Asking users to dial more than 4 digits should not be a monumental question.


enterprise dialplan changes

One of the biggest trends in Unified Communications deployments is to utilize E.164 compliant dialplan for large global corporations and even some medium sized enterprises.  Basically this means that the phone system can dial any number in the world using the global standardized format of a "+" then the country code regardless of where in the world that phone exists.  So a user in the US could locally call home using a +1-Areacode+Exchange+last 4 digits.  This user could then fly to any office location around the world and dial the exact same digits.  The same would be true for a European employee.  No more outside access codes or having to remember how to dial internationally vs locally.  In the last two years, I have not had a single client miss the obvious productivity benefits of this idea.  That is, until they start to put together their own additional requirements.  Somehow the idea of simplifying and flatening out what users have to do to get a hold of people gets morphed into this idea that employees still need to dial all the old methods of access codes to get out and short numbers for employee to employee dialing, basically handicaping the essential reason for implementing E.164.

Each design meeting with the customer boils down to the same discussion.  Whether it's manufacturing, legal, finaincial, education or the government sector they all come to the table with various arguments for keeping a legacy dialplan alive but in the end the core reason is always the same, fear.  Fear that the VPs will complain when they face personal change, fear that their co-workers can not adjust and IT will be blamed for someone not completing a big order, fear that the help desk will be overwhealmed with questions and complaints, general fear that the company can not handle change.  It is natural really but somehow not applicable to any other aspect of IT decision making.  When was the last time a Microsoft product rolled out and IT took the time to customize that deployment so the software looked the same as the old product but had all the new functions?  Usually the user interaction with the product is rarely considered because the alternative is to not upgrade and even a novice IT manager knows that this will lead to expensive headaches in the future

personal "dialplan" changes

But there is a certain attachement we all have with phones and phone numbers.  The feel of a device, the comfort of hearing a voice at the other end of all those beeps and rings.  The knowledge that dialing certain digits will always render the same result.  I was reminded of this last month when my dad emailed me to tell me my grandparents phone number would be disconnected now that my grandfather had passed away.  It was the first phone number I had ever memorized.  Living on the same farm with them it was dialed several times a day and as we lived in the country, it was also a number that had never been owned by anyone else.  For over 70 years you could call those digits and reach a Sillers at the other end. Before that that there had not been phone service in that area.  The number transformed from a party line into an area with an Exchange Name and finally into something that fits the North American Numbering Plan.  It was a sad day to know that I, a person who advocates regularly for corporations to adopt new dialplans for the sake of progress and efficiencies, was no longer going to be able to dial the first number I ever memorized and still reach a family member.  I wouldn't say it was fear that hit me at that moment but there was certainly a loss of comfort, a colder feeling knowing there was one less thing that I knew as a fact.

lessons learned

This is not to say that I believe corporations should stick with 4 digit dial plans or not ask their employees to learn a new method for the greater future good.  There are enormous reasons why the legacy systems will no longer work, the least of which being simple math.  You just can't assign more than ten thousand numbers in a 4 digit dial plan and that is a best case scenario assuming you never overlap in any other part of the world, a near impossibility.  And the idea that employees will be needing to remember numbers instead of just clicking on a person's name or asking an automated directory is as stale a tactic as there is in communications.  The advent of Siri on the iPhone 4s should kill whatever number memorization is left in our lives.  But what it does say is that I needed to take a step back and remember that some technologies have a personal and emotional weight that many others do not.  The idea of Unified Communications can be fun and daunting all at once at the technical level, but when you add in the personal aspects of this unification there has to be more TLC given to the change you are asking of hundreds or even thousands of people.

As for our old number, well, there was no technical or financial reason this number had to go away.  So I bought an Ooma box at my local Best Buy, registered it and ported the old farmhouse number to it.  Take that "change".  I bested you with technology.


Joshua Sillers
Joshua Sillers

Joshua Sillers has been with Orange for the past 12 years working to enhance the customer experience. He is currently serving as a Collaboration Sales Expert with an emphasis on Team collaboration tools, API interactions, Orange OpenLabs and User Adoption Services. Joshua holds a B.A. degree in International Relations and Spanish from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN and a Masters of Science in Technology Management from the University of Minnesota.