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Presence vs. productivity

Sep 16, 20043 mins

* Are presence apps and productivity at odds?

High-performance branch-office router developments this week from Cisco will, among many other things, help drive VoIP capabilities to distributed enterprise locations.

Eventually, say analysts, once you have IP phones at branch sites, you should be able to “presence-enable” your entire enterprise. Presence-based communication is real-time interaction on a VoIP network that allows users to be contacted via their choice of device or application regardless of where they are.

Analysts say that presence applications will enable folks within enterprises to find and interact with others when needed and reduce communications costs. It should also reduce time spent dealing with voicemail and e-mail and scheduling conference calls.

Some of the products in this area are Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003, IBM’s Lotus Sametime (instant messaging) and Siemens OpenScape instant conferencing and collaboration.

But for how many individuals is presence-enablement realistic? And at what point do we cease managing technology and allow it to manage us? A couple of points:

* In cases of emergency, healthcare professionals, those in public safety enforcement and employees in certain other jobs absolutely must be found right away. Some other types of workers, however, can only be interrupted so often before their productivity gets reduced to nil. We each only have one brain and one mouth, after all. That’s why we have automated messaging systems, secretaries and assistants.

* Is it really kosher to be in a meeting that someone has taken the time and effort to organize, only to be interrupted continually by your wireless LAN or cell phone, instant messaging system, or e-mail?

* There is personal responsibility that comes with managing one’s own “presence,” and this requires training. Consider an experience Joanie had last week:

 A woman left her a message to call an internal corporate number in a large business. There was a deadline attached to the matter at hand.

Joanie called the number repeatedly throughout the day, only to get a male voice stating that she had reached a completely different number and that “we” weren’t here to take her call. She sent the woman an e-mail, but didn’t get a response.

So she called the local phone company to see if the line was crossed, but was put through to repair. She tried calling through the company’s switchboard, still getting the male-voice recording. She called another employee in the company. That individual had the same experience and called the corporate IT department.

It turned out that the employee in question had simply forwarded her wired VoIP extension to her cell phone. She had mistakenly erased her own personal voice recording, and her husband had recorded a generic one in its place. Innocent enough, but consider all the wasted time!

This all boils down simply to remembering to enforce business-professional behavior. Teleworking and mobility on the job are fine and dandy. But sometimes it seems we have so many ways to communicate that we’ve lost the ability to manage them effectively. And productivity is waning because of it.