Where is UC Going? Persistent, Multimodal 'Conversations'
Business voice calls are becoming part of the UC landscape, but more importantly, they are no longer going to be isolated real-time voice contacts. Voice/video calls are joining stored messaging activities as part of ongoing, multimodal “conversations.” Such “conversations” will selectively and persistently share and bridge the gap in related past business communications on a particular subject between individual members of a group, whether inside or outside of an organization, and thus efficiently facilitate any new interactions between those group members. Think of it like traditional email message “threading,” but now encompassing all modes of interaction between people.
New Service Offerings for Multimodal Business ‘Conversations’
In 2014, we were all somewhat puzzled by the name Unify came up with to replace their original Ansible announcement, i.e., “Circuit,” although its functionality for consolidating persistent multimodal business contacts makes a lot of sense. Shortly thereafter, Cisco came up with “Project Squared” as a work-in-progress, device-independent, communications and collaboration platform to replace its aging WebEx service. It is clearly being developed around cloud infrastructure and targeting mobile-first business users.
Another recent innovative announcement from the legendary Ray Ozzie, who left Microsoft in 2010 as their chief software architect, introduced “persistent” voice calls and messages in a cloud-based mobile service called “Talko.” In addition to simplifying contextual voice contacts, Talko records all phone conversations, as well as voice messages, as information that can be selectively retrieved just like other forms of data. This provides contextual information for making new contacts and eliminates the need to remember any details of voice contacts by making written notes.
We are witnessing the next evolutionary stage of what we have been calling “unified communications” (UC) into UCaaS, but more importantly with “Circuit,” “Project Squared,” and Talko, making multimodal business interactions more flexible, convenient, organized, and persistent for ongoing business processes and activities. This will provide more context and continuity for faster and easier ongoing contacts and information exchanges with people inside and outside of an organization. Rather than having to find copies of previous messages or transcribed notes on phone calls as a starting point for a new contact, an end user will have easy access to see or listen to all previous contacts that they or others in a group were directly involved in.
Such information will also facilitate what I described years ago as “contextual” contacts for initiating a new call or message, without requiring the contact initiator to know the phone number or message address each time a contact was made. Instead, there will be a flexible “click-to-contact” option when reviewing such stored communications, much like the legacy message “reply” and “forwarding” functions, but now for multimodal communications content.
If the contact initiator requires a real-time connection (voice/video), federated presence information would provide recipient status for proceeding and won’t have to bear the inefficiencies of legacy telephone-answering voice mail messaging, where a phone call attempt is required in order to send a voice message to another organization.
Benefits of ‘Unified Conversations’ Through Persistent UC
With multimodal endpoint devices, especially mobile smartphones and tablets, end users will be using all modes of communications to initiate and receive calls and messages with other people, as well as interact with automated business processes. However, all such related contacts and interactions should be stored for easy, logical retrieval and review contextually for any new interaction.
The benefits of capturing the “threads” of all modes of communication include the following:
- Centralized access to retrieval of any communication contact between participating members of a group, whether inside or outside of an organization;
- Searchability of any mode of communication based on different criteria, including: Dates
- Subject matter, Identity of participants, and Mode of communication;
- Options to quickly initiate a new contact to any person in the group or to persons identified in the call or message (“contextual” contact);
- Enables better understanding from a sequence of different interactions, instead of just isolated calls or messages;
- If language translation is required, it can be applied across each recorded message or call involved for a consistent level of retrieval and review;
- As new participants become involved, the history of all previous communication exchanges are readily available for them to quickly review and start contributing;
- The history of any group activity will provide useful insight when evaluating the results of the project;
- The costs of separately documenting business process activities will be minimized as all pertinent communications are automatically recorded.
I am sure there will be other practical considerations for selectively capturing a variety of communication activity in a common, multimodal “conversation,” but until we start really using such capabilities, we won’t really know everything. Don’t be surprised if persistent UC services are offered by the major service providers who are in the process of moving to VoLTE, and will tap into “cloud” services from the likes of Amazon.
Until we had the unlimited storage resources of the cloud (private, public, hybrid), we were in no position to collect and store all the information generated by the different modes of communication applications that are now also moving into those clouds. So, it really is a new ball game that we can start playing with UC.