I once attended a customer meeting quite a few years ago where someone in the room stated that, “regardless of the collaboration channel employed, unified communications should provide everyone with a single identity to make it really easy for customers to reach the company’s employees”. I remember agreeing that although a worthwhile goal, providing users with a solitary identifier was not going to be technically feasible due to the fact we didn’t address emails with a phone number and we unfortunately had (and still do have) the “PSTN” (Public Switched Telephone Network) to deal with.
Has anything changed? I’d really like to know if anyone in the industry is predicting that we’ll ever be able have a unique global communications address, or like me, you have the opinion that the current multi-identity status quo will continue for the foreseeable future. In our current electronic communications world most of us have a minimum of two to three identities. I’m globally reachable via a couple of Cisco E.164 telephone numbers, one for my desk phone and the other for my mobile. I also have a corporate URI (Universal Resource Identifier), which most people would recognize as my email address, but nowadays also represents me as an instant messaging entity as well as associating me with three personal video endpoints. I think people naturally know when it is appropriate to use asynchronous (email or IM) communications or synchronous (telephony or video) communications, which is why we’ve all just accepted the evolution of different identities for different types of dialogue. What’s recently blurred the situation is the wide scale adoption of video URI dialing within enterprises and across the Internet resulting in a more complex addressing environment for our real time interactions. Do I call someone on their telephone number or their video URI, or should I send them an instant message to ask them?
For Cisco the answer has been to make the technology smarter by providing the ability to blend multiple identities in our call control platform and link them to an individual in the system. In other words my numeric phone number and my video URI are now associated with my profile and will be intelligently used when I make or receive calls. For example, if a customer calls my Cisco TelePresence EX60 video unit over the internet and I am away from my desk I can still pick up the call, although minus the video, on my wireless IP phone associated with my profile. This does not mean that my handset now supports URI addressing; it’s just that the system recognizes I have a shared line appearance between my EX60 video endpoint and my wireless phone and is intelligent enough to use the correct numeric address when extending the call to the telephony device. To take it a stage further, if I am actually out of the office at the time of the call, my call control platform can take the received URI and map it to my single number reach profile so that the customer call is extended to my cell phone.
From an architectural perspective Cisco’s blended identity concept is supported across multiple call control instances so scales to a global level. The good news is that the exchange of individual URIs between call processing elements is dynamic so that each one builds up a comprehensive table of video URIs for the system as a whole. Even if an enterprise only uses a single organizational domain, such as “acme.com”, any given URI is also associated with a piece of information called a “route string” which is analogous to the postal address of the user’s home call control location. This means that a URI call will always be routed to the correct destination regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the deployed domain structure.
Needless to say all of the technical details are invisible. All a customer needs to do is call my URI from their video terminal or dial my phone number and I will be able to answer their call on any of my devices regardless of whether I’m next to my high end personal video system or using an old fashioned analogue phone. This is definitely a step in the right direction but I’m not sure I’d ever want my phone to ring if someone sent me an email! Or would I? As technology evolves I expect we will use polices to control our communications equipment in any way we like. What type of reachability should we be aiming for and where should we draw the line?