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Relying on Communications to Collaborate

The recent postings on the end of the IP phone (Dave Michel's original article, followed by thoughts from Eric and Avaya's John Giese seem to have touched a nerve. Whether you agree that IP phones have reached their peak, there's no denying that change is coming: If Microsoft makes any headway in the telephony market at all, it will presumably affect the sales of hard phones.The bigger issue from the POV of end users, of course, is what works. To that end, while I agree with Eric and John that VoIP quality is, for the most part, no longer an issue (at least, not one big enough to prevent the deployment of IP phones), I think John has overstated the danger of running voice on a PC. Any given employee's PC might crash completely and take days to replace, of course, but it's also possible that any given employee's appendix will burst and put him out of commission for several days, too. (Indeed, the likelihood of the emergency appy is probably higher, given that about eight out of 100 people will get appendicitis; if your 2-day PC crash rate is higher than that, you have bigger problems than voice quality.)

The bigger concern is the increasing reliance on communications of all kinds, especially as companies grow more virtual, and especially as expectations of constant availability continue to rise. The fact is, we are increasingly asked to collaborate with people using technology-conference calls, social networking sites, team spaces, IM and voice, etc. I think that's great-it allows me to work from home effectively-but it also adds a layer of complexity to what used to be a simple interaction. (OK, yes, I know-if travel is involved, nothing is simple. But you get my point.)

I rarely have problems with enterprise VoIP, but I often have problems getting into conference calls, especially using web and video; I'd guess that at least 20 percent of the time, someone on a conference call I'm on has a problem dialing in, being dialed out to, seeing the presentation, or making the video work. (The fact that this continues to happen even on calls with conferencing vendors is amusing, in a depressing sort of way.)

As John also points out, cell phones don't always work. I think most of us are willing to put up with jitter on a wireless line-and, actually, as a result we're more tolerant of jitter on landlines, too. More important than broken or dropped calls are dead zones, which prevent you from getting any calls at all. As someone who works in a small town surrounded by mountains, and someone who also travels a lot, I can attest to the fact that dead zones exist in lots of places, despite what that Verizon guy would tell you. I usually hit the worst ones in big cities (New York, San Francisco) that really ought to know better.

And then there's the issue of wireless availability, which as we all know, isn't universal, or always free. If I'm in a conference room and can't get a connection, there goes my e-mail, my conferencing and in many ways, my collaboration. If I'm traveling and my company won't pay for Internet access, there goes several days of productivity.

Personally, as much as I love UC and enterprise communications in general, I think we could all stand to slow down, think more, and communicate less. But, if the enterprise communications market is as hell-bent on changing the way we work as it appears to be, offering more options to more people in more ways, we better make sure our networks and applications actually work.