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It’s All in the Numbers

Fifty metres. You make a mobile phone call in the city and your position I’m told can be reliably fixed within a remarkably small area through triangulation of the cell-phone nodes.

I was visiting 192.Com and was having a demonstration of the technology they plan to add to their Directory Services (DQ) offering in what will become a highly competitive market from next month.

Only about 30% of the population realise that in August, thanks to de-regulation, the old directory enquiries services 192, will be switched off and we’ll have to choose from among ten new ‘DQ’ services with variations on the number 118, such as BT with 118500, the Gay & Lesbian Directory (118453) and the tightly business-focused 192.Com with 118119.

Most businesses, it appears haven’t given much or any thought at all to the costs of using the new directory service and which offers the best value. Some are in for a nasty shock when their first phone bills arrive because new ‘added value’ services with call completion and other attractions could make a directory enquiries call feel more like a premium rate service.

Strangely enough, of the ten principal DQ providers, only 192.Com is focusing exclusively on the Enterprise market and it’s the only one with 87 million records and the electoral roll, cleaned and grid-referenced to support the arrival of location-based services. From their Web site, by telephone or direct to the corporate LAN, 192.Com hopes to offer business a powerful information service.

An example of this might be a businessman going to a meeting in London, and wanting to locate the exact address of his client. A call to 118119 identifies his position and the operator offers to send a map and directions to his IPaQ. Our man is early and is waiting for a colleague and wishes to find a Starbucks with a wireless point to catch up with some work while he waits and so the operator sends him the positions of the nearest coffee bar to his position and offers to send the same details to his colleague’s mobile phone or PDA.

Business directed DQ calls account for over 50% of the UK market, generating over 160 million landline minutes per year. Typical corporate DQ services span number search, consumer and business list broking, address verification, electoral roll licences, demographic data, company reports and director reports. Future corporate services will include a much broader range of data, which may include customer email and IP addresses and third generation services, which can include video clips.

This is the future of DQ services and the future starts this autumn. The problem for business lies in knowing how much these benefits will cost, particularly as 192’s Director Ian Green points out, if you happen to be a government department making just under a million calls each year.

My advice and I’m carrying out detailed research on the market, is for business to start thinking how its going to make use of these new services without paying over the odds. A great deal of money is going into make numbers memorable, such as 118118 and it’s likely that many people will dial on memory and not on cost unless business has a DQ policy or blocks the more expensive numbers.

The best solution for business appears to lie with a hybrid, phone/LAN/Internet information service of the kind that 192.Com is planning and which appears to offer better control of costs which otherwise might spiral out of control. The collision of directory-based information with a range of different identity, mapping and location-based services is about to create a new industry which business will increasingly rely upon for a number of integrated information services. In theory, such services should be instantly available at the edge of company LAN and they soon will be. The problem, however, lies in the costs management implications of something which was a previously known quantity with BT.

Is this an IT issue, a telephony issue or a business issue? In fact, it’s a mix of all three and with August only days away if you don’t yet know which of the new DQ services best suits your business needs and your IT function, then now is possibly a good time to find out.


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