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Complexity plagues communications-enabled business process technology

Communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) sound like a good idea, but adoption has limped along as its definition remains unclear and implementation is still complex.

In proof-of-concepts and product demos, communications-enabled business process (CEBP) technology never fails to impress CIOs and CEOs, but actual CEBP deployments remain rare. To some extent, CEBP is undergoing the same identity crisis that unified communications (UC) suffered two or three years ago. Both sets of technologies are vaguely defined, proprietary, complex and lack a concrete return on investment (ROI). Vendors are striving to simplify the CEBP assessment and deployment process so that enterprises can avoid hiring pricey consultants.

"A lot of businesses don't necessarily have defined processes, so they're not really sure where their inefficiencies exist," said Rob Arnold, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "There's still a lot of confusion in the market on the vendor side, service provider side and within [enterprises] about what CEBP is. That leads to a lot of uncertainty about how much traction there is for it in the market."

Communications-enabled business process technology uses UC tools to unclog bottlenecks in business processes that require more than one person to complete.

With a CEBP platform, a user who typically hunts down a manager for a signature on a purchase order can now submit the order electronically. The CEBP platform checks a presence server to find that manager's availability. It will automatically notify the manager through whatever communications technology he is using. If the manager is unavailable, the CEBP platform will automatically seek an alternate manager for the order's approval.

"CEBP is really meant to take some of the human latency out of a process so that a piece of paper doesn't sit on someone else's desk [waiting for] a signature," Arnold said.

Only 29% of companies have deployed some type of CEBP, according to a recent Frost & Sullivan survey of 200 North American enterprises, and 25% said they are in the process. But those numbers are likely inflated because vendors often mislead enterprises by stretching the definition of CEBP, Arnold said.

"Click-to-call from a CRM application is considered by some companies to be CEBP, and our stance on it is unless that particular task is part of a more formalized, structured work flow, then it's really more of an ad hoc click-to-call," he said.

Communications-enabled business processes can require customization

Vendors have failed to offer uniform or easily understood interfaces for UC pros to establish a CEBP platform on their own, leading most enterprises to hire systems integrators or consultants to customize a platform for them, said Bern Elliot, research vice president at Gartner Inc.

"A lot of business processes have communications dependencies, but they've been separate for so long that people don't even think of them," Elliot said.

Some of these business applications are not meant to integrate with communications applications.

Rob Arnold
Senior Industry Analyst, Frost & Sullivan

"Traditionally, some of these business applications are not meant to integrate with communications applications," Arnold said.   

Hospital builds communication-enabled business process with vendor's help

Jason Aspinwall, director of clinical applications at Florida Hospital, an Orlando-based network of eight hospitals, deployed a communications-enabled business process application using Avaya's Agile Communications Environment (ACE) platform, which Avaya acquired with Nortel Networks last year.

State law and industry regulations require the hospital to inspect and document the proper functioning of equipment on emergency code carts in hospitals. Historically, Florida Hospital relied on nurses carrying clipboards to document the inspection and call a technician if equipment needed repairs, Aspinwall said. 

Using a new desktop application developed with Avaya ACE and integrated into the hospital's telecom and network infrastructure, the handoff between inspection and notification happens automatically. Once a nurse completes an inspection, the application routes the record to the appropriate department and sends an automated voice, text or email notification.

The CEBP application was built entirely by Avaya, Aspinwall said. The scope and complexity of the implementation required Aspinwall to work closely with his vendor and pay extra for professional services, since CEBP was new territory for him.

"We do a lot of coding on our own anyway, but we like to work with our larger vendors to figure out how we can leverage different things they have in place," he said. "[We liked] the willingness of Avaya to partner with us and get the ACE software platform in our environment -- not just to put it there and let [us] figure it out, but to … implement it in a meaningful way."

Simpler communication-enabled business process implementation on horizon?

Although larger UC vendors such as Avaya, IBM, Microsoft and Siemens Enterprise Communications have publicized their efforts to simplify communications-enabled business process platforms, don't expect fireworks right away, according to Gartner's Elliot.

"It's still an early-stage technology, so no one's really excelling at it," he said. "We haven't seen this particular approach really get very advanced yet."

Still, Elliot named CEBP as one of the eight "Critical Capabilities for Unified Communications" in a recent research note.

Addressing complaints that communication-enabled business process platforms are too complex or proprietary, Avaya's latest software version of ACE attempts to make CEBP accessible to more UC pros, according to Sajeel Hussain, Avaya's marketing director for ACE and Nortel-transplant. 

Avaya has introduced a "Foundation Toolkit" for developers. This middleware simplifies the design and control of communications-enabled business processes without the need for extensive coding, Hussain said.

"The toolkit provides the ability for developers now to say, 'I want this application to be invoked if these conditions are met,'" he said. 

The release also includes canned applications to integrate with Avaya's Aura platform. The update also supports ACE plug-ins for Microsoft's Office Communications Server 2007 R2 (Lync support is expected next year) and IBM Lotus Notes and Sametime 8.5.1.

"You see a lot more [UC vendors] now developing hooks in their products to be able to integrate across IT applications," Arnold said. "If you look at some of the packaging Avaya has introduced, that definitely makes it more understandable and tangible."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.


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