Opinions — 22 November 2014

In a recent post, I pointed out that the official definition of “communication” means interacting and exchanging information between LIVE people. However, I believe that the term “collaboration” deserves that definition instead of “communications.” Why? Because people are now interacting with online automated business processes, both from mobile devices and desktops, and thus business communications are no longer just about live person-to-person contacts (phone calls, messages).

We saw this shift with the way “UC” became “UC&C,” so now we have to understand what the difference is between “communications” and “collaboration.” I suggest that the difference really is that “collaboration” is interaction only between living people, because who “collaborates” with an automated process? They interact, not collaborate, but, either way, they both need the flexibility of different modes of interaction, i.e., voice, text, real-time, asynchronous, etc.).

When it comes to “collaboration” with live people, there is a more important reason to exploit the flexibility of UC, and that is the need for real-time conversational contacts when asynchronous messaging is not adequate. The problem, though, is that people are just not always “available” in real-time, unlike automated online applications are (almost) always available. So, time and accessibility become obstacles to any real-time collaboration.

That’s where “federated presence” service comes into play, where step one in initiating a real-time contact attempt is to know the status of the person you want to chat with or talk to. Presence status provides that kind of information to a contact initiator, providing they have an established relationship with the recipient. For end users within an organization that has an internal Instant Messaging system or service, that is not a big problem. However, in dealing with IM contacts with people outside of the organization, there has to be federation between the IM technologies used within each organization. We don’t yet have the equivalent of the PSTN that supports direct telephone calls from anyone to anyone (but doesn’t let you know anything about the recipient’s availability ahead of making the call).

Clearly, federated presence will prove most useful, in conjunction with the flexibility of UC, when users need to talk with specific people who are not in he same location or in the same organization. IM has become the practical real-time starting point for real-time voice or video conversations, because it is less disruptive and can be more easily multi-tasked than voice. With UC flexibility, an IM contact can also be easily escalated to a voice/video connection, or to other users, as desired by the communicating parties. When contact recipients are not available to talk (already on the phone, can’t talk now for a variety of reasons), the contact initiator has other choices such as contacting someone else, just send a message, etc.

The need for increased communications flexibility that UC and IM federated presence support stems from the increased role of mobile devices by all types of end users. Mobile accessibility, coupled with flexible communication interfaces, has increased the possibilities for making person-to-person contacts, which is key to business “collaboration.” For this reason, federated presence information is a critical need for end users, especially when mobile and when “collaborating” with people outside of an organization.

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