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B2C Federation – how long will it take?

December 30, 2011

In previous posts we have covered a range of topics around the subject of unified communications (UC) federation, including compelling scenarios and business cases that make the deployment of UC and UC federation an indispensable capability.  The last post (‘Reaching for the Clouds’) addressed the compelling case for federation with cloud-based UC to integrate small and medium businesses into the UC collaboration network.  However, the largest market segment of them all (a mere 7 billion strong) is the consumer which remains, for the most part, sadly unaddressed.

Even though many businesses (large and small) sell exclusively to other businesses, every business has the consumer at the end of its value chain: it is hard to think of a single product or service that isn’t aimed at the consumer as the ultimate customer.  Every company that sells to the consumer has always sought better ways of engaging with that customer.  When postal ‘junk mail’ outweighs ‘mail of interest’ by 10 to 1, you know that it all goes straight to compost nowadays.  Telemarketing doesn’t work well because consumers unsurprisingly regard cold calls received at dinner time as being invasive.  With the advent of caller-id and ‘do not call’ lists, the call completion rate for telemarketers must surely be unsustainably low.  Over 10 years ago, marketers switched to email, which was quickly addressed by SPAM filters and other mechanisms.  The currently in-vogue B2C marketing technique is social networking: how many times have you read or heard “Follow us on Facebook and Twitter” this week?

As those of us who enjoy the features of UC can attest – the use of presence (i.e. the publication of one’s willingness and ability to communicate), filtered routing rules and session invitations containing call context (i.e. a subject line included in an incoming call indication) are all wonderful ways of staying on task while ensuring that essential communications are completed rapidly, neatly avoiding the dreaded voice-mailbox.  The goal of marketing via social networking is an attempt to gain the consumer’s consent to participate in a dialog: doesn’t this sound like UC?

Internet-based consumer communications, such as instant messaging (IM) services, VoIP and video calling actually preceded UC by nearly a decade.  However, the ‘public cloud’ service providers (including AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.) jealously guarded their ‘namespace’ (i.e. their list of users) and refused to interoperate with the others.  The reasons for this are outside the scope of this blog, but suffice to say that it wasn’t in their business interests.  However, a rapidly-growing number of businesses now have access to UC and would dearly love to engage with their best customers in a consent-based, contextually-driven and time-appropriate way.  This is the promise that B2C federation holds out.

It is very likely that this notion has not gone un-noticed in the executive suites of the UC vendors.  After all, Microsoft did the biggest deal in its 37 year history this year to buy Skype; and no-one believes that they paid $8.5Bn for a free communications service.  At NextPlane, we are pleased to be able to offer our business customers access to consumers via federation with Google Apps/Google Talk and we believe that this is just the start of B2C federation.  The communications industry is evolving rapidly and no one can predict what will happen next – we are just happy to be in the game.

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