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Understanding presence technology

Presence technology is an integral part of unified communications, making it possible to locate and identify a device or user wherever it might be. Learn why presence is important.

Presence technology is an integral part of unified communications, making "real-time" interaction more efficient and productive. Presence makes it possible to locate and identify a computing device wherever it might be, as soon as the user connects to the network. SearchUnifiedCommunications asked UC expert and founder of OnState Communications Jerry Gechter to explain the basics of presence. He explains the essentials of presence and why it's important.

What is presence?

Gechter: At its basis, "presence" gives you information whether a person you might want to call is actually "present" and ready to answer. This kind of presence is the familiar "online," "busy," and "away" we get with instant messaging.

However, for enterprise communication the notion of presence is broader. Presence can mean any useful notion of state that to be applied to people, to any aspect of a job, or to business processes in general. In this broader sense the presence of a person can include the job he is currently working on, the amount of time he has been doing it, or even his physical location (as is becoming available from mobile carriers). With this kind of information an enterprise can be more intelligent about how use personnel to handle current issues.

Going one step farther, with presence assigned to business processes, a communications system can provide a unified way to assure responses to important business events. In this way, for example, a customer account that transitions to the "request termination" state can cause immediate and appropriate contact with the customer.

Why should I care about presence?

Gechter: Through instant messaging (IM), presence has already become part of almost everyone's communication environment. Moreover, with current communications product offerings presence is expanding out from IM to become part of PBXs, unified communications and many other kinds of products.

With these first generation systems, presence already has an impact on efficiency—in the calls you don't make because the person is away. Over time this impact will become more and more significant, because more kinds of state information will become available, and because the systems will become more sophisticated in what they can do with it.

As far as communications efficiencies are concerned, the current-generation manual features are only the tip of the iceberg. Second generation features, already in implementation, will automate out much of the current hassle of communication and will significantly improve management visibility and control.

Furthermore, presence enables an entirely new form of business integration with communications. With presence, business applications can be linked to the communications environment by triggering state events that the communication system can respond to and manage. This avoids the cost and implementation headaches of traditional CTI and provides an important new tool to help important work get done.

So ultimately one cares about presence, because it will be increasingly important for efficiency of communication and will become a standard part of business competitiveness overall.

Is presence a standard?

Gechter: Presence has been closely associated with the SIP/SIMPLE standardization process in the IETF SIP working group. This activity has grown out of the use of presence in instant messaging and is a very beneficial attempt to standardize the communication of presence in the industry. The existence of this standardization activity signals a significant change in the role of communications systems -- we've now moved beyond calls to the dissemination of state information to help businesses run efficiently.

However, it is also true that for presence neither SIP/SIMPLE nor any other standard can be the end of the story. For the foreseeable future, there will continue to be many sources of important but non-standardized state information in the world. So for presence, as with many other communications features, systems need to focus on applications and should support standards and any other means to facilitate the implementations.

Related links:
Blog: Making presence interoperable

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