationale for wired desk phones you find that their day has come to an end. A laptop or tablet soft client with a Bluetooth headset or USB phone or a cell phone has many advantages. And in many cases can do more and cost less.

While UC provided important productivity improvements, Social Business will take productivity to a new level. Rather than the linear way in which people analyze data today, social business tools serve up a variety of related information based on historical data--what they have been looking for or working on. A simple example of this is when you do a Google or Bing search you will see a list of related searches.

UC-U made routine communications simpler and more efficient, and UC-B integrated that with business processes to increase efficiency and productivity. With UC-A, we’ll be moving to an environment driven by ideas derived from social business. Your dashboard will dish up information, white papers, case studies, articles, etc. on topics that both you and your colleagues have been working on. It will also link you with individuals and work groups in your company or other groups you may be federated with that are interested in or working on similar topics. We will be moving to networks that don’t simply "connect you," but that can find the people and information you need to be connected to.

Our industry is always evolving but the cycle times are getting shorter. Enjoy the ride.