Multi-modal Messaging Will Dominate Mobile Communications

As wired telephony becomes subsumed by IP-based, mobile unified communications (UC), we are seeing a big increase in messaging communications. That includes person-to-person contacts, automated notifications from business applications, and community-based posting of “social messaging.” What is most important, however, is that all modes of messaging contact are becoming “unified” and must support both sender and recipient functional needs.

This change will be particularly welcomed in business communications, where the limitations of PSTN telephony and voicemail did not allow end users the functional capabilities they needed. In particular, external users were required to place a phone call just to leave a voice message in an organization’s employee voice mailbox. As a way of consolidating message management for recipients, “unified messaging” (UM) provided shared message storage, notifications, and conversion of voice messages-to-text options for message retrieval. UM capabilities were therefore always considered a major communication application component of UC.

Mobility is a big driver for multi-modal messaging

Now that consumers are quickly adopting multi-modal mobile smartphones and tablets and can handle other forms of messaging (email, SMS, social posts), it’s time for voicemail to join the “Mobile UC” club. However, we shouldn’t still call that move by its old name, “unified messaging” (UM), which only provided limited benefits to message recipients and nothing for message senders.

The old UM has always been focused on simply making it easier for a message recipient to be notified about and easily retrieve all types of business messages, including email and voicemail, in the recipient’s choice of media. With rapid consumer adoption of mobile, multi-modal smartphones and tablets, along with video messaging and new forms of social networking, it really is time to expand the functional role of UM in the context of such flexibility to support a message originator’s options as well. (I blogged about this over five years ago!)

This will not only benefit end users who want to communicate more flexibly with different media, but will also have a strong impact on automated business applications for initiating notification contacts with individual end users and customers. Although the industry has been moving quickly in developing the different pieces of UC, the market is still confused because we are still using old terminology. This is particularly evident as organizations try to migrate from legacy technologies to the future of cloud-based, UC-enabled business communications and think of UM as being just about email and voice mail consolidation for storage and retrieval.

Since telephony and associated voice messaging technologies are changing, both from an infrastructure perspective (IP connectivity, “cloud” applications), as well as user functionally and UI flexibility, the old perception of UM must change as well. That would mean being able to send messages in any mode desired by the sender, as well as retrieval and response in any mode by the recipients. Because mobility implies constraints on which medium of messaging functionality can be used, UM must provide dynamic flexibility for both the sender and recipient interfaces, including the mode of “message waiting” notifications (MWI).

So, What Do We Have To Change?

  • First of all, separate the needs of a contact initiator from that of the contact recipient/response. With UC flexibility, asynchronous messaging modes can be done independently in text, voice or video for input or output.                                                                                                                         
  • Second, include messaging contacts from automated business process applications, not just from people. That has been going on for years primarily with email, and has quickly moved into social networking. Authorized access management and screening will be required as email and social posts are displacing snail mail and TV for advertising.
  • Third, allow individual recipients to easily control all forms of call and message notification (MWI), so that their multi-modal smartphones or tablets won’t overload them unnecessarily when they are busy. That would require both call/message-screening options, based on various factors, including caller/sender ID, subject of contact, urgency indicator, etc. (I call that “Unified Notification Management,” which is a recipient function.)
  • Fourth, enable direct message creation media options, including voice and video. We don’t have to have a real-time connection to initiate and send a voice or video message. This has already started to happen, but just needs to be consolidated under the “UM” umbrella. It is not necessary to involve “presence” management for sending asynchronous messages.
  • Fifth, (maybe this should be first?), provide for “universal addressing” for all modes of messaging, so that the sender simply has to identify the individual recipient, not any particular mailbox or phone number for each medium. To separate personal from business messages, there will obviously also have to be a “dual persona” identification and authentication requirement for addressing.

Finally, all forms of messaging must be “UC-enabled” in order to dynamically escalate from an asynchronous message to a real-time connection that will, indeed, be based upon presence status and availability information. However, unlike legacy telephone answering voice messaging that started with a failed call attempt, I see multi-modal messaging and chat becoming increasingly more common, easy starting points for contacting people, with the option to escalate easily and efficiently to real-time voice and video conferencing connections.

There are quite a few important interoperability and integration details that will need attention in order to support the basic capabilities I describe. One of the implications of bridging the gap between a message sender and recipient, is that messages may be needed to be screened and converted from one form to another (including languages?) before they are delivered/retrieved by a recipient. For inbound customer contact interactions, message screening will also include routing to appropriate agents or experts; for outbound notification messages to mobile users, the “Unified Notification Management” facility should be available from the recipient’s service provider.

Where and how that can all best be implemented in the new world of mobility and cloud services, will be an evolving challenge. VARs, SIs, and Consultants will play a key role in helping organizations transition to integrated Multi-modal Messaging as part of the BYOD revolution.
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