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Improved Awareness Systems in Unified Communications Software

William Kennedy 0726885


Introduction Initial Research First Site Visit Persona Generation Initial design phase Second design phase Second Site Visit


General Information

Overall exploration of awareness technologies within unified communications. Methods through which these systems can be improved. Unified Communications (or UC) Clients are not a single product, "but rather a solution made up of a variety of communication tools and components" Pleasant (2008) Core to most UC clients:

Audio Video Text Presence Tech

Examples include Skype, Google Talk, Microsoft Lync, CUPC (Cisco Unified Personal Communicator) and now even Facebook.

A note on "Presence"

Presence is a common industry term, used by Skype, Cisco, Microsoft et al to describe what would by known to many, academically, as awareness technologies within Unified Communications. (Emacs-Jabber Project, 2011)

"Presence services, in particular, are expanding to enable the aggregation and publication of presence and location information from and to multiple sources. This enhanced functionality is sometimes called "rich presence"." - Elliot and Blood (2011)

Motivating Factors

Work at Cisco Galway Cisco Jabber UI Design Problems with the Presence Model o Are they busy? o Are they working from home? Saunders (2006) describes the Skype presence model as a "broken idea", going on to explain that it "tells you nothing about the person using the PC at the other end". The author at the blog 'Steve's Tech Journal' (2006) goes so far as to say that "presence no longer has meaning" due to the problem of people setting their status to 'Available' at all times even when they are too busy to talk.


To gain an understanding of current literature in regard to presence and awareness models. To gain a deep understanding of the needs of real world users in regard to presence in unified communications. To design a more useful model of presence for unified communications. To create an Adobe Flash based prototype which will accurately and easily convey this improved presence model.

Design Assumptions

Good awareness is peripheral in that it does not require the users attention or focus in order to be effective. Schmidt (2002) shows that users are capable of taking peripheral information use this to create useful meaning effortlessly. Awareness information must be useful outside of a traditional desk based environment. Even people who consider themselves as desk workers actually spend less than 50% of their working time at a desk (Bjerrum and Bodker, 2003).

Design Assumptions

It is important for geographically removed workers to be able to communicate informally, spontaneously, and to feel comfortable in doing so. (Bly et al, 1993) While current awareness technologies allow for informality and spontaneity, they fail to encourage it by giving none of the social cues we would get by walking through any office. E.g. Mood of other workers, how busy they are and the feeling of a shared culture (Dourish and Bly, 1992)

Initial Research

Literature Review
There are a number of core design issues presented within the literature for producing a coherent, useful and usable system of awareness. These are:

Social Awareness Translucence Serendipity Geographical Dispersion

Social Awareness and Translucence

Bardram and Hansen (2010), citing Schmist (2002) and numerous others, argue that social awareness "fosters efficient coordination and collaborating". Social awareness helps to reduce the amount of interruption and disturbance which occurs when people are engaged in cooperative work. Bardram and Hansen (2010) Bardrem and Hansen define four key areas in which contextual workplace awareness can be fostered: o Social o Temporal o Spatial o Activity They call these the "'who', 'when', 'where' and 'what' in a shared work environment."

Geographical Dispersion

Maintenance of "mutual knowledge" (Crampton, 2001) is one of the main problems for geographically dispersed groups who wish to communicate. As humans we give on another strong nonverbal cues that show that we are listening and understand one another (Hogan and Stubbs, 2003). Distances destroy our ability to adequately do so. Distance may cause us to make incorrect assumptions about dispersed team mates, and Crampton advises that this must be avoided.


Kraut et al (1990) claim that there are four main types of interpersonal interactions. They define these as: o Scheduled interactions o Intended interactions o Opportunistic interactions o Spontaneous interactions. While it is obviously important to design for all of these while designing a communications system, it is spontaneous interactions which are of particular interest when we speak of designing an awareness system.

Software Research

Elliot & Blood (2011) identify a number of existing integrated unified communications suites including:
o o o o o o o o o o

Alcatel-Lucent (OpenTouch Communication Suite) Avaya (Aura) Cisco (CUPC, Jabber, WebEx Connect) Digium (Switchvox) Huawei (SoftCo) IBM (UC2) Microsoft (Lync, Skype) Mittel (MAS) NEC (Univerge Sphericall) Siemens (OpenScape UC)

First Site Visit


Cisco Galway were contacted as it fulfilled the criteria of: o Being a large Enterprise o Being a consumate user of UC software o Being able to provide a broad variety of users o Being open to research visits Cisco Galway are also the developers of the Cisco Jabber client and I felt this would provide valuable insight. Cisco were particularly open to me visiting the site due to my prior experience in working there.


Documents prepared:
o o o o o


E-mail survey Interview Recruitment E-mail Research questionnaire Declaration of Informed Consent Information Sheet

Handheld Recorder o Notepad and Paper

Site Visit

Organized with Mark Congiusta, User Experience Manager at the Cisco Galway site. Took place on October 27th 2011 from 10am to 3pm. Met and interviewed seven members of the Cisco Jabber team, including designers, engineers, qa and management. Involved a semi-structured interview and discussion of issues in UC including Geographical Dispersion, Mood and Awareness.

Data Analysis

Interviews were transcribed manually. In line with Saffer (2010) I made the data physical by highlighting key and repeating terms in the transcript and transferring them to post-it notes. I then combined, clustered, juxtaposed and named the resulting clusters to produce new and meaningful insights. (Saffer, 2010) Arranged core terms and important quotes into a spider diagram.


Users are unsure of the usefulness of sharing their mood with their workmates. Some also showed a level of discomfort in sharing this level of personal information with their workmates. Many users would be dishonest in sharing their mood with workmates, and would prefer to show themselves as always in a good mood, or to put on a "brave face". There is a pressure to be 'Available despite how busy they may be. Users feel that emoticons are an extremely effective method for sharing emotion through text, and would be happy and comfortable to use them.


Users feel that their level of activity, or how busy they are, is far more important to convey than what mood they are in. Rennecker (2005) describes this as the "what I need to know to do my job" ethos. Users would be extremely interested in being able to show different status messages to different groups of people, for example showing a different status message to teammates than other work colleagues. One users describes this as "show[ing] different people different faces". Many feel that this would be in keeping with how they currently use 'groups' in their unified communication client.


Many users use their co-workers presence indicators as a method of knowing if that person is in the office or at their desk. While many would like to know where their coworkers are, they would also be uncomfortable with sharing this information themselves. A sliding level of accuracy was suggested by a number of users. Users would like to be able to specify their preferred method of being contacted, for example "IM only", "Phone only" or "Video Preferred". Physical distance are not a huge factor in being able to contact someone, however time differences are.

Persona Generation

Creating Personas

The personas are generic users of unified

communications within a corporate environment as these are the primary users for whom I am designing. The scenarios are based on scenarios mentioned during the interviews conducted at the Galway site, as well as my own experiences with using unified communications in that environment.


Jeremy: 35 Years Old 30 Year old Mid-Level Manager Designer 10 team members Works with many Managers teams including geographically Roberts dispersed Based in Ireland, Team can work from but largely works home with American Uses UC for work teams. mostly.

Amanda: 24 Year old Software Engineer Many managers Member of Roberts team Uses UC for work and social life

Initial Design Phase


Second Design Phase

Second Site Visit


Cisco Galway agreed to a second visit for the purpose of testing my Flash UI prototype. Testing was pushed back for various reasons, including time constraints. Eventually took place on March 21st.

Site Visit
Took place March 21st Asked 6 people to complete a guided walkthrough of the prototype Users were asked to run through a set of predefined tasks on the prototype and "think aloud" as they did so. This interaction was guided by myself, and recorded using both video and audio.

Preliminary Findings
Users were concerned as to whether people affected by colour-blindness would be able to use the application. Users found it difficult disliked the concept of averaging the presence of a group of people. People are either available individually or not. Users in general found the user interface clean and easy to navigate.

Preliminary Findings
Some users found the grey text difficult to read on some backgrounds. Users were concerned that they might not always recognise a user by their profile picture alone. Users found the menu system and call transfer system relatively straightforward. Some confusion arose due to a flaw in the prototype to do with MouseOver events.

Future Directions
o o o

Search Large numbers of users Visibility Apps GPS PC Mac Linux Facebook

o o

Platform Independence
o o

Social Media Integration



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