Martin Geddes

Unified Communications and Hypervoice: how are they related?

Historically, voice communication has been tied to a synchronous paradigm.  Hypervoice allows us to occupy a new opportunity space: asynchronous voice.  In March I presented on Hypervoice at UC Expo in London. (You can watch the video here.) A question worth thinking about is how the two words of Unified Communications and Hypervoice are inter-related. To get there, we first need to see where the former is headed.

Unified communications has been moving away from being about "unifying" of disparate synchronous and asynchronous messaging technologies, and instead is re-positioning itself as being about collaboration. Indeed, it is being referred to as "Unified Communications and Collaboration" or UC&C. This is unsurprising, since all business communications is ultimately about collaboration towards some directed goal.

An important part of the value of UC&C is the ability to integrate with business processes, such as trouble ticket management, or purchase approvals. These "Communications Enabled Business Processes" make the system more aware of our goals and their context. The humans are left to collaborate over human issues, and the machines focus on automation within their domain.

The key objective of CEBP is to reduce the cycle time of business processes, so that issues can be surfaced from the "automated" domain for human resolution, and the decision results handed back for continued automation. As such, communications and collaboration is becoming increasingly embedded into the systems in which the business processes occur, rather than being a separate stand-alone activity or application. This allows the business process to be managed and monitored end-to-end.

This contextual embedding applies equally to voice communications, which used to exist in a separate silo of the enterprise PBX. The convergence of voice into enterprise collaboration is evidenced by Oracle's recent acquisitions of Acme Packet and Tekelec. And here is where we can see how Hypervoice enters the fray.

At the moment those enterprise CEBP activities are highly text-centric. Users are presented with overflowing inboxes of messages from automated systems requiring attention. A cascade of further messages is then generated as people co-ordinate around issues. Each round of text-centric messaging induces delay to getting a business process to move forward.

Every conference call has been preceded by a long negotiation over timing and participation. That meant that there was a strong incentive to stay in a textual mode; the set-up time of voice overwhelmed its subsequent benefits of synchronous interaction. We have tried to mitigate this issue by using presence to indicate who might be available for a conversation, and to manage an ad-hoc escalation to voice. It has never really been a satisfactory solution once the group of people involved exceeds 2-3 persons.

However, with hypervoice we have a wider range of options. We can have an ad-hoc voice conversation without it disrupting the overall interaction flow, or excluding participants. Hypervoice potentially opens up a new way of working, as much a step-change as was the jump from inter-office memos to email.

Imagine for a moment you are in your "virtual work environment" of the early 2020s... You see visualised a number of business tasks in front of you, almost like virtual water coolers around which people are available to conduct discussions relevant to the tasks at hand. You can step up to one of those spaces, and will find others who are working on the same problem or issue. It is quite possible you will collaboratively review a few minutes of audio from a related conversation held by another team working on the same issue. You have your conversation about the business problem, take notes, interact with various other business objects and processes, set some actions in train, and then "step back". No emails, no IMs, but a complete record of the interaction is retained.

Moving between text and voice becomes a simple and natural shift, unlike how we manage conversations today. The machines are working to set up spaces and conversations for us, based on who is around, and using more natural metaphors. We see our "business terrain" laid out before us, in a very different way to the inbox of today. The boundaries between synchronous and asynchronous start to blur; we have flows of conversations, about flows of business issues. We can step between different flows, and know we won't be missing out by joining another conversation.

Whilst this may seem futuristic and fantastic, these changes can happen very quickly. Things we take for granted, like getting an accurate map of our locality everywhere we go, were novelties less than a decade ago. As Intel founder Andy Grove famously said: "A fundamental rule in technology says that whatever can be done will be done."