Unified communications (UC) has gone through several market transitions since its inception. Over the past few years, we've heard terms like "integrated communications," "IP communications" and "unified communications and collaboration" as terms that further the definition of UC. The latest evolution of UC is something known as communications-enabled business processes (CEBP). But CEBP needs to be better understood to have it be more broadly adopted.
Defining a communications-enabled business process (CEBP)
A "communications enabled business process" is just what the phrase describes -- it's a business process that is enabled because communications has been embedded into it. One way to understand this is to think of the concept of a "Web-enabled business process." While we don't call it that specifically, there are many processes that are more efficient or entirely possible only because of the Web. Similarly, over the next few years, organizations will streamline and then subsequently create new business processes that are wrapped around communications.
CEBP combines all the capabilities of UC with the world of business applications. In this phase of UC, Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) become the means by which communications and business applications converge. A CEBP can be something as simple as a transfer of information or as complex as an organization's supply chain being modified because real-time communications is now being fed into it.
An example of a CEBP would be the process of finding an expert to answer a question. This can be streamlined by calling a network-based service that uses a combination of presence, customer information and business rules to locate the best person and contact him across any mode of communication. In many cases, this could be a fully automated process removing all of the human latency.
This might occur in a hospital environment where a medical alarm creates the need for a specialist. Historically, this could require an attendant to search through many systems to find the right individual and then call specific individuals until one is located. With a CEBP, the system would automatically know who was available, on which device and what presence status, and then a message could automatically be sent alerting the specialist that there is a need for his or her skills. In a medical environment, this precious time could be the difference between life and death. Not all CEBP will be this dramatic, but it could be the difference between a manufacturer being able to fulfill an order or a retailer being able to replenish inventory for the holiday season.
CEBP helps companies be more efficient
Communications-enabled business processes enable most companies to be much more agile than they have been before. Organizations can deliver critical information to anyone in the extended enterprise at any time, over any device in real time, ultimately saving companies huge amounts of time. For organizations that have adopted CEBP, many processes that previously took hours to complete can now be completed in minutes. CEBP allow organizations to make faster, more accurate decisions. This will lead to a more efficient workforce, higher productivity and even, in many cases, higher customer satisfaction.
Companies will vary in deciding which elements of UC to deploy and which processes to communications-enable. There is no company that should integrate all elements of UC into all processes, but most companies will integrate some of the elements. These are the elements of UC most likely to be used in a CEBP:
- Presence -- This allows the process to understand which individuals are available and how to reach them. This is the main reason I feel presence is the key foundational element of UC, not VoIP.
- Email and messaging -- This will be the most common method of delivering information to the key individuals.
- Integration into a skills database, customer information or other data source -- An additional source of information can be used to refine the decision the CEBP makes.
- Mobile extension -- This will allow information to be delivered to devices and users that are not tied to a desktop.
Other components such as voice, video, conferencing and chat will also be used to allow users to communicate with one another, but the use will be dictated by the process.
Getting started with CEBP
To get started, IT buyers need to do two things. The first is to start your UC deployment -- but do not choose a vendor based on who your VoIP or email vendor is. Instead, think of UC as a development platform, and choose your vendor based on its ability to integrate into your current application infrastructure and business processes.
The second task is to evaluate your business processes and understand which ones will benefit most from being communications-enabled. These are typically the ones with the highest amounts of human latency. Taking a platform approach, coupled with an understanding of the business process benefits, will create a higher likelihood of a successful deployment.