…goes the old saying. Telephony is old indeed, it has spent more than a century sitting at tables all over the world. Yes, people need something that looks like phone to pick up their calls, and that is why we designed devices that look like the phone that accompany Office Communicator 2007. In fact, we intentionally designed some of the USB handsets to be heavy so as to make users feel that they are lifting an old world phone experience wise. Whenever users pick up their phone, they expect a dialtone, and Communicator provides the user with the same experience with the USB devices. Users expect to pick up the phone and dial numbers, and we do have USB devices that allows the user to punch in numbers.

The modern world of computers and devices is transforming a lot of what people used to do earlier. The cellular phone made a precedent: it removed the dial tone expectation from users. Using caller ID, it also allowed users to entering numbers into a device without having to spend a lot of time punching them in. Users are aware of why their cell phone calls may not sound as good as the wired phone, because they understood the concept of “signal bars” or “coverage”. What happened here? A better, more innovative and arguably a more useful system made in into people’s hands, and people learned that the system is different enough to live through it nuances and take advantage of it.

We believe that innovation in software will propel a similar change in mindsets, and accompanying user habits and expectations, and make a deeper impact than this. Already, a lot of call center telephony is done through desktop based software integrated with a PBX phone. What is the role of the PBX phone here? Laptop computer sales have already exceeded desktop computer sales (that happened 3 years ago). The world may have fewer computers today as compared to phone lines, but consider the fact that the lines between a cellphone/personal computing device and a laptop computer is blurring with newer more powerful processors with better display, and increasing availability of WiFi. Software based telephony is the next wave of voice communications, and it is slowing replacing hardware or network based telephony, so exemplified by the black phone and the PBX. Unified Communications rides on this innovative trend in its core, as we can show with just a few examples.

Communicator 2007 introduces a paradigm shift in the way people communicate. Well, you can do all that traditional phones do, and even better. Everyone talks about knowing the presence of the person you are calling beforehand, but how often were you able to successfully conference someone in a traditional PBX phone? With Communicator 2007, you can just drag and drop users, not just from Communicator but from Outlooks’ email item as well. What more, you can directly create a voice or an IM conference of all the people that are present in an email you got. How often have you transferred someone from the traditional phone and forewarned that person “if this fails, please call back”. Well, software not only makes that transfer easy to recognize but in a way more likely to succeed as well because you can see the presence of the person before you transfer the call to him (or whether that person is Out of Office). With just a two clicks, you can configure who is allowed to interrupt you when you are set to Do Not Disturb. Tracking voice or conferencing conversations, when they happened, what were the notes associated with them is super easy with Conversation History items automatically created in Outlook. Software based telephony allows us to innovate in user experience in leaps and bounds, and in blazingly short period of time, because we are not really putting our energies building hardware equipment.

People often point out that they need to boot their PC’s to get the softphone working and that’s a drawback. Yes that may seem like a drawback today, but think about the benefits it brings along with it. What do people do when they come into work, if not starting their PCs or check emails? The benefits of software based telephony will one day make some of these issues look irrelevant. (And then there will always be the IP Phone that’s up and running if users want it). With laptop sales picking up the way it is for schools and colleges, and with our tech savvy blogging and podcasting YouTube generation lapping entering the workforce soon, I already have newer habits to look forward to J

Published Monday, April 21, 2008 1:00 PM by octeam
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Rajesh Ramanathan
Lead Program Manager