(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)
Communication is not something which we consciously think about in most situations. However, let me urge you to start observing how often you communicate daily with others and particularly the ways and means you do this. I think you can then agree that communication and targeted exchange of information are basic components and a foundation of our lives. Living creatures communicate with one another via some form of tool or other means. In the prehistoric era, humankind communicated information using images, characters, sounds, and later music from the sender to the receiver. However, the uniqueness of this information was not always clearly given and messages communicated by this means did not always reach the intended recipient.
Looking into the past, the origin of cooperation was to create success, whether in career opportunities or social recognition to secure survival for his fellow men and himself.
In the course of time and history, many possibilities derived from technical-evolutionary ideas have been developed for communication, cooperation, and exchange of information over many centuries. Ultimately it is the human drive to be successful and efficient in communicating, processing, and transmitting information that drives this process.
Let us look back at the technological developments that have taken place at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, our “modern” information exchange and communication by telegraphy (1837, Samuel Morse F. B.) or telephony (1876, Alexander Graham Bell) were in their infant stages. Telephones were innovative pieces of equipment that had to be integrated into companies or offices in order to process information more efficiently and rapidly without having to go through an interconnecting party. These developments were tools of communication which eventually seeded the development of today’s modern communication— an integrated solution for communication and collaboration, in short, unified communications/unified messaging.
A communication tool is not simply a tool for communication but it supports us in our everyday life and it is also a “tool” in our professional dealings at work, to give us information and knowledge to help us make more informed decisions better and faster. This technological advancement affects not only our individual lives but also structures in which companies and even the global economy cooperate and collaborate.
Communicating relevant, mission-critical information is an indispensable task in today’s work environment as well as in our private lives. Success is in part based on how much knowledge we have, which itself ultimately depends on how we communicate and how fast we process information.
In the past few decades, for both our professional and private lives, we communicated using media such as paper and pen, typewriter, and the phone. In the business environment, the use of paper to communicate with companies outside caused vast quantities of paper to be transported over long routes, which resulted in long waiting times and inefficient flow of information. Introduction of the early phone system helped to greatly increase efficiency but was subject to the limited availability of the intermediate connector to the other party and allowed only audio data to be transferred. The inability to transfer other forms of data such as documents, screenshots, or other contextual information is a limitation when you are only able to communicate by audio.
This, however, does not mean that individuals or companies in the past were inefficient and unsuccessful because they were unable to communicate the way we are doing today. Being “successful” is a temporary condition, which once reached, does not automatically continue for a team or an individual. Success is the result of a consistent investment in the uniqueness of the company or of the individual, the use of performance-relevant core competencies, and the ability to learn faster than others and to change in a broader sense. The right strategies, visions, mission statements, organizational structures, competent managers, and especially employees are important for success. But correct and relevant information to make sound and informed decisions helps the organization to be continually successful. Thus, the critical role is to look into ways employees, departments, offices, and business partners communicate and collaborate with one another.
Fundamentally, basic communication, as you can imagine, is the basis for all these forms of modern communication and collaboration to take place. In order to better understand current and future possibilities for communication and collaboration let me first take you back once again to the past.
What changed the communication industry?
In the past few decades, a technical change took place due to the changing conditions and requirements of information processing with the need to communicate and collaborate in our global economy.
In addition to globalization, an important benefit for business was also created by countless technical developments. For example, the invention of the Internet was considered one of the biggest changes in the information community since the invention of the printing press. The initial networking of universities and research institutes which later spread into the commercial sector, and eventually to the private sector, had an unexpected impact on various areas of everyday life. In 1990, the Internet was given virtually free by the US National Science Foundation to the world as a communication network for various technology companies, research institutes, and universities to develop. The following diagram illustrates the development of telecommunication since the mid-eighteenth century and the innovations that were invented with software-based technology. In other words, traditional telecommunication- and software-based communication and collaboration technologies are coming closer together, merging and building a strong convergence for the future.
Technological development of the Internet also created changing conditions in the market economy. Initially, these new possibilities on the part of many companies were more or less declared as “utopia” or only short-term achievement.
The initial technology was available but insufficient to provide a real benefit for companies. However, in 1993, through the development of new communication protocols by Tim Berners-Lee (who is considered the inventor of the World Wide Web and the HTTP protocol) and CERN, there was a rapid boost of the Internet by increasing the efficient exchange of information.
E-mail as a carrier of information in business and for private users was usable with these extensions and innovations of the Internet. On closer inspection, the exchange of information via e-mail probably created the first milestone for trends such as the “paperless office”, to create savings in shipping and telephone costs.
Understanding modern business communication needs
Today, e-mail is not a trend but an established type of communication that is deeply integrated with our communication and business processes. Although “paperless office” and telephone cost savings using this technology have been realized, communication in companies significantly increased because you spend less time and less cost to transport information from point A to point B.
What is the relationship between technologies, such as the Internet, e-mail, and the phone and the information processing and collaboration for businesses?
The very same question is asked; how can we make cooperation within and outside companies more efficient?
How can we communicate easier and quicker? Can companies achieve their goals more easily with these tools? Are there ways to avoid/reduce costs to increase savings? Can we make it easier to deal with this knowledge change? What potential gains and advantages exist here for the companies? What kind of changes will we need in the company and how will the changes affect the person who has to implement them? How can in-house projects be realized in order to improve the communication?
To answer these questions, it is important to look at the communication trends in recent years. In the past five to ten years, with combined usage of previously developed and established milestones in communication technology, the Internet and the telephone, we were able to benefit from efficient client information while constantly developing communication technology.
Wi-Fi, which has only existed for several years as a standard in companies and in public places such as airports, cafes, and so on, is now used by nearly all mobile communications devices. Wi-Fi allows us to communicate with words and images wirelessly to the Internet/local area network.
Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), fax, and voicemail are some of the basic terms that play a special role in cooperation and information processing.
The fact that almost every workplace has an Internet connection these days shows the need to simplify all communication possibilities for all users. This includes the Internet, e-mail, landline phones, mobile phones, video conferencing equipment, tablets, PCs, netbooks, and smartphones. It is important to highlight that connectivity to the Internet and telecommunication services is still a challenge in some areas of the world and even a luxury for some developed countries and regions. Even in these developed places we will find some remote locations with limited (slow) Internet connections.
More often than not, new software promising better benefits in communication and cooperation tends to overwhelm employees in the company. Year after year, companies have invested over and over again in new technologies trying to get a competitive edge over other companies, by improving their internal processes and procedures through more efficient communication methods or technologies.
In the past few years, the number and complexity of technologies and processes has escalated so much that these developments and investments are showing signs of having a negative impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the company.
Also, many business owners believed that pure investment in new tools, new software programs, and new communication equipment is the sole solution for better structural communication. This circumstance is still one of the top challenges and problems for IT and change processes in organizations.
Since the 1990s, according to international studies (such as the Federal Reserve Board of Governors) a large percentage of the available budget is used for communications and information technologies.
The chart shows that companies are continuously upgrading and investing in their technology. Even though the study begun in the last century, it is a fact that this same development has progressed to today. Through the investments made, it is obvious that IT investments are an above-average priority for many companies.
The dotted line “Actual real IT investment” shows the IT investments realized in the North American region, the solid line “Target real IT investment” shows, on the other hand, the “target” IT investment is based on financial planning and forecasting of organizations.
In the other chapters of this book, we will specifically focus on the “pure” IT investments (which are the actual IT investments). Through more expensive investments in information and communication technology, we will be able to see clearly that we need more than a wealth of different complex technologies to communicate and collaborate amongst employees, customers, partner companies, and so on.
Precisely for this reason, software and technology companies that were developed a few years ago started implementing solutions in this field of communications so that technology “should unify the main day-to-day communication tools”.
Evolution of communication tools
The old wired phone of the past has evolved over the years to include more uses and functionalities, and has been transformed into today’s phone, which is effectively a mobile communication link. A telephone using its own PBX (Private Branch Exchange = Telephony system) in the company is very different from a modern mobile phone with the integrated mobile phone operator services.
Global companies led the integration of different technologies to improve communication. Internal studies and analyses that were conducted showed that the average employee uses many devices such as a PC, a work phone (landline), possibly several mobile phones, a tablet, a fax, a notebook, and/or a Netbook.
Perhaps you can still remember the “Pager”, which was expensive when released but has long since been replaced by innovations from the mobile industry (excluding a few regions and certain professional areas such as the hospitals that are still using pagers for urgent communication).
Of course, such studies on consumer communication are not solely used to find out the number of devices per user, but other important data such as the frequency and intensity of usage on the various devices so that companies can invest in the appropriate technology and the staff to facilitate communication and collaboration with others.
Such studies revealed high costs for the workplace equipment and loss of efficiency was caused by an overlap and a “flood” of technologies. Due to this confusion of numerous devices and their associated communication chaos, many companies have invested increasingly in the so-called unified messaging solutions. The focus of such solutions is to provide individual employees a standardized tool to carry out their job functions more efficiently.
This represents a portion of unified messaging known as CTI, as mentioned earlier. CTI solutions are a specialized kind of software which is used for the integration of workplace phones into workstation software solutions such as Microsoft Office and Exchange, Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, or others. A use case scenario could be a PC with Microsoft Outlook installed, where an information worker can click to call from an e-mail or from the address book and also use basic CTI features such as to put the call into a conference call, put a call on hold, or forward and hang up a call.
The goal of unified messaging solutions is to take the load of the various complex technologies away so that we could communicate rapidly and efficiently manage human resources within the business.
CTI-solutions linked to telecommunications with the electronic data processing allows functionalities such as adoption, termination, and the automatic dial-up telephone calls from a personal computer (PC) to be possible.
Fax and voicemail are also part of unified messaging. Electronic fax can be dispatched and received from any workstation. Voicemails can take and playback voice messages using unified messaging applications.
By using these solutions there is not only comprehensive efficiency but also cost saving without investing in more new telephone systems, add-ons (plugins), proprietary software, fax machines, telephones, and more.
However, the integration solved the problems of unified messaging applications and technologies only partially because there are more and more new communication possibilities existing within the company, on the Internet with additional phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and various web communication options.