Just In Time Communications

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Rich Tehrani
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Just In Time Communications

With all the progress we've made in the last two decades with respect to communications, including telecom deregulation, the fax machine, cellular phones, e-mail, chat and WiFi, communications is essentially more inefficient than it was at any time in the last ten years.

One may argue that the advent of the cellular phone was a boon for productivity and efficiency and e-mail further allows us to communicate more effectively. The reality is that the more devices and modes of communications we invent, the more inefficient we become. An inordinate amount of time is spent trying to find each other in this world where everyone is supposed to be connected 24x7.

In order to contact a person today it is necessary to call their office phone, cell phone, home phone, VoIP phone, send them an e-mail, an IM, call their secretary and so forth until you connect. Assuming you can't find them, you have left a trail of possibly incomplete e-mails, IM messages and voicemails in different mail boxes. How does the contact know which box to check first? Worse, how does a person know which voicemails are more important and which e-mails are crucial and do they really check these mailboxes in a timely manner?

In inordinate amount of time is spent checking mailboxes and messages. Some analysts estimate that over 60% of all voice communications consist of listening to or leaving voicemail! Murphy's Law tells us that when you check these boxes, other more important messages are in turn being banished to your cellular or office voicemail systems.

The problem gets worse when customer facing workers are not able to take phone calls in the same prioritized system a company values these contacts. In other words, a top customer should always get through to a top salesperson or service representative while lesser customers may be OK to put on hold for a few minutes during peak calling times. Top customers sending an e-mail should be responded to within minutes. In most companies these customers aren't even identified, let alone dealt with in a prioritized manner. In many companies in fact, e-mails from customers still don't get answered!

When a boss calls an employee, the call should always be taken unless of course the employee is on the phone with an important customer (some might argue any customer.) Again there need to be rules that can be individualized to coincide with company priorities). Currently, if a boss calls an employee who is on the phone with anyone, regardless of whether it is work related, the call from the boss goes into voicemail. Of course this assumes no caller-id and related technologies. If the employee isn't diligently checking voicemail they may not even know the boss needs to communicate.

The same issue arises when a spouse calls. At our last ITEXPO in Miami, most of the audience indicated they would take a call from a spouse every time they call... yes, even in meetings. I do most of the time as well. How many times have you been interrupted in an important meeting to answer what you want for dinner or can you stop by the dry cleaners, etc.? Many times we know who is calling but it is more important to know why.

Communications in my opinion is broken or at least severely damaged. We are becoming less efficient in dealing with the human elements of communication. Technology is only making our lives more challenging. We all keep in touch with many more people than we ever could because of IM, cell phones and e-mail. Our lives are becoming unmanageable. Virtually everyone I know works on e-mails on nights and weekends. Others come to work an hour early to handle voicemail. There is just no other way to keep up. I am not advocating the cessation of work but I am advocating technologies that help automate the tasks that can be automated.

There are so many things that we need to have at our disposal. Companies need to be able to set up ad-hoc conference bridges, with the ability to use application sharing and white boarding technologies. All important employees need to be remotely connected to their offices when they are on the road. They need to be seamlessly connected so when their office phone rings, they take the call.

Prioritization by caller is only part of the equation as priority level needs to naturally take into account the reason for the call. Interrupting a customer call to take a call from your boss only to find out that she wants to know if you want chicken or fish at the company luncheon is counterproductive. Similarly a top customer calling to cancel or initiate a million dollar contract is an essential contact and should be routed immediately to the highest level within a company and to use a poker analogy this call could be considered a royal flush. To put this in other words, a million dollar customer call should b answered by the CEO if no one else is immediately available!

We are near the point where presence is becoming widely deployed. But really this technology needs to evolve. The next level of presence is something I have referred to in my live presentations as "Presence Genius."

In this scenario, callers should not have a phone ring unless their priority (this is derived from their personal priority level coupled with the reason for the call) is above a certain threshold. In all other cases, the call will result in a request for a conversation via a desired communications medium such as phone or e-mail or chat. Automation can even auto-schedule a phone appointment between parties as long as the priority level is established and verified.

Both parties have the ability to postpone the virtual meeting at will if needed. Think of this as a snooze button for your conversation. The other party will be notified of the delay and automation will determine the appropriate time to schedule the next call based on openings on your calendars.

An example of the above is that I may not want to take a call from a family member to invite me to dinner if I have a terribly busy work day. It should go to voicemail. I will return it at lunch. If I am being called for a family emergency, then of course I need to be interrupted. Do you see the irony here? In order to find out whether or not you should answer a call, you need to answer it. Sure, some of us have assistants that perform this function but assigning a personal assistant to the world population is not something likely unless President Bush changes his stance on cloning.

Communications by its very nature is inefficient and in a world where productivity increases are more and more important, we need to squeeze inefficiency out of how we interact with one another.

The good news is that companies are trying to solve the problems above. The concern I have is that they are all going about it in the wrong way. At the last ITEXPO in Miami in fact many keynote speakers talked about how they would solve the above problems. If you listened closely to their presentations, they all called what they are doing by a different name. Here are examples of what vendors call this sort of technology: VoIP, productivity boosting applications, converged applications, communications software, mobility solutions, real-time communications, etc. There are probably 100 different descriptive phrases floating around that are meant to describe the same thing!

Are these companies kidding? Who on earth is going to buy these solutions in bulk if we describe them in a 100+ ways? Can you imagine a company getting presentations from five PBX vendors and they all call their applications by a different name? That is how it works today! These technologies are essential yet we aren't seeing fast enough adoption because CFOs could care less about this stuff. I don't blame them. VoIP was adopted quickly once the industry agreed on this term. Call centers grew quickly once we agreed on a term. CRM is another term that literally turned into a multi-billion dollar market overnight! We need a term and that term isn't real-time communications as some analysts like to tout. This is totally wrong.

When you are on vacation in Hawaii and your cell phone rings and your boss calls to ask you if you want chicken or fish at the company luncheon, real-time communications is exactly what you don't want.

So what do I advocate as a term? We are trying to wring efficiency from communications and make us all more productive. The same ideas were applied to manufacturing and resulted in the term Just in Time Manufacturing. Borrowing a term that works and makes sense, we should call it Just in Time Communications.

We are all trying to solve the same problem and if we want to be taken seriously by CEOs and CFOs, we better agree on a term and stick with it. This term has implications for consumers, contact centers, enterprises, government and the military. It works for every vertical market out there from financial to insurance to medical. It just plain works and is desperately needed to take us to the next level. The next time you are in an important meeting and you take a call that isn't so important, think Just in Time Communications.

Whenever a new term is developed to describe something I always like to see if it passes the cocktail party test. WiFi for developed to rhyme with HiFi. I think I could tell people at a cocktail party that I am involved in Just in Time Communications and they would know what I do. Of course once we acronymize it (yes, I invented yet anther term) the term turns into JITC... You may not want to mention this acronym (yet anyway) over martini's at the next happy hour -- unless you enjoy blank stares.



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