At a global company like Cisco a lot of our meetings are held as conference calls with people all over the world. These meetings can last an hour or more, so a company phone is useful especially after hours or when you’re traveling. For me, that’s when a softphone on my laptop is the best solution. It uses the power of the corporate network to make low-cost business calls (and they’re free to me). Many people at Cisco use Cisco IP Communicator, which is a great softphone. My preference is Cisco Unified Personal Communicator because it combines the softphone with presence information, instant messaging, and very recently a new feature called “click-to-conference” WebEx.
It’s great for making business phone calls, although my laptop’s microphone and speakers are not very good, so I (like most people) use a headset instead. A lot of people use a Bluetooth headset; but I always forget to keep mine charged, so mostly I use a wired USB headset. It takes up more room but doesn’t need charging.
The presence feature on Cisco Unified Personal Communicator lets me see if someone is on a call or in a meeting before I try to call them. This beats calling someone blind and having to play phone tag for hours. Once I know that someone I need to talk to is available, dialing is easy because I can just click on their phone icon, which is a good thing because selecting numbers on my keyboard or with a mouse slows me down. And as long as one or both of us has a camera on, I can turn the call into a video call with another click. (I’m looking forward to a laptop with a built-in camera instead of using my little portable USB camera; it’s small, but it’s just one more thing to carry around.)
But here’s a challenge: What if you’re on a call and want to share a presentation or document? Before Cisco IT added click-to-conference, you couldn’t easily share that presentation during an audio call. There are ways around it. You could go to WebEx and set up a separate web conference, but you usually have to schedule that in advance. Or you could use WebEx One-Click to send an email to the person (or people) on the audio call, and they in turn can click on the emailed URL to start a separate WebEx conference so you can share your document. Or you can send the document as an attachment in an email to everyone on the call and then wait until they get and open it, but you never know if they are following along as you share the presentation.
In September 2009 Cisco IT finished its global upgrade of Cisco Unified Personal Communicator 7.0.2, and then activated the click-to-conference capability in Cisco Unified Personal Communicator. Now we can bring everyone together on a phone or video call and, whenever we need to, we can present or share documents or diagrams instantly. It’s fast and easy to use. You just click on a WebEx icon while you’re talking to someone (or several people); they accept the meeting invitation that appears on their screen, and you can start sharing documents or application screens.
I’ve been told that click-to-conference is also compatible with Cisco MeetingPlace and other conferencing systems that support an appropriate API. Right now Cisco has standardized on WebEx MeetingCenter for conferencing, and after using it for a while I can say that the softphone click-to-connect works very well with WebEx.
Two lessons learned here. First, you don’t roll out a new service right away. It has to be done in stages. For more on deploying Cisco Unified Personal Communicator in stages, check out the blog Top Tips for Managing a Cisco Unified Personal Communicator Upgrade. Second, just because it’s a great tool doesn’t mean that everyone is going to use it right away. For more on user adoption of Unified Personal Communicator at Cisco, take a look at Encouraging User Adoption of New Tools.