Unified Communications, or Communications That's Unified?
A new service eschews coherent delivery of multiple functions drawn from a broad-based platform; it's a bunch of stuff pulled together in an almost ad hoc way, to produce a discrete function that's meant to be useful.
When I first read this story about Google offering a service to track AdWords' effectiveness in generating phone calls from potential customers, I assumed it was a WebRTC story. It involves using website click-to-call functionality, and tying that action back to the analytics that Google offers its AdWords users. The idea is to help the advertiser track which clicks/users prompt phone calls to your contact center, versus other types of Web-based interaction.
Digging into Google's "Conversion Tracking" pages a bit more, it seems like this is actually just an integration with Google Voice-type numbering. I can't find anything that suggests the "small code snippet" is WebRTC code; it seems to be just code to enable the call forwarding functions and to link to the analytics. And there's nothing about the service being available only to users on certain browsers, which we know is an issue with WebRTC. So to a WebRTC person, this whole service might seem like a kludge or, at minimum, uninteresting.
I do find a couple noteworthy things in this offering, though. One is the recognition that voice is, still, an important medium and, obviously, one that a contact center wants as much information on as it can get. As Dave Michels has pointed out on No Jitter, the biggest drawback to WebRTC-enabled click-to-call on e-commerce sites isn't the technology--it's the fact that contact centers most definitely do not want to increase the sheer volume of voice traffic into their contact centers--it saps too much agent resources, which are by far the most expensive element of any contact center. It's almost exactly the wrong thing to do: Take a medium that's ideal for self-service (the Web), and use it encourage people to demand expensive assistance from your contact center.
But the really noteworthy thing about this new offering from Google isn't anything to do with the guts of the technology. It's the fact that it's a unified communications application that isn't really Unified Communications, the way that our industry talks about UC. It's not a coherent delivery of multiple functions drawn from a broad-based platform; it's a bunch of stuff pulled together in an almost ad hoc way, to produce a discrete function that's meant to be useful--without representing any kind of coherent vision of UC.
In that way, it echoes the trend that Michael Finneran has identified in the mobile world, most recently in this post on Apple. "As I have pointed out many times," Michael writes, "the reason that users don't bother with mobile UC clients is that their smartphones already do most of what we call 'UC,' and do it in a fashion that more naturally appeals to users." The Google AdWords/phone integration--as with much of Google's approach to implementing communications--is similarly uninterested in making you deploy a single platform from which to provide UC.
I have to wonder if enterprise communications vendors are in the process of losing the same opportunity across the network that they lost on the mobile device. By insisting on providing a horizontal, unified platform that didn't resonate with the way people use the system, they lost the opportunity to participate in the system at all.
If nothing else, the new Google service represents yet another example of how line-of-business units--in this case presumably the marketing department--are turning to cloud-based services to provide ad hoc communications functionality that provide quick payback or benefit to their operations. It may not be a huge thing in and of itself, but like each of those little integrations that your smart phone started doing a few years ago, it could be one more straw on the camel's back.