If you’re like most people, you don’t really pay too much attention to headsets. We’ve never really viewed them as anything other than a featureless commodity, offering no strategic value. It’s just extending your phone’s speaker and microphone to something a little more ergonomically pleasing, right? Not even close. There’s some significant reasons to start focusing on the headset. For starters, the headset is quickly becoming the most important, tangible part of the communication solution. As the telephone’s form factor is changing drastically (desk phone, mobile phone, PC softphone, and tablet), the only common physical component, across all devices, is the headset. And headsets are now smart enough to stay relevant to all of those devices at the same time. Today’s headsets have sensors in them that know if they’re on your head or lying on your desk. Some have API’s that you can programmatically access to know how far the headset is away from the base station. They know when they’re in motion (like in a car), so that they can automatically change the sound profile for appropriate echo and wind cancelation. Headsets are easily becoming the most critical component in a Unified Communication solution where users are constantly moving from location to location, application to application, and device to device. The successful adoption of UC applications will very much depend on the quality and reliability of the headset.
One headset vendor that we work with a lot is Jabra. Jabra is a product brand owned by a company we’ve known for a long time called GN Netcom, who is owned by a company, GN. Interestingly, GN also owns a company called GN ReSound. This is actually a hearing aid company. If you’ve been in the world of hearing aids, you definitely know the name ReSound, or their other brand Beltone. I was a drummer in a band for too long, playing too many gigs without adequate hearing protection. I’m finding myself not being able to hear as well as I should. I’ve started the process of researching hearing aids and ReSound is a product at the top of my list based on all the cool technology being packed into those things. Leave it to a geek to be more intrigued by the gadget side of hearing aids than the actual miracle of having my hearing back. But, when Jabra makes the claim that they know sound better than anyone, I tend to believe them. The technology they pack into their hearing aids, consumer headphones, Solemate Bluetooth speakers, and headsets is pretty amazing.
Because headsets need to be smarter in order to adapt to the various applications and devices, they have gotten more complex. In the old days, there’d be dip-switch settings that would have to get configured depending on the device the headset base was plugged into. Couple that with the fact that new headsets not only talk intelligently to their base station, but many can also talk Bluetooth to endpoints directly. They often have to know what device or application they are connected to, so that they can leverage the proprietary signaling that those applications might use. Most headset manufacturers today can adjust their profiles to specific applications. My Jabra Motion Office has separate and specific PC softphone profile support for Avaya One-X Communicator/Agent, Cisco Jabber, Counterpath Bria, Shoretel, IBM Sametime, Microsoft Lync, Skype, and several more. Letting one headset be flexible enough to use all of those apps, really does extend the functional life of the headset. A customer switching from one manufacturer to another doesn’t have to replace all of the headsets.
A characteristic high on my list when looking for good headsets, beyond that actual sound quality of the headset, is the deployment and manageability of the devices. All of that complexity I mentioned could easily make day to day support of all of those headsets very painful. But Jabra has a strong set of centralized deployment and manageability capabilities. They support the ability to build MSI (Microsoft System Installer) packages, that coupled with WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) and Microsoft’s System Center and Configuration Manager, make it this a much easier task. For base stations that have USB connections to the PC, you can now centrally push firmware updates to the headsets and report on the deployed headsets, identifying type and versions. You can remotely support headset management similar to how you would support the endpoint phones/clients themselves.
So, bottom line, if you’ve been ignoring the headset as a valuable and strategic part of the Unified Communication solution, you need to rethink that. Picking the right one is important. Don’t provide just a portion of the UC solution. Ensure its success by talking about the entire solution. It’s time to get excited again about headsets!