A useful yet vastly underused functionality of SIP is what is known as presence technology. According to Salesforce, 86% of executives surveyed blamed lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. This is where presence can help.
We’re all familiar with the busy lamp on a receptionist’s phone that indicates that a specific line is in use. But this simple lamp cannot convey additional information, such as, Is this an important call or can it be interrupted? Also, the busy lamp indicates activity only on the desk phone and not on the worker’s mobile phone or other devices. And what if the lamp is not illuminated? That only indicates that the phone is not in use. But is the worker in the office or not, and if she is, can she be disturbed?
In today’s hyper-connected world, something more sophisticated is required to improve communications and collaboration. Enter presence technology.
What is presence?
Presence provides users with on-the-phone, off-the-phone information, like a busy lamp, but with much more intelligence. Presence can automatically inform others of whether or not you are in the office, if you don’t want to be disturbed, if you have used any one of your devices and how long ago that was, if you are on a conference call, if you have left for lunch, or if you have called in sick and are working from home. Presence essentially allows others to know the “state” you are in so that they can choose the most appropriate method of communication with you at a given time.
SIP incorporates presence along with the related and useful functionality of Instant Messaging (IM). These have been incorporated into an IM and presence protocol suite called SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE).
In order to understand the implementation strategy of SIMPLE, there are some definitions that we should get out of the way first:
- Watcher – A watcher is a SIP entity interested in knowing about the presence state of another SIP entity. A watcher subscribes to the specific SIP entity in order to express its desire to receive presence information.
- Presentity – The presentity is the SIP entity being observed by the watcher. When its status changes, it sends updated information to all the watchers subscribed to it.
- Presence server – The presence server acts as the intermediary between the watchers and the presentities and coordinates the subscriptions and updating of presence information. All subscriptions are processed by this server and all status change information is sent from the server.
Presence is easy to deploy
Having so many options for presence status, it may seem like a hassle for a presentity to continually update its current status. Many status elements, however, are automatic by default and can also be preconfigured so that certain actions on a device (mobile phone, PC, desk phone or tablet, for example) trigger status updates to the presence server. Status can also be integrated with a user’s calendar to automatically send a status of do-not-disturb, for example, during a scheduled meeting. It can even be linked to a mobile phone's GPS app to indicate current location.
The functionality is highly customizable
SIMPLE uses what are called presence documents to convey presence information. These are Extensible Markup Language (XML) scripts that are encoded with presence information and are carried in the bodies of the SIP presence messages. XML is a scripting language (similar in architecture to HTML) and is highly customizable, allowing administrators to tailor solutions for their users. For example, presentities can convey presence states such as moods or feelings similar to those used on Facebook. These can be highly personalized, like “crossing my fingers” or “holding my breath.” In short, you can convey any information that can be expressed in XML format.
As simple as adding a presence server
SIP protocol has a modular design that allows you to easily add functionality to your telecom network “as you go.” You can incorporate presence functionality into your existing SIP VoIP telephony solution simply by adding a presence server, without worrying about interoperability.
Adding presence technology to your VoIP phone solution increases productivity and reduces risk of workplace failures by helping people collaborate with each other in the best way, at the most opportune time.
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