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User Experience: The X Factor of Unified Communications

The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications 2013 (see posts here and here) lists five "UC characteristics" that they say "will have an important effect on the success of a UC product and the satisfaction of users."

The very first item on that list is User Experience, or UX, and here's what Gartner says: "User experience (UX)--The quality and effectiveness of the overall user experience (UX) across all devices will heavily influence the effectiveness of the solution, its adoption rate and, ultimately, enterprise productivity. While consolidated administration and management are important characteristics of a successful solution, it is the high-quality end-user experience that will drive adoption and productivity."

This resonates entirely with what we can see happening in the marketplace today. The drive for an optimal UX is shaping the industry in ways we have suggested in prior UC Weekly posts. At the root of this direction are two causes:

1) Users want their communications to be built right into the applications they are using. Just take a look at your smart phone apps for many, many examples of that. Search for a restaurant, and you will likely be able to call that restaurant directly from the browser or app page. See a name on your contact list or in a social network, and you will likely be able to click to IM or click to call them. More on this point later.

2) Enterprises want the communications built right into the software applications and workflows that are optimal for their customers, their mission, their workforce, and their bottom line. We have seen this in contact centers for almost two decades, but now this method is being delivered to many other departments in the enterprise.

So how will these two root causes show up in Enterprise IT decisions? Here's a short list:

* Most of all, e-mail! E-mail is by far the highest-volume communications tool, and therefore the most common UX, in most enterprises. My UniComm Consulting teammate, Don Van Doren, wrote about this just last week. Despite the challenges of email, users want to stay in Outlook, Notes (or Connections), Gmail, or similar interfaces and be able to see the presence of all involved in any e-mail thread, and then click to IM or call or conference with those persons. No new client, no change of habits, just click and done. Of course, this is now available directly from Microsoft and IBM as well as via plug-ins from many IP-PBX and related vendors including Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Siemens, and Esna (for Gmail and Google Docs).

* Next, let's have communications embedded in Instant Messaging (IM) buddy lists and social network pages. There is no doubt this has happened in our personal lives, as we can chat or call or view from so many tools (Skype, Facebook, Facetime, Google, et al.). IM clients are readily available in most enterprises, too. Some are limited only to IM messages by enterprise policy, but this will likely change--either because the users expect to be able to click to communicate from IM, or because IM disappears inside other application UXs like e-mail. Social networks are gaining traction in enterprises and may, over time, subsume the e-mail UX.

* Software Applications are the really new UC&C UX--both for personal and business. Just take a look at the communications tools built into Amazon (personal) or (business) to get the point. More and more vertical market software apps such as in healthcare, CRM, transportation, and manufacturing are also including direct e-mail, IM, presence and some social networking capabilities. Can the voice and video UX from those applications be far away?

* Mobile smartphones and tablets, of course, are becoming the "platform" for all of this. The mobile devices have communications tools built in to capture the user's attention (and usage patterns) in ways that produce value for the carriers and/or the device makers. This is likely one reason why the IP-PBX producers are having a hard time getting traction for their mobile clients, as often noted by my friend and associate, Michael Finneran. But enterprise e-mail has a prominent place on these mobile devices, and software applications are increasingly expected and preferred there, too, providing the context for the Enterprise UC&C UX.

Bottom line, it is easy to agree with Gartner that UX is going to be key for UC providers. However, it may not be the UX that the communication vendors wish for. Rather, it seems more likely that the successful communications vendors will need to focus on how their products can be the preferred platform in the enterprise architecture to provide communications services used in the established UXs of e-mail, IM, social networks, and enterprise software applications.

This UX emphasis is how the Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and the Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) that we have been hearing about for years are now actually showing up. My recommendation is that enterprises put some emphasis into the UX planning, and use that planning as a major factor for their procurement decisions.