Is It Time for Real Time?
The move toward presence management over the past year has continued to gain momentum. Recently, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced an aggressive company move into the fast-growing software niche with enterprise instant messaging, Web conferencing, and Internet telephony tools to keep office workers in closer touch. This, in direct response to "customers asking more and more about what we are doing to move forward with real-time enterprise tools and instant messaging," says Dennis Karlinsky, lead product manager, real-time collaboration business unit at Microsoft.
What does this mean from a call center perspective? Microsoft sees its new tools improving escalation of calls to managers and subject matter experts through the use of instant messaging or other real-time collaboration solutions, such as Web conferencing or application sharing sessions. Also, the Microsoft release could affect self-service customer Web sites, as Karlinsky also sees click-to-chat as another important real-time tool.
"From Microsoft's perspective, we've seen a tremendous amount of momentum behind enterprise IM in the last year. We see a lot of uptake in the next one to two years around CRM and presence enabling," Karlinsky says. "This is not a five to seven year vision. We see this in the next one to two years, sooner rather than later."
However, others are taking a more cautious stance on presence enabling. Esteban Kolsky, research director at Gartner, sees these real-time enterprise solutions still climbing out of the testing stages and into industry-specific implementations before going industry-wide. Tech support and the financial services industries could be the first test-beds for presence management in the enterprise, Kolsky says. He adds, only enterprises that traditionally adopt technology early on will venture into this realm, with the masses following later down the road, perhaps in two to four years.
Not to be outdone, AOL joined the fray in March with an announcement that it would launch Net-based phone services for its members. The AOL offering competes with traditional telephone companies and cable firms that transmit calls over high-speed Internet connections. Sheila McGee-Smith, president and principal analyst at McGee-Smith Analytics, maintains AOL's move into office communications could create some partnership opportunities between the online giant and call center vendors for presence-enabling technologies. For example, Siemens' OpenScape, a communications and collaboration suite that joins phones, voice mail, email, text messaging, calendaring, instant messaging, and conferencing services, is based on Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS). As AOL is also based on LCS, the two companies can join to enable users to communicate with OpenScape in a safe way, McGee-Smith says.
"The capabilities are all there but companies aren't allowing people to put AOL into their machines," McGee-Smith says. "By bringing it in under the covers of office communicators, that's going to open up more users that could be leveraged through OpenScape." McGee-Smith sees AOL in contact centers for B2C usage in about three to five years, contingent upon Session Initiation Protocol (a signaling standard for multimedia communications over IP networks) and LCS evolving together to have presence combined with telephony and video.
"It's something that's on everybody's mind. Each of these pieces, as they come along, get us closer and closer to that dream of real-time presence management," McGee-Smith says. "Once all these pieces tie together, we'll be closer to that."