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Where's Waldo? Is He Available? How Cisco Unified Presence Can Keep Up with Him

When he's not busy writing books like Cisco Unity Fundamentals, Brian Morgan wants to get things done. Playing 'phone tag' with colleagues and customers was wasting too much of his time, so he figured out how to improve his efficiency - by letting Presence tell him when people were available.
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We've all played marathon games of phone tag. The really good matches can last for days. My favorite game of phone tag in recent months went something like this (yes, it really went like this):

  1. Called customer on his desk phone. After six rings (who uses six rings?) I received, "Hi, this is Waldo with ABC Company. You've reached my voicemail. I'm not at my..."

    <briefly distracted by shiny object>

    "...cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX if you really need me or leave a message at the beep."

    <pause> (Where's the beep?)

    Automated voice: "I'm sorry, this subscriber's voicemail box is full. Goodbye."

    <click> (At this point, insert your own beeps, bleeps, and other censoring sound effects.)

    Elapsed time: 2m 58s (Really? Yes, really.)

  2. Called customer on cell phone. Five rings later, I heard silence and a bit of mumbling or background noise. I perked up because it sounded like someone answered the phone and was trying to get to a place where he/she might be able to hear and speak more effectively.

    Then I heard, "This is Waldo," followed by a pause. Taking that as my cue, I started talking, only to be interrupted a few words later by "I'm on vacation the week of March 3–7. Please leave a message and I'll return your call upon my return."

    Predictably, yes. The beep never beeped.

    Elapsed time: 2m 39s (Elapsed patience: all of it.)

  3. Something struck me as odd. A quick glance at the calendar revealed that the week of March 3–7 occurred in 2008. I see that Waldo is on top of his game. I gave up and sent an email message, hoping he'd get back to me.

    Elapsed time: 6m 29s (I had to write the email twice, since it wasn't completely professional the first time.)

    That was 10 days ago. I hold no misconceptions that I'll ever get any real return on my 12m 6s investment in trying to find Waldo.

    Some people say that truth is stranger than fiction. In situations such as the one I've just described, that certainly seems to be the case. What's worse, there's a high degree of likelihood that everyone who chances to read this article will have similar experiences to share. There has to be a better way.

    In fact, there is a better way. By building intelligence into the network, much of that phone-tag scenario can be avoided. The centerpiece of this intelligence is Cisco Unified Presence. By utilizing a system of derived Presence and Mobility features, Waldo could have eased the collective pain of all of those who tried in vain to reach him. This article provides an overview of the essential technologies and principles involved in Presence (without sounding too much like a marketing pitch, I hope).

What Is Cisco Unified Presence?

Presence has become something of a buzzword of the day, but it's really best described as a buzzword of the "now." Your Presence indicator illustrates your availability (or lack thereof) at the current time. It's dynamic social networking in real time. If only Twitter and Facebook would follow suit, I could be entirely automated. (Do I really want to be that much in touch? Perhaps not.)

In general, your typical Presence status is, well, general. There simply isn't a great deal of variety, unless you put it there yourself. Status is usually limited to one of these common entries:

  • Available
  • On the phone
  • Busy
  • Away
  • In a meeting
  • Invisible
  • Do Not Disturb (DND)

Regardless of how you define the basic settings, what you want is a real-time, no-touch indication of your current state of availability. Most clients include some mechanism for creating custom status indications. In the case of instant messaging (IM) clients such as MSN and Yahoo!, it tends to be an entirely static setting, aside from the idle timer that sets your status to Away.

Automatic Presence

For your status to change dynamically, Presence requires sources of information from which to pull the type, nature, and timing of those changes. Cisco Unified Presence status is derived from numerous inputs: static settings, Microsoft Outlook Calendar integration, phone hook status, Cisco Unified Mobile Communicator (CUMC) status, and so on. Each of these pieces has the ability to affect your Presence status dynamically—and in some cases can affect the other inputs as well.

When I place or receive a call, my Presence status changes to On the Phone as soon as an off-hook condition is detected. Figure 1 shows the status change in the Cisco Unified Personal Communicator—more on that feature later. When the starting time of a meeting on my Outlook Calendar hits, my Presence status automatically changes to In a Meeting to reflect my lack of reachability. All of these dynamic pieces work together through the Cisco Unified Presence Server in order to present your current status to the world. When the Presence indicator is changed at any Presence source, it's updated for all Presence consumers. This means that any change in Presence will be reflected accurately in every endpoint or application in which it's presented. This concept is known as derived Presence.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Automatic Presence status change.

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