Editor's note: Communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) utilize unified communications (UC) technologies to allow and/or improve interaction between discrete entities in business activities, including employees, suppliers, customers and software applications. IT departments can simplify CEBP integration by making UC part of an underlying service-oriented architecture (SOA).
... organizations using SOA should be examining which processes they can turn into CEBP and which might benefit most from enablement.
John E. Burke
In this tip, John E. Burke, principal research analyst at Nemertes Research, discusses how using an SOA infrastructure to create CEBP can enhance UC integration and help operations run even more smoothly.
A service-oriented architecture (SOA) represents both an architecture for application integration and a set of software engineering principles for delivering application function via a set of independent software components. SOA components perform a well-defined set of functions and make these functionalities available to other components as services. (Confusingly, people often speak of both components and the services those components offer up as "services.")
Orchestrating SOA components to provide specific business functions can allow organizations to take descriptions of business processes and use them to drive workflows and data flows through core software.
By describing processes in terms of information flows and operations on data using tools like the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), the organization can match system support to actual process with great granularity.
Creating CEBP through UC integration into SOA infrastructure
Many business processes involve some kind of communication with specific sets of staff, customers, clients or prospects. As organizations increasingly shift to using voice over IP and unified communications (UC) technologies, IT departments have a new opportunity to integrate those communications activities more deeply and directly into business processes using the SOA infrastructure. By making communications just another set of applications in the SOA, IT makes creating communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) more straightforward.
Remember, these organizations have already equipped their business processes with enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and other software, and have settled on SOA as the best structure for tying those elements together. If businesses are using (or even exploring) UC, how could they not also look at using SOA to more effectively leverage UC's ability to link business processes?
What can SOA and CEBP do for you?
Among participants in Nemertes' 2008 SOA research, a small minority of respondents (only about 7.5%) reported that they were deploying some form of CEBP. In our 2009-2010 benchmark research, that number had risen to 20%, with another 6.7% saying they planned to deploy and 13.3% evaluating whether and how to do so.
Organizations that have deployed CEBP can use the increased functionality to perform some really helpful (and cool) tasks. When a call hits a sales line but isn't picked up by a human, for example, the voice mail system can be prompted to not only record the message, but also tell the CRM system to create a lead and assign it to the appropriate salesperson, then attach the recording to the lead and to an email to the salesperson.
Scenarios like this use SOA to facilitate integration of asynchronous communications into business processes. But what about the (presumed) default scenario, which features synchronous calls (or even video streams)? SOA can have a role in auto-dialing, screen pops and the like, too.
Organizations have told us about situations in which a business event -- like a bill going unpaid -- triggers messages being sent from a financial system to a remediation service, which in turn invokes contact center and phone switch services to initiate a call, while at the same time populating a window on the operator's screen to guide the call. On a happier note, another use case centers on notifying customers when a delayed order finally ships -- the inventory system sends an event to the CRM system, which sends one to the call center software, which puts a call to notify the customer on the next available operator's queue.
Although such orchestration of services can be complicated and difficult to iron out, it brings communications fully into the fold. In addition to being just another app in the data center, communications services become just another set of IT services available for integration using the organization's preferred, standard methods. IT gets to slough off the kind of fragile, non-scalable, one-to-one, vendor-unique integrations with which they have wrestled in the past. With Alcatel-Lucent, Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and Siemens all supporting Web services interfaces into UC tools, organizations using SOA should be closely examining which processes they can turn into CEBP and which might benefit most from enablement.
About the author:
John E. Burke is a principal research analyst with Nemertes Research, where he conducts primary research, develops cost models, delivers strategic seminars, advises clients and writes thought-leadership pieces across a wide variety of topics. John focuses mainly on application delivery optimization (ADO), and desktop virtualization and the new enterprise desktop. He also covers server and storage virtualization, management and monitoring, SOA and SaaS.