Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
I have an odd quirk. Actually, it's more of a habit than a true quirk. When I go into a place of business, one of the first things I do is look to see what kind of phone system they have. While I try to be discreet about it, I sometimes need to peer over counters and into cubes. I do this in restaurants, hospitals, car dealerships...everywhere. And yes, I have received a number of odd looks, but I have yet to allow that to deter me.
I've been in this business long enough to have run across just about every make and model of telephone out there. Show me your telephone and I will tell you if you've got a Norstar, BCM, Communication Manager, IP Office, CS1000, Call Manager, or a simple POTS line from your local carrier. I am never surprised when I come across a relic from the 1980s. Do you want to know where you can find beat up yet functional Northern Telecom 2616s? I'm your man.
This may surprise you, but I am most delighted when I enter a workplace without telephones. By that I mean the traditional piece-of-molded-plastic-that-sits-on-your-desk telephone. In other words, soft clients and integrated desktops.
Besides fueling my obsession for all things communications, I learn a lot from this habit of mine. I can tell you which companies prioritize communications and which still see it as nothing more than dial-tone and busy signals. I can spot a company that wants to create a collaborative workplace and one that still functions in silos.
And regarding those people with the soft clients... I see them, and I see a forward-looking company that isn't afraid to break the mold and think outside of the box. Innovation requires you to look beyond what came before and not be afraid to break the mold.
Here's another tidbit I've learned from my peeping. Employees who know what they are using are often far more knowledgeable about what it can do for them. These people see their communications devices as part of their workday productivity. This is especially true for those who have jettisoned the hard plastic form factors. They have a much greater understanding of their system's features and how those features can be applied to their daily work life.
Even though I have been framing all this in the language of traditional telephony, this really is about unified communications and multimedia. Show me a company that puts instant messaging, presence, and video into their employees' hands and I will show you a company that really gets it -- a company that recognizes how dial-tone is not where communications starts and ends.
Of course, I am most excited when I see SIP on the desk or running on a handheld device. I don't care if it's something from a large communications vendor or a small startup with something you can download to your Apple or Android device. These discoveries are the Holy Grail of my obsession (erm, I mean interest). This is when I know that there are others out there who care as much as I do about all this IP telephony stuff. Those finds make my day!
Okay, my secret it out. It's not that weird, is it? While I don't expect all of you to go telephone spotting, it might be worth a try. Who knows what you might find by peering over desks and counters. It just might make your day, too.
Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.