What presence?

Shadow in the night Presence is one of the major buzzwords currently doing the rounds in the enterprise ICT sector, and is seen by many as the next killer application enabling greater real-time communication. Alex Donnelly, portfolio manager at Damovo UK explains.

Gartner says that IM is rising in popularity and last year published figures predicting that by the end of 2011 it would become the de facto tool for internal business communications. 

Being able to see individuals over the network provides organisations with the ability reach people almost anywhere when they are available, and importantly it gives the individual user the flexibility to control how they want to be reached. Communications, and by extension, the workforce, can stop being desktop centric, and start to incorporate the use of mobile internet devices and PDAs much more effectively.

Smartphones, for example, are becoming mini-computers in their own right and can be integrated into presence technologies. Automatic diverts on phone numbers and status icons can make the transition from 'in the office' to 'out of the office' seamless. Finally, it seems, at least for internal communications, we can stop playing telephone tag, and start raising and resolving issues in real-time. 

Presence technology has long been a part of instant messaging (IM) technologies, and for generation Y it is a familiar part of today’s online social networking. Although automated status updates are hugely appealing - in certain cases for example when a scheduled starting time for a user's meeting comes, the system can automatically change to indicate unavailability - the business benefits of presence technologies are much broader. More than simply allowing us to know when someone will be available to pick up the phone or answer an email, they enable today's increasingly nomadic and geographically dispersed workforces to work collaboratively. 

Culturally speaking, it should be emphasised that presence technologies work to create greater social inclusion, not a Big Brother office dystopia. Presence can make it as easy to see if someone working from home is available to talk as it is to see whether the person next to you if free and vice versa. Working nomadically or telecommuting no longer needs to be a disenfranchising experience. The virtual office - and the virtual office extension - can be a reality.

Consequently, over the next 12-24 months it is expected that the big names in software will increasingly be lighting up their products with status and location indicators which will have a huge impact on contact centre based businesses, for example. A possible scenario might involve a car insurance company.

The call centre agent takes the necessary details from the customer and inserts them into the database then clicks on the list of underwriters and automatically calls one that has indicated they are available. The agent and underwriter can go through the details of the application immediately over the phone allowing the agent to deliver an immediate response to the potential customer without the call needing to be transferred and the customer having to repeat information. This scenario has a number of benefits, but most significantly it improves the chances of resolving the interaction at the first point of contact resulting in a seamless customer experience.

The key takeaway from this scenario is the extent to which presence technologies can push work processes through a business by focusing on skill sets and expertise and grouping employees accordingly. Hence if an employee needs Bob in the Bid Team to look over a bid document and Bob is on holiday, presence technologies can allow him to see that Bill - who he might not have met previously - is available and properly qualified to help.

In another example, if an employee is reading a white paper written by a co-worker, he could simply click on the author’s name to see whether he or she is available and how they can be/would like to be contacted, and instantly get in touch to ask a question, discuss a point or give some feedback.

Similarly through the addition of federated access management the process of working with suppliers, partners, customers, and so on, can be greatly improved with presence technologies. Also security and privacy do not necessarily have to be compromised, as users will be able to set levels of accessibility for all the parties they deal with.

For example third-party enterprises involved in a project could be given presence access to a particular folder of work for a specified length of time. This could help businesses to work more collaboratively and, importantly, to build stronger relationships, both of which ultimately can only help the bottom line. 

Presence technologies have the capability to increase productivity by moving businesses closer to a point at which most communications happen in real-time. Ultimately, this will allow IT directors to address their single biggest goal: to get people working together more effectively. 

May 2008