Real-time, synchronous communications i.e., voice and video conversations, require the communicating parties to be “available” and connected. This also means that when a contact initiator exercises a “click-to-call” action from any form of “contextual” informational data (directory, message, document, etc.), that doesn’t guarantee the recipient will necessarily be able to talk. This is becoming even more of a problem as people become more mobile, and their current situation determines how they can communicate at the moment.
That has always been the prime justification for exploiting UC flexibility, where end users can dynamically control the mode of communication from a single multi-modal device. It actually started with the telephone and voice mail, where the caller was automatically offered the option to leave a voice message, if the call wasn’t picked up (busy, no answer). Now that messaging has become near-real-time and “unified,” ranging from text to IM to voice to video messages with immediate notifications to “always-on” mobile devices, it will certainly change how we initiate and manage phone conversations, even from the desktop.
Just because a call recipient is not busy on a voice or video conversation, doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready to accept any incoming call. They may be in a noisy environment where they can’t hear well, or in a meeting where they can’t talk, or are just too busy with important matters to be disrupted by an incoming call. Such environmental considerations also apply to contact initiators and dictate how they will initiate communications when they are mobile. That is why it is important to look at the communication options available to contact initiators separately from options available to contact recipients, because the objective of UC is to enable and manage communication interactions with people in any form that works for both parties independently.
My colleague, Dave Michels, (http://us6.campaign-archive2.com/?u=38b5b8e5fdfeb95a5cfc9b48e&id=ee7b3a9007&e=0558a1a86c) has recognized this fact of life in commenting on the upcoming role of WebRTC in facilitating real-time connections through the Internet and Web browsers. While the real-time connections may become easier to initiate (and cheaper), that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be accessible for having a real-time voice or video conversation. The notion of “federated presence” providing the contact initiator with the recipients status won’t always work, because it won’t tell you much about a mobile recipient’s environment or priorities.
What seems to be becoming most practical these days for mobile users is to initiate a contact with any form of messaging, including person-to-person IM, which can then be escalated to a real-time connection. A similar approach is being exploited in contact center applications, where online self-services (“mobile apps”) are offered to customers, with options to “click-for live assistance” in a choice of modes whenever the customer has a question or problem with the application. They don’t start off with a phone call to a live agent. I will be writing more about this mobile customer service strategy, which Interactive Intelligence is strongly pursuing with their “cloud” services.