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Three Points About Unified Anything - Unified Communications, Collaboration, Change, etc.

March 4, 2010 | Howard Lichtman
Three Points About Unified Anything - Unified Communications, Collaboration, Change, etc.

Written by Thomas B. Cross - CEO of and Organizer of the upcoming Tele/Presence Forum in Boulder, Colorado on September 28-29th 2010. 

It seems like UC was not enough and now we have UC&C with Unified Communications & Collaboration.  As an author of a book on artificial intelligence and expert systems, we should add the term content and then context to the phrase.  We need even more terms to explain more critical concepts which are critical but less easy to put into words.  Maybe conceptual, change, intellectual or some other term(s) we need to explain what we are talking about.

I also wrote three books on teleconferencing aka telepresence and if you study it long enough will you realize that most of the time technology doesn't really add anything except provide more things to go wrong with the meeting or discussion.   In fact, the technology heightens any problem with the meeting, especially if the person is boring to begin with. The real fault lies with bad presentations and dull presenters.  You can stop reading now if you think I am going to cure that problem at this very moment.  I have three points to discuss briefly.


Point 1
- Communications is not about just being there "live."  Often ILT (Instructor-Led Training) or F2F (Face-to-Face) meetings are mandated because the thought that no one can sleep, doze or be distracted if they are "eyeball-to-eyeball" with the instructor or meeting manager.  In a book I wrote called "Split Second Society," I discuss the "physics" of communications.  Maybe not exact or even rocket science, my research showed that many good teachers/speakers can talk at ~100-120 words per minute.  However, the listener can understand up to 300 words a minute.  In addition, an average reader can read 500 words or about one page of text per minute.  (though some say only 200 words per minute and so you know, you have read about 300 words to this point in the article, so you measure what kind of reader you are).  There are "speed readers" who reportedly can go to 25,000 words per minute.  In addition, people can recognize images in as short as 1/500 of a second. (   This means that we are only learning to understand how fast we can grasp content. The point is that on the low end of reading 200 words a minute compared against a good speaker at 100 words a minute, the listener in
the classroom or meeting is bored 50% of the time.  In my own research, the listener is bored-to-death 80-90% of the time.  If you ever wonder why computer games are so compelling, it is because they engage the viewer; they force the user to pay attention.  That is, F2F training or even video conferences do not engage the user and most do not even mildly keep the users attention long enough to even remember what topic is being presented.  There was a study a long time ago that found that most people in F2F settings were day-dreaming about their vacations, family, having fantasies and other things.  Audio/web
conferencing are even worse allowing the users to wear whatever or nothing at all, do most anything else and hardly be expected to be engaged at all.  One conclusion is that we
understand the desired outcome and build "just enough - just-in-time" content (you have now reached the 500 word mark) in a multitude of ways in F2F, animation, video, podcasts, paper, etc. and let the learner select the means by which they want to learn not the teacher.  In other words, telepresence doesn't add any value without changing the presentation.


Point 2 - Understanding is more than communications.  It's not just about the technology; it's about all the C's - communications, collaboration, context, content, change and others.  There was a recent study by Frost & Sullivan where they coined a term ROC-return-on-collaboration.  Certainly more collaboration can improve productivity and the speed of communications can accelerate business.  However, measuring collaboration and even communications is not enough.  For more than two decades, I have said 'strategically, the faster you can communicate the faster you can change and those corporations that change the fastest will be the most successful' no matter what the size of the entity.  However, improving the speed of communications in order to change organizations one needs to examine and measure specific "communications patterns."  That is to say, making communications faster is like talking faster, it doesn't always mean better.  However, communications patterns are the "ways and means" that people and groups communicate.  Hierarchical structures such as management levels, church organizations and even the Boy Scouts are just a few examples of a communications pattern.  Group dynamics, tasks at hand (e.g., sports, corporate, military); personalities and non-functional issues such as legal, regulatory, political, and religious are other examples.  One "communications pattern" that seems to always be in the news is the U.S. Congress.  No one will deny that Congress takes forever but it was purposely designed that way.  In other words, Congress has its own ROC-return-on-C."   Ultimately, there are only four types of communications:

- Person-to-Person - inperson, me and you, or me and a few

- Person-to-machine - soda, ATM, email

- Machine-to-Person - "we need you to call about your account"

- Machine-to-Machine - "I'm broken, do a diagnostic and determine why."

In other words, communications is complex and simple at the same time.  While there are few methods, the understanding of them is beyond any known technology, e.g., déjà vue.

Point 3 - Communications is about change.  Ultimately communications, communications is not just about efficient speed but effective communications as if done well, then change occurs and ultimately that's why we communicate.  That is, understand how change occurs and at the same time realize most all change or decision-making is very digital - 1s-yes and 0s-no.  We generally want a decision which is a change from no-to-yes or yes-to-now.  That
is, when you want to buy a soda from a machine, it either accepts you 1-money or 0-not. You want me to work, I say 1-yes or 0-no.  Lawmakers say yes/no to spending, speeding and security.  We need to be able to provide a ROC for return on change as one of the key
metrics to ultimately providing a ROI (Return On Investment).  That is, if we just have a meeting (collaboration) to decide on yet another meeting not a lot of ROC or ROI was achieved.

ROC Meeting-Matrix
Tom Cross' Meeting - Presence - Technology Matrix (Click to Expand)

Based on research for more than thirty years, there are some basic tenets of business communications and the most fundamental is that the vast majority of people spend the majority of their time in communication.  Conclusively, the higher the status in the organization, the more time in communications with public, press, analyst, stakeholder, and board meetings often the sole function of C-level executives.  Moreover, this communications has specific forms such as (listed in order):

          - Sharing-seeking-giving information

          - Problem solving

          - Discussions

          - Negotiation-convincing

Conflict resolution-discipline. In addition, depending on the specific jobs (e.g. training, coaching, and concierge) some will have more or less communication in the form of seeking-giving guidance, presenting-receiving information.  Without all the other details, business workers spent their time in desk work such as email, reading, document creation, document sharing via the web, telephone and others with an increasing amount of IM-instant messaging.  Desktop video is still in its infancy but will rise as new tools such as Outlook OCS-Office Communications Server and others have such features as PC video, document sharing, IM, telephony (SIP), multi-party conference calls included.

One of the other problems with collaboration is "when to use what."  Attached is a matrix of meeting, technology and applications options.  However, the benefits are not, not ever, what traditional proponents mention - reduced travel, management downtime and other tangible hard dollar savings.  The real benefits have always been and always will be more intangible to name a few:

          - Better understanding and common understanding of issues, goals, themes, "meeting of minds" improves productivity

          - Faster decision-making resulting in reduces sales, development and other cycles

          - Going green - a global theme but simply "move ideas, not people," "being their without going there," "dial-in, not drive-in," as Isaac Asimov said "its simpler to transmit a message than a human being and the world becomes one with virtually zero energy."

All of these and more improve quality - quality of communications which in its essence is the ultimate quality in all solutions of any kind.



- Having a global video "tele-presence" teleconference system available 7x24 does not make your presentation look good, if you have dull PowerPoint slides or a boring speaker.  In
addition, collaboration is more than having more people on the conference call; it is about ensuring a common understanding of the issue being discussed.  In conclusion, invest, not in better technology but training on communications first and then the ROI will really pay off as then change will occur. Without change nothing happens.

About the Author

Tom_Cross.jpgTom Cross, the organizer of the upcoming Tele/Presence Forum Expo in September of 2010,  has three decades of experience in startups and consulting advisor with leading providers and venture capital companies in market planning and development, hardware/software design and development, project management, intellectual property in telecommunications, information technology, conferencing, teletraining, telecommuting, groupware, networks, call centers, internet, artificial intelligence and other fields. He has managed the successful development of more than 10 software, hardware and internet products to market and received industry awards for this work. He has authored 13 books including Knowledge Engineering - Business Applications for Artificial Intelligence for Simon & Shuster, wrote, produced and directed 15 commercial videos and created thousands of online e-learning tutorials on intelligent buildings, telecommuting, RFID-Radio Frequency IDentification, VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol or IPT-Internet Protocol Telephony), VoIP security, artificial intelligence, networking, WiFi, WiMAX, CDMA and other wireless technologies. He is the Technology Columnist - Telecommunications Magazine, Technology Columnist - Converged Solution Providers Network, Contributor - Phone+ Magazine, Contributing Editor to Web Hosting Magazine. Security and Emerging Technologies Columnist - TMCnet, Member Board of Technical Advisors - VoIP Security Alliance and Technology Columnist for National Association of Telecommunications Dealers, Federation of Internet Solutions Providers of America, Association of Service and Computer Dealer International. He is the writer, animator and producer of the World's Largest Animated Knowledge Source on Technology - - recipient of Web Hosting Magazine Editors Choice for Best Technical Help. 

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