Communications-enabled business process technology, or CEBP, is the next wave of innovation in business communications technologies, writes Bennie Langenhoven, managing executive of Tellumat Telecoms.
It entails the automation of human communications within business applications, and includes:
* The continued integration of communication and workflow into ‘business process-serving’ applications like ERP;
* Presence management; and
* Advanced collaboration.
Until now, says analyst Robin Bloor, communications automation has been confined to call centre systems and consumer-focused unified communications products, which tie up voice, instant messaging, e-mail and other collaborative tools. But CEBP goes much further than that. It integrates the many ad hoc communications and workflow aspects of a business process with the software that serves the business process.
CEBP is thus recognised as a catalyst for great change in the communications technology industry and end-user enterprise circles. It can be seen as the last frontier of automation of business processes, and it’s on all the important providers’ product roadmaps. Early product announcements prove that it is more than just a grand vision.
CEBP has been foreshadowed by business process automation in e-commerce, which drove the secure exposure of business processes to partners, suppliers and customers. It has traditionally been the domain of IT vendors. But a large percentage of commerce is communication.
The new wave of business process automation will be communications- and collaboration-centric. The applications that kick off business processes will feature the full triple play of voice, video and data communication choices, to allow the automated involvement of human communication (instantaneous or scheduled), that typically accompanies business processes.
How will this play out? To attempt an accurate prediction, it is necessary to track several other developments that will accompany the CEBP revolution. The following streams of technology development will mutually reinforce each other and support the CEBP wave, to bring about a totally different comms technology provider and user scene.
Voice commoditisation – Much like the commoditisation of the PC, communications network infrastructure will become commoditised, hosted on industry standard servers. Voice will be a basic component of the operating system. Just as software became the seat of innovation in the PC game, value-added voice applications will be the main area of differentiation. While it is difficult to see who will win the battle for dominance, companies like Microsoft, with its Office Communications Server, are most likely to end up as the voice icon on business desktops.
Desktop integration – This will mean tight desktop integration between productivity or business apps and the voice application. Initiating voice calls from within applications will be a mouse-click away. As a commodity, voice applications will be standards-based, allowing easy, tight office and business application integration.
Applications – Presence management is a big driver in this revolution. Applications will port easily between different operating platforms, handing choice of communications channel to users. An intelligent enterprise backend incorporating directory services will ensure users’ profiles (contact books and applications) follow them to whichever platform they are currently active on, such as a smartphone.
Devices – Users’ behaviour will dictate whether they work predominantly from home (PC), the office or on the move. The device war is far from won.
Provisioning – Hosting will increasingly be the means to deliver application services, including voice, directory services and other applications. The communications network will be end-to-end Internet Protocol-based (IP), meaning the device and the hosted service can communicate seamlessly, wherever the user is, and whatever device he or she chooses to communicate through. Currently, such remotely accessed services are in large measure localised – with a business running a PBX that routes requests for an application hosted on a company server. It’s possible, but still requires work.
Industry impact – The impact on the industry will be significant in the medium term. Some traditional voice infrastructure providers will change their tune and pour research and development into their application and integration competencies. Others will disappear in the consolidation that usually follows margin-eroding commoditisation. The application providers hoping to add value will have to ensure their applications run on PCs, phones, PDAs and the home phone. Companies that integrate voice solutions will employ business application consultants that understand the customisation and integration of voice solutions into the communications-enabled enterprise architecture.
In summary, CEBP is a sweeping technology revolution that will affect the communications technology provider landscape, as well as the enterprise end-user, in many significant ways. The way to prepare for it is through the adoption of standards-based software and hardware platforms, and by means of a paradigm shift that embraces business process thinking and rejects purpose-built solutions.