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User Experience Reigns

I just returned from the Cisco Collaboration Summit, where analysts, consultants, and partners had the opportunity to hear from the Cisco Collaboration team about strategy, direction, products, etc. What really resonated with me was the lack of focus on "feeds and speeds" and the renewed focus on the user experience.

This theme has been prominent lately, with unified communications and collaboration vendors recognizing the key role of the user and the user experience. The lack of end user adoption has led to stagnation in the UCC industry, and vendors are working hard to overcome this by improving the user experience. Many UCC vendors are realizing that in order to increase UCC end user adoption, the user experience must be simple, intuitive, and relevant to their work and tools. Most vendors are working to address this issue.

During their recent corporate name change event, the Chief Commercial Officer of Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications) noted that flexibility and "joy of use" are table stakes, and "joy of use is expected." Similarly, at the Collaboration Summit, Cisco execs repeatedly talked about providing a "delightful" user experience that is intuitive and will help grow adoption of Cisco's products and technologies.

Many UCC vendors are trying to replicate the consumer end user experience in order to increase end user adoption for UCC products. As consumers, we get excited about the latest iPhone or Android device or a new cool app to download, but don't get as excited about a new business phone or application. UCC vendors clearly get this, and are trying to do more to incorporate consumer expectations and experiences into business communication tools to enhance the user experience. Here are a few examples:

* Avaya has been highlighting the concept of contextual awareness and the use of context to keep track of the user's relationships, behavior, organizational relevance, activities, location, calendar, etc., and using this to help predict what's most relevant to the user to "automagically" make the relevant items most visible in the user interface.

* Unify's Project Ansible will allow for seamless transitions between channels and devices, and will use Wi-Fi geo-location presence to get more information and knowledge about the context of the caller.

* Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's OpenTouch and OpenTouch Conversation let users move a conversation between devices without interrupting the conversation, and let users view a graphical timeline of recent, current and future conversations, in addition to a "stage" where their current conversations take place.

* IBM continues to advance the user experience with IBM Connections, which blends social networking with Sametime UCC tools.

* Microsoft tightly integrates Lync communications tools into Outlook e-mail and Office applications.

While vendors are acknowledging the role of the user experience, businesses and IT professionals must do more to understand their users' needs. A mobile worker will want a different user experience than a desk worker, and someone in insurance claims will need a different experience than an ER nurse or an engineer working on an oil rig. Dimension Data surveyed users and found that only 38% of large enterprises report that they profile their users, while 21% believe their users all have the same requirements. As Dimension Data rightly points out, this lack of user awareness poses a risk to the success of UCC deployments.

In addition to better understanding of the end users' different needs, organizations should be open to end user training on how best to use their UCC solutions. Ideally, training shouldn't be necessary and the UCC tools should be intuitive. However, if the UCC tools are intuitive, the training can focus on how to differentiate the organization's workflows, products and services to reduce costs and improve services for the organization's constituents, clients or customers.

It doesn't matter how cutting edge a product is if it's not used on a regular basis by the end users. Vendors and end user organizations each have an important role to play in increasing user adoption and increasing the value of UCC to everyone involved.

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