25 April 2011

The New 700 Features

In the olden days, PBX makers touted their 100-year heritages and their mythic “700 features” to serve the needs of every customer.  When VoIP came along, those same vendors harrumphed that the IP interlopers like Cisco, ShoreTel, Zultys, Asterisk and PingTel had mere handfuls of features.  And while the market continued to care, customers cared less and less.
Old-line communications vendors continue cleave to their 700-feature legacies in a world that simply doesn’t care.  Unused, the knowledge is lost, becoming irrelevant.  When PC-based conferencing tools are down, how many users remember how to setup a conference on their desk phones? How many bother to even record outgoing voicemail messages where once these were updated daily.  One-number services and call forwarding throw voice messaging on the same scrap heap as the secretary’s message pad.
You see, while the VoIP revolution was happening, another was running alongside, seemingly disconnected.   Voice, the standard of business communications for 100 years, was losing ground to a beaten foe; written communication.  It began with email supplementing voice communication as users grew tired of phone tag.  Users adjusted to alternate forms of (written) communication realizing that not every question required an immediate answer (and that many times email was quicker). Also, what started as a side benefit to avoid painful messages or prickly recipients, text-based communications have roared back to life as today’s leading communication method (albeit without franked postage).  Recently email has bloomed into texting, instant messaging, and social media while voice communications and messaging have continued to wither. 
But take heart, just as communication continues to change, so the 700-features must change.  Unfortunately while Unified Communications has been over-buzzed for years, vendors have yet to take a unified view towards rewriting the 700-features to encompass all forms of audio, written and visual communication.  Each format is cordoned off with its own rules, only tangentially touching. 
“Collaboration” is the latest industry buzz and can be thought of as UC version 1.2.  It’s more name change than substance.  It brings video into the picture and tries to rehash the unrequited glamor of the failed workforce automation and CEBP revolutions of the early 2000’s, while like UC, making everything mobile, mobile, mobile.  It talks about bringing systems together but becomes fuzzy on exactly how users will interface with these far-flung myriad systems except that it will depend on devices, devices, devices. 
Taken down to a day-to-day level, whereas unified messaging delivered voicemail to email, the encompassing “inbox” hasn’t been built to bring all today’s communications and their associated preferences together.  Too complex for Microsoft Outlook, the multimodal inbox hasn’t been built.  The multimedia contact center agent desktop begins to address this but is too transactional to account for the continuum of communications required by office workers. Of course everyone talks about portals, but a portal is just an empty frame until content is added and delivered. 
Cisco’s Cius (wherever it is) and Avaya’s Flare claim to be collaboration portals but they don’t begin to bring it all together either.  In reality both are mostly slick interfaces for (video) conferencing with a side-order of email.
End users need to have conversations with their suppliers who, while touting everything should be moved to the cloud, aren’t delivering the “700 features” today’s users need to be productive.  Everyone likes the easy way out; unfortunately that’s why the hardest choice is usually the right one.

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