Presence is arguably the glue that makes unified communications work. It is Presence, the ability to determine the current status and availability of contacts, that enables users to communicate more efficiently. Presence can let you see who is available, what they are currently engaged in, and allow you to choose the most effective method for communicating with that contact.
Maybe. I should say that Presence can do all of that…when used properly. However, users who simply set their status as Away when they are really sitting at their desk working because they don’t want to be bothered undermine the value of Presence. Similarly, users who have high idle times and show as Available when, in fact, they haven’t been sitting at their computer for the past hour also reduce the utility of the Presence information and in effect render it useless.
To be fair, as the concept of Presence and status have evolved from consumer instant messaging clients, the level of granularity for assigning status as well as the ability to control who sees what haven’t been there. In the early days of instant messaging services like ICQ status basically amounted to Available, Away, and Offline and pretty much anybody could see that.
Unified communications solutions like Office Communications Server 2007 R2 (OCS 2007 R2) have greatly expanded the concept of Presence though. Presence can tell if you are in a meeting or on a phone call. Presence can provide details about your status instead of just black and white information like online or offline. OCS 2007 R2 also allows users to determine how much information to share with contacts. One contact may only be able to see if you are available or not, while your manager or project team can also see details about what you are doing and when you’ll be available.
With access to the inner-workings of OCS, it is possible to determine whether a user is *really* Away, or if they are actively using their computer and just hiding behind the Away status. As this blog entry points out though, it is not an elegant solution. Uncovering the real Presence state is not something you want to provide every user, but for an Administrator this information may be valuable in determining how users are employing Presence and developing policies and user awareness programs to try and address any issues.
Advances in Presence like the granular availability information found in OCS 2007 R2 make it much more useful…when used properly. It is important that users are educated about the proper use of Presence and that they are encourage not to abuse the Presence states. Without accurate Presence information many of the benefits and efficiencies of unified communications will not be realized.