At first glance, few technologies feel as unsexy as voice. From a user’s perspective, little has changed since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. Most see voice as a mature technology that simply connects people in real-time across a distance. But voice is experiencing a wave of innovation that will fundamentally alter this definition.
During Mobile World Congress, Jae-woan Byun, the CTO of SK Telecom, condemned current voice offerings as “boring for users” but promised a “second tsunami” that could change everything.
The first tsunami was about messaging. It swept away SMS volumes and revenues and resulted in the kind of valuation that Facebook placed on WhatsApp. Thanks to the elimination of the historical limitations that telephony placed on voice, we are already sensing the shockwaves of the next tectonic shift.
Voice will be:
Available every “wear.” Voice is fast becoming a primary interface for wearable technology. Voice will soon become ambient, with audio sensors embedded into our environment: cars, living and workspace, and fashion accessories. Conversations will follow us from home to car to office — jumping automatically from device to device.
Private and secure. Encryption of voice will become the default, not the exception. Layered security models will include voice biometrics as a standard component. And for our most private conversations and transactions, speech will continuously authenticate us – not simply at the outset of a conversation.
Smartphone-native. Today, the dialer application on a smartphone replicates 1970s touchtone telephony. The ability to tap, swipe, wave, drag, point, rotate, shake and talk means that powerful new features will be simple and easy to use, in the same way that the iPod made mobile music easy.
Imagine rotating your phone to landscape orientation to turn a 1:1 call into a conference call. Apps will allow easy customization of the voice experience. Your CRM app will handle calls from clients; another will intercept calls when you are roaming and it’s 3 AM; and another will manage calls from the “burner” number you put in an ad to sell your car. Powerful new services will be so easy and intuitive that we won’t even notice a learning curve.
Application-embedded features. Beyond caller ID, inbound voice calls carry little context today. Increasingly, voice calls are originated within apps and web pages and are thus full of useful metadata. Moving forward, voice calls will come complete with context, such as where the user is stuck in a business process, allowing organizations to build and continuously refine a fit-for-purpose voice experience.
Beyond the “call.” Sadly, we are still replicating the patterns and limitations of 1876 telephony with the idea of a call today. We either schedule calls with fixed timing, length and attendees or blindly interrupt people. Future voice communication will mirror the more fluid activity streams on Facebook, Yammer or Google Hangouts. We will invite others into a call as needed, allowing them to jump in and out of conversations seamlessly. Outside calls or cold calls will come with a “conversation request,” where the caller pitches the receiver on why he or she should answer and invest their time.
Augmented memory & total recall. Voice is about to become recordable by default, and in many contexts and corporations, it already has been for decades. We are moving beyond simple record keeping to active knowledge management via voice. Similar to how we search our email for past conversations and threads, we will be able to do that with our voice conversations too. Essentially, we will be able to jump to the 15 seconds that mattered in that last call and have perfect recall of all our conversations.
Your intelligent voice assistant. Basic AI technology has offered voice command control for over a decade, and Siri and Google Hotwording have taken that experience to a new level. As intelligent assistants continue to improve and adapt, we can see a future where they join us during the call. They will interpret questions and offer answers, content and ideas in both spoken and visual form. This will help us perform various administrative tasks, like scheduling a meeting, querying past correspondence or adding a task to your to-do list.
Accessible to all. The next generation of voice services will not only have high-definition audio, but also customized acoustic profiles to us individually and our environment. We don’t all speak the same languages or dialects, so automated real-time subtitles and translation will become commonplace. One in five people have significant hearing loss, and end-to-end digital cloud-centric hearing aids will remove the “analog gap” for hearing-impaired users.
Voice intersects with a long list of hot topics: the internet of things, search, location services, wearables, security, connected car, big data, quantified self and beyond. As analyst Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz recently tweeted: “It’s kind of ironic that voice is one of the next big things in mobile.”
I would say Evans is partially correct. It’s not just mobile. Voice promises to be the next big thing in communications, period.
VARs, integrators and telecom dealers may not sell smartphones or provide the carrier services to make them work, but there are some amazing revenue opportunities that have been created by BYOD in the enterprise. And best of all, the majority of the opportunities are in the services area, which brings higher margins than product sales. According to the Gartner CIO Agenda 2012 study mobile technology and solutions are very high on the agenda of a majority of CIOs – higher than UC and collaboration.
Whether it’s implementing mobile UC for their end-users or addressing the challenges of BYOD in their own enterprise, the topic of mobility can be an excellent “conversation starter” when meeting with IT staffs or CIOs. And consider this, as BYOD continues to grow at the enterprise level, it should pull mobile UC along with it. For an employee who is now primarily communicating on his smartphone, how does a customer or another employee reach him effectively and efficiently? Mobile UC!
Where are those opportunities for the channel? Think creatively and strategically and you’ll find them!
Already offering a VoIP product that has mobile UC capabilities, either in a client environment or inherent in the VoIP product itself? Learn what that VoIP product can do with mobility and then visit your existing customer base and have a “mobility” discussion. Is there additional revenue available by adding mobile UC capabilities to their existing voice system? This could be a good source of easy incremental revenue.
The need for a solid mobile UC solution could also lead to a communication system upgrade or an entirely new system for an existing or new customer.
Along these same lines comes the potential for network and Wi-Fi assessments (professional services) as well as projects to upgrade network infrastructure to accommodate increased voice traffic or Wi-Fi for internal smartphone users.
For those in the channel who are services focused, consider developing a set of policies and procedures for managing BYOD in the enterprise. From the perspective of the customer’s IT department, controlling BYOD – to protect company data as well as control mobile spending – is a growing issue. Both existing and new customers could be candidates for this service that would not only provide high margins but be a competitive differentiator as well.
Are you an MSP? What about offering Managed Device Management (MDM). MDM software from companies like MobileIron is now readily available to secure and manage mobile applications, documents, and devices. As BYOD continues to grow across enterprises, MDM sales and services will grow also.
Thinking “outside the box”, security is one of the most serious concerns with BYOD. Company data is now residing on personal smartphones, which can be lost. Data residing on company servers is at risk of being hacked through those same personal smartphones. Companies that have already taken major steps to secure their information from internet intrusion are now finding it vulnerable via smartphones. Consider the industries for which security is vitally important (government and healthcare to name the most obvious). Develop expertise in this area and reach out not only to existing and new customers but to other channel partners that need to add “security expertise” to their portfolio but don’t have the training or knowledge to do it themselves
Historically, the carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc. – focused on consumer, personal smartphone sales. Today, with BYOD and mobile UC growing, they are actively engaged in finding ways to capture the growing business customer. The agent model is their immediate best bet to reach that customer and the agent relationship can provide a lucrative recurring revenue stream for little effort or financial commitment.
VARs/MSPs, integrators, and telecom dealers – don’t let these opportunities slip away. This is a relatively new area where customers are plentiful and competitors are few!
Polycom has announced the worldwide availability of a software update for an app that lets customers extend video collaboration to tablets and smartphones.
The update, Polycom RealPresence Mobile 2.2, includes Polycom SmartPairing technology, content sharing, and SVC support for Android devices and new support for the iPad mini and iPhone 5. The app provides a video collaboration experience when users are on-the-go, traveling or working remotely.
Software upgrades also include lower total cost of ownership (TCO) with 3X HD video capacity and the ability to share content from a tablet during a video conference.
“When we unveiled RealPresence Mobile in October 2011, we knew we were at the beginning of a wave of use cases for mobile video. Since then, we’ve seen fast adoption of RealPresence Mobile among businesses, as well as vertical industries such as health care, education and financial services. When people travel for work, or are mobile, they still want a secure, HD-quality solution for connecting face-to-face with their colleagues, partners and customers," said A.E. Natarajan, senior vice president of worldwide engineering, Polycom.
Polycom is demonstrating Polycom RealPresence Mobile at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The app is also available as a free download from the Apple App Store and from Google Play.
Employees aren't tethered to their desktop computer or laptop anymore. They are using a variety of devices to get their work done. As businesses support more employees who rely on smartphones and tablets for business processes, they are realizing the need for improved mobile collaboration.
While there are plenty of unified communications (UC) vendors offering mobile versions of their products, collaboration processes -- like document editing -- on a smaller screen presents unique challenges to users who depend on their mobile devices.
Users need organized mobile collaboration
Employees are still using email, instant messaging and document collaboration tools on their computers, but once the user leaves the office, the UC tools have to follow along on their mobile device of choice. However, moving from a large screen to a smaller interface can make collaboration disjointed and disorganized, said Yaacov Cohen, CEO of Harmon.ie, an Israel-based company that offers vendor-independent UC, collaboration and social networking aggregation tools for the enterprise.
The company recently released Harmon.ie Connect for SharePoint, a document and social information aggregation platform that allows users to follow documents and changes directly from their email on mobile devices. The platform -- which is currently available on the iPhone, iPad or desktop -- offers users the same activity stream across both desktop and mobile devices for a consistent user experience, Cohen said.
"Users want the same experience from their office applications wherever they are and on whatever device they are using," he said. "We need to empower the mainstream business user who uses [collaboration tools] as a means to an end, and make it as easy as possible for these employees to communicate and interact with fellow enterprise employees."
American Nuclear Insurers (ANI), a joint underwriting association based in Glastonbury, Conn. that insures nuclear power plants and related facilities worldwide, has been using SharePoint since 2006, and recently deployed Harmon.ie for SharePoint to integrate SharePoint with Outlook 2010. The platform will enable ANI's 35 users to store documents, alongside relevant emails and voicemails, said Dan Antion, vice president of information services at ANI.
Over half of the ANI staff is mobile, and they demand a collaboration experience on the road that is comparable to the one they use on their PCs, Antion said.
ANI employees often shared documents via email, but they had no easy way to view and edit attachments while traveling. "On the road and even in the office, a common complaint from our users was organization. They would keep documents in certain files in Outlook easily, but it's not as easy to move them into SharePoint," Antion said.
The need to converge email with SharePoint led ANI to Harmon.ie Connect. "Email has long been a part of our mobile strategy, and in recent years, having access to SharePoint mobility has been key," he said.
"Just like you can on the desktop, our users can easily save attachments from email to SharePoint all from the Harmon.ie app on their mobile devices," Antion said. "Our users are amazed they can actually edit documents or presentations from the road, and travel without their laptops."
Mobile collaboration: Size limitations for UC
While the big UC players -- like Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and Avaya -- are all aggressively building mobile collaboration environments that are comparable to their desktop collaboration products, there are certain features that make sense on a smaller screen and some that don't, said Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC.
Ideally, enterprises want to give their users access to the same collaboration tools on their smartphone that they have on their desktop. Many employees are using UC applications -- like IM and presence -- on their smartphones, but only a very small minority are using smartphones for desktop and document sharing, Haskins said.
"As you get into more complicated, document-based capabilities, these tools are being used only when needed," he said.
While many users will access and view documents on their smartphones while traveling, a tiny interface is not an ideal form factor for editing. But tablets offer a better opportunity for more document collaboration, said Phil Karcher, analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.
"[Users] aren't clambering for document collaboration on smartphones -- at least not yet," he said. But employees are interested in more complicated collaboration features -- like document editing -- on tablets.
For an optimal user experience, vendors need to move their tools from the browser and into a native application for mobile devices. "Users need native applications, and document sharing and editing with collaboration features -- like controls to maintain the same version across multiple platforms -- to address mobile collaboration on tablets," Karcher said.