Taking the User Experience Beyond the Tool
If communication system vendors don't support demand for optimized user experiences at a transactional or collaborative level, others will.
The objective of any and all enterprise communication tools is to support a business or organizational activity to produce targeted results. It's hard to think of enterprise communications that is outside of that definition.
This communications support of business results may come in many forms. The most common is communications in support of transactions, which can range from placing and tracking orders or services to delivering notifications, approving expense reports, or signing off on salary increases. In this case, the communication is often textual, via a Web page or an email message, with a voice option available for exceptions.
Second most common is a collaborative activity such as the communication required to create a new idea, product, or service. Collaborative activities have previously been highly vocal; in today's environment, they are more likely to be conducted in message-based collaborative tools (e.g., IBM Connections, Microsoft Yammer/SharePoint, Jive, Slack, Cisco Spark or Unify Circuit). Users invoke voice and video as needed for group meetings or for some of the more interactive collaborative tasks.
In this context, the communication experience becomes a component of the user's overall experience. For most transactional activities, the user will be working in a software-based environment such as order processing software, customer relationship management software, or similar functional software applications as in human resources, finance, facilities, emergency management, and so on. For most collaborative activities, the user will be working in a project-oriented and content-rich software-based collaboration system such as those mentioned above. In either case, the user will want integration of the necessary communications tools into that software environment.
Well-integrated communications tools will produce great benefits for the organization and the users. Communications will be easy and convenient. Users can save time previously wasted finding needed skills or knowledge by relying on search tools, group member status, and accurate connections. The best methodologies and media can be automatically presented so that no waste or failure occurs when trying to reach someone who is known to be unavailable or when using the wrong media (e.g., using voice calls instead of simpler IMs, or using long IMs instead of a simple call, or using email instead of a Web portal).
From this viewpoint, vendors that are producing communications tools should focus their attention on the integration of their products' communications tools and services into the transactional or collaborative systems and software applications on which the users rely in daily activities. Sure, the communications tools that users invoke during their transactional or collaborative activities must be easy to use, intuitive, and effective. But the user's experience is at the transactional or collaborative level, not just on the communication tool or device.
The implications of this are significant:
- A desk phone is no longer a sufficient communication tool. Rather it becomes a connection point in the transaction or collaboration, competing with smartphones and Bluetooth devices.
- In few cases will the user's communications needs be limited to the real-time silo, so integration with messaging-based and document-centric applications will be key.
- A logical hierarchy of communication tools will apply for any specific task. Old maxims that voice or video is much more effective for communications are invalid, requiring new analysis.
- Communications is almost certainly not a single-vendor solution. Many communications tools for sharing data, information, and notifications are already built into software applications.
- An optimal user experience will cross one or more vendor boundaries and will almost certainly require integrations with information, business applications, other communication systems, and data analysis tools.
We see some signs that the communication industry vendors are increasing their focuses on the integrated user experience. Unify's Fusion model was an early and continuing example of this. In December 2015, Cisco demonstrated packaged integrations of Cisco Spark with a number of cloud-based services, building on its acquisition of Tropo. Most enterprise communication system vendors have communications application development toolkits and APIs. A number of cloud-based enterprise UC and VoIP providers, especially those using the BroadSoft platform, also support packaged integrations as well as toolkits and APIs. There is even a new Communications APIs track at Enterprise Connect 2016.
However, few of the vendors' channel partners -- systems integrators and value-added resellers -- seem to be featuring these capabilities. We'll see how this develops in 2016. Communication system vendors take note: The market abhors a vacuum. If the communication system vendors don't support market demand for optimized user experiences, the application software companies and the device software companies will. Lunch is on the table, let's see whose lunch is being eaten by whom.
Learn more about communications APIs, and see live enterprise demos, at Enterprise Connect 2016, March 7 to 10, in Orlando, Fla. View the Communications APIs track sessions; register now using the code NJPOST to receive $200 off the current conference price.