I have been thinking about the future of the enterprise soft client, what would make it more desirable and usable in that space. Here are my thoughts...
More Enterprise features sounds a bit obvious but what does this mean? Here are just a few examples. Multiple location/line call appearance, park, intuitive user interface, search function for work-group/company phone numbers + email addresses + IM IDs, manager moderated call support and 2-touch conferences regardless of size - accessible from the web or PSTN.
Will it save me money?, one of the first questions and enterprise will ask of IT when considering VoIP. Once they have adopted VoIP and the savings are evident, features gain importance. Having a rich feature-set that is easy and fun to use is very important in a soft client. Something that has always bugged me about hardware vendors is that they always want an exact match the handset features with the softphone client. Yes, there are many reasons for this, financial and otherwise. The softphone currently outperforms the hard phone simply because developers can add features and improve functionality very quickly, hard handsets, not so much. This is one of the big advantages of using a soft client, it will also push users towards the soft client because it has more useful features. The soft client is also much cheaper to buy and to use than a hard handset. In the end I think PBX and softswitch vendors should be focused on delivering as many features as possible for the enterprise, watch the soft client kick ass there.
Ease of use and manageability get high priority, we need to overcome the irritations of performing mundane common administrative tasks, such as adding or moving users. These administrative tasks need to be dealt from the server side and some need to be automatic.
IM or Phone Primary Interface. In the soft client settings/preferences I would allow the user to choose which interface could be the default, IM or Phone. Some users are IM-centric while others are Phone-centric, I would give them both the option to choose which would be the primary interface. I would also expose a full featured enterprise dial pad that is easily accessible from the IM interface even if IM was chosen as the default interface.
Remote Control could be valuable from a User, Admin and Tech Support perspective. By adding controls that for instance, allow users to login to a website and divert calls from their softphone running on their desktop to a hotel or cell phone would be valuable. Admin access to this interface could make it easy to assist in config issues and tech support could have access for diagnostic troubleshooting.
Soft clients everywhere. If I had it my way, the hard handset and soft client would use the same core software. A touch-panel LCD or membrane switch including a dial pad that can be easily removed/swapped out for a different one depending on the application would be a good start. Picture an IP handset with no dial pad but instead a color touch-panel LCD which could be used on it's own or a selection of membrane switches we can lay on top of the LCD panel. I think these membranes would have to closely match the action of existing dialpads so users would adapt quickly.
"Something really cool" would be an integrated RSS reader/aggregator with text and voice recognition + search functionality. I would like to know what's cooking in the industry when I start my day. Having all of my business communication tools available to me in the same soft client would be great. While I am talking business on my soft client (phone or IM) it would be nice if key words were extracted from the conversation and used to search for news/blogs postings on the web that matched this criteria. The results could be posted as headers in a separate window with the full story could be downloaded behind the scenes with podcasts being sent to my iPod as well. This could potentially help me a great deal in the current conversation and allow me to stay focused without having to hammer away on my keyboard while we are talking.
What would you like to see in an Enterprise soft client? Comment below...