I have a new IP deskphone connected to a cloud-based PBX. It’s been years since I have had a deskphone. The device is not (and likely will never be) fully unified with instant messaging and presence information. As I stare at this thing, my brain struggles with how and why I would use it. In a UC world, using a deskphone (even an IP one) is not like riding a bike.
This thing is logically incompatible with how my brain thinks of communicating at work. My days at Sprint using fully-integrated UC have spoiled me forever. In the old days, one's thought process was: (1) I want to call someone, (2) I need to look up their number in a Rolodex, (3) I dial the number by punching it into the keypad, and (4) I leave a voicemail message if I don't get the person. Today, the process is totally different.
First, when I now want to talk to someone, I want to know their presence because I need to choose the most appropriate mode of communication (IM, phone, email, Skype, etc.) When I want to talk to someone via this new cloud-based IP phone on my desk, I am paralyzed. My brain asks, “why would I call someone at their desk unless I know they are at their desk and are not busy?” My brain is so “UC” today, it is hard to imagine calling the number of a person I interact with regularly without first knowing their presence.
Part of the reason I have no interest in calling someone without knowing if they are free to take my call is that I started boycotting voicemail a few years ago. My voicemail announcement on my Sprint EVO makes it clear that a caller will get a quicker response if they email me or, if they have an urgent matter, by sending me an SMS text message. I can look at a text message in a meeting or while on the phone, but I can't listen to voicemail. There must be a lot of people like me, because when Sprint launched the voicemail-to-text feature for some nominal amount per month, it was a no-brainer for me to buy the service. Admittedly, I cannot totally ignore voicemail; if one of my customers is driving a car and needs to talk to me, leaving me a voicemail message is their only option. The fact that I can take five seconds to assess if I really need to listen to a 90-second voicemail has a huge ROI. It is one of those “just do it” purchases that you don't even have to think about.
I also can’t stare at this phone without thinking, “where is the video screen?” I was always part of the crowd that said “why would anyone want to have a videophone at their home, having to look in the mirror and comb your hair every time the phone rings?” But with business to business communications, especially desk to desk, that doesn't come into play. I want to see the people I am talking to. I want to put names with faces and communicate more efficiently by picking up on the 90 percent of communication that is non-verbal. I do five-way "Brady Bunch" Skype calls now and can't imagine having an important meeting without that, especially with clients who may be anywhere in the world.
I will get the XMPP API running one of these days between the cloud and my UC server, but even then, I will not be fully integrated because I need a better phone where I can see more presence information on the phone itself and not just on the computer’s IM client. I would love to have a deskphone that has an Android OS and a seven-inch touchscreen—kinda like a big EVO for my desk. That makes a lot of sense for the deskphone of the future, but for now I will have to settle for my five-line, black-and-white LCD readout.
If you have a desk, deskphones clearly have an ROI. In my case, it saves the battery life of my Sprint EVO when I am sitting at my desk and also allows for a quick call when I am unpacking or repacking my laptop to hit the road (or rebooting it…). That said, if you are looking into the feature/functionality of an IP deskphone, don’t write off the value of full UC integration and big color screens too quickly. I switched to a Sprint EVO for a reason – and the more my deskphone looks like a desktop version of that device, the more return I will get from my deskphone investment (and it would be nice to have Netflix on my deskphone for those late nights.)