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WebRTC Hype Check

WebRTC chatter continues to increase, but let's try to keep it down to a dull roar. Here's four facts about WebRTC to consider before completely revamping a communications strategy.

1) WebRTC is not a standard. The true power of WebRTC lies in its potential as a ubiquitous standard. Even if the standard were approved tomorrow, it would be years until it became so widespread that it could be regarded as generally available. This will require widespread support in all major browsers including Internet Explorer and Safari--neither of which do today.

The reality is the standard won't be approved tomorrow. There are still major disagreements among the key members of the draft committees and the major vendors providing browsers. If and when the standard gets approved, there is still no commitment or requirement that all web browser makers will support it. Every implementation (browser or application) until then is just another variant among many of providing real-time communications.

2) WebRTC does not deliver any new functionality. This is a very important point. As stated above, WebRTC's true value lies in its capabilities as a ubiquitous default technology. Until then, it's just another option for browser-based real-time communications. There are no shortages of options today to enable voice, video, IM, and even contextual awareness within a browser. Anything possible with WebRTC tomorrow is possible today through various methods.

3) WebRTC will not improve customer service. WebRTC is a technology--nothing more. There are plenty of proven technologies available today to reduce or even eliminate IVR frustration, provide contextual awareness from web to voice in a contact center; and in some cases even real-time, live, video interactions can be accomplished without WebRTC. The technology exists today to provide differentiating customer service via voice, video, or IM. Waiting for WebRTC as a requirement for customer interaction improvement is an excuse and distraction.

4) WebRTC is not disruptive. Identifying what will or will not be disruptive is difficult. However, WebRTC does not offer new capabilities, nor significant cost savings over other peer-to-peer technologies. WebRTC could be more accurately described as an evolutionary technology--effectively bringing real-time capabilities to the browser instead of reliance on ad-hoc plugins and downloads. Potentially, a royalty-free codec could be disruptive, but that's the most contested aspect of WebRTC, and already available separately.

The great part about WebRTC is that it is rapidly expanding the interested audience for topics such as customer experience and real-time interactions. The key is to direct that interest into actions--today. If the IVR is frustrating, fix it. If you want to know what webpage customers are calling from--code it. Telephone conversations are a powerful tool for customer interactions, yet, oddly, most contact centers are designed to minimize them.

WebRTC is undoubtedly an exciting technology and arguably long overdue. The browser has largely taken over as the most critical platform for productivity and interaction. Real-time communications has long ago expanded beyond telephones into desktops and other devices. Communications should become a core function of the browser. I fully expect and look forward to the "Grandpa, tell me again why you had to install plugins before calling" conversation.

Companies that embrace customer interactions with today's tools will be in a far better place to fully leverage the benefits of WebRTC when the time is right. The Web has changed just about every aspect of communications and it's time to welcome real-time communications as a standard feature.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.

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