How Little Voice Telephony Do You Need?

28 Sep 2015

For decades, the PBX producers battled to have the most impressive list of features available as a competitive differentiation. Many of them created feature lists that ran to 450 or more unique things their product could do. Sure, some of those features were crucial to call centers; some were important to executive admins and secretaries; but only a few meant anything to most users.

What's more, the PBX industry has been dependent on revenues from desktop telephone instruments as the primary voice communications tool. However, those instruments required users to learn complex codes, or select from a myriad of buttons, guided by a very small display, in order to do anything more than the basics of answer, dial, call, mute, hold, transfer or talk.

Then, along came four new product groups that met the voice communications needs of most users, without the user having to learn all of the complexities of the arcane PBX feature set and telephone instrument controls. Every one of these products provides voice telecommunications - or an alternative to voice - in a simpler and easier to use format.

  • Smart phones: What needs to be said - it's obvious. These globally adopted devices are voice-capable by definition and go wherever the user goes. All the features of answer, dial, call (from contact lists, web pages, etc.), mute, hold, and transfer are built into the devices with easy visual touchscreen controls. Any application (App) on the smartphone can use those tools, too. All of this is without installing a PBX "client" or "App" on the smartphone. Most users with any mobility in their work schedule now use the smartphone as their primary voice device.

  • Conferencing: With few exceptions, a conference call is a voice call. So what if there are only two people in the conference, they are still talking. The prime example of this is Skype, which now provides the lion's share of international calling. But the same can be said of the hundreds of other conferencing tools from Cisco, Adobe, Microsoft, Citrix, and many, many others. Sure, some users still call into those conferences from a phone and some of those phones are even on a PBX, but the user needs only four features - dial, call, talk and mute - to join a conference from a voice end point. Increasingly, the users just join by cell phone or their PC/Mac/Tablet - no need for a PBX.

  • Social media: This phenomenon has replaced voice phone calls for more and more users. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a picture with captions is even better. This is true both in people's personal lives and in "social networking for the workplace." Not a single PBX vendor was listed in the September 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, in which Microsoft (Yammer and SharePoint), IBM (Connections) and Jive Software (Jive) are the leaders (perhaps Unify's Circuit or Cisco's Spark may be included in this year's version). While these tools began as text-based tools, increasingly they provide click to communicate by voice and video on a peer-to-peer or group basis; there's no telephony involved, only PCs/Macs/tablets/smartphones, but it is certainly voice communications.

  • Text messaging and instant messaging: Finally, let's not overlook text-based messaging as a major alternative to voice calls (and emails). Again, the cell phone, smartphone and Wi-Fi devices are the driving force, as it is often much simpler and less disruptive just to "text" rather than to call. Building on this trend are many useful text-based tools such as Twitter and WhatsApp.

The bottom line is that PBX-based and desk phone-based voice telephony is fading out - being replaced by voice functions that are part of software-based applications running on computers and mobile devices. Based on our UniComm Consulting experience, we recommend your enterprise take a close look at this trend to determine just how little voice is actually needed by the employees, clients, customers and partners of your organization.

Where voice is still required, be sure to look at what types of voice communications is needed, with reference to the four disruptive options listed above. Usually, the requirements can be grouped into Usage Profiles for communications in the workflows - we find there are only about 5 or 6 such profiles in any organization and that 2, 3 or even 4 of those profiles can be well served by the new options for voice, which may not have all 450 PBX features, but have all the functions the user needs or wants.

A decade ago, as these disruptive options started to show up under the banner of Unified Communications, we often heard the phrase, "It will be years until they have all the features needed to be a PBX," which was intended to damn or dismiss the product in question. It now seems that commentary may have been a compliment, rather than a slur, to the vendors who chose to design products that defined the future rather than replicated the past.


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