Number Crunching

Are multiple phone numbers too much of a good thing?

We’re knee-deep in our latest round of research here at Nemertes, which mean we’re having fascinating, in-depth conversations with about 200 IT professionals on everything IT strategies on everything from virtualization to WANs to wireless to data centers to unified communications. One of the interesting early trends is how employees are slowly shifting their preferred methods of—and their tolerance for—voice communications.

Employees and business-unit leaders in many organizations are asking IT to reduce the number of phone numbers and voicemail boxes they have. It’s becoming increasingly common for a single employee to have a desktop phone, softphone, mobile phone, and home-office phone. The desktop and softphone share the same phone number (though sometimes, the caller ID from softphone can be an entirely separate number), the mobile phone has its own number, and the home-office phone has yet another number. (In fact, I recently received a business card with five phone numbers listed: US office, UK office, home office, mobile, and fax. How is this helpful to customers, suppliers, colleagues, or other business associates? What number is the right number?)

Couple that with the fact that employees must check the voicemail attached to their mobile, office, and home-office phones, minimally, and you can see how enhancing voice communications actually has made employees less productive.

IT and business units want expansive, collaborative, flexible communications capabilities. But they must be careful not to cross that line of over-complicating what should be straightforward (ie, checking voicemail or answering a phone). I see this problem getting better before it gets worse.

Already, 50% of companies say they’re using softphones as an adjunct for desktop phones—ie, they’re giving employees both types of phones. These rollouts are for a small subset of employees—usually about 10%, but growing. We’re gathering new data on the percentage of employees with employee-provided mobile phones, but early results show a drastic increase. Even if employees don’t have business mobile phones, the vast majority do have personal mobile phones—and an accompanying voicemail box.

Bottom line: IT staffs must address the complexities and productivity drain surrounding multiple phone numbers and multiple voicemails. The device should be transparent to the number itself. So, if an employee wants a softphone, hardphone, and mobile phone (and the business unit can justify the cost), link them to a single phone number and single voicemail or unified messaging box. That will make life easier and more productive for employees.

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