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May 10, 2010

UC vs. CEBP: The Chicken and the Egg For Automating Business Processes

By Art Rosenberg


Everyone seems to be writing about “unified communications,” many using that term primarily to focus on telephony capabilities for real-time contacts and conversational voice’s future role with all other forms of contact with people. But, all modalities of person-to-person communications are becoming available to end users, depending on their individual needs and circumstances. This is becoming particularly important as both consumers and business users are now becoming more communication-accessible with the flexibility of mobile, multimodal smart-phones.  

As a result of this trend of increased individual multimodal accessibility, the opportunity to exploit the flexibility of UC to automate business processes through efficient Process-to-Person notifications (rather than just Person-to-Person contacts) has also increased, thereby increasing the overall ROI of business processes. This capability has long been referred to as Communications Enabled Business Processing (CEBP), where an automated application, rather than another person, initiates the contact.

My colleague, Blair pleasant, originally defined CEBP as a step in the “UC Continuum” between personal productivity (UC-U) benefits of UC and business process productivity (UC-B). The latter will benefit from minimizing both the labor costs and the time delays involved in any business process that requires people to deliver information that can be done by an automated process.   .

The more automated the process, the more efficient it can be and not subject to human latency.  This, in turn can produce more “ROI” for a particular CEBP application.   

CEBP: Opportunities To Make More Money With UC

The recent UC Summit conference organized by UCStrategies.com, offered a unique opportunity to focus on how UC can help open the doors to unlimited numbers of business process applications. These will offer increased sources of ROI to business organizations and, at the same time, help generate new and ongoing sources of revenue for traditional telephony VARs, technology providers, and consultants.

The practical business discussions on both UC and CEBP were reported in several articles and blogs which highlight the shift that both of these technology trends are starting to make in the traditional telephony industry. (See NetworkWorld, UC Views). So, just as we have seen the ROI emphasis on cost reduction shift to business process productivity, we can expect business management to start asking for business process performance improvements at the applications level.

This will be where the revenue growth opportunity for both business consultants and the new generation of UC “solutions integrators” will come into play. Customers will need both kinds of expertise to help identify, quantify, design, integrate and test the different kinds of ROI benefits that will result from the combination of UC flexibility and business application automation.

Because there is so much now dependent on communications as software and services, rather than hardware, we can also look forward to an increase in “try before buy” UC and CEBP planning. This will be especially true as mobile smartphones force enterprise organizations to support device independence for a variety of mobile applications and services.

So, Where Does UC Belong In Business Communications Implementation Planning?

In my view, UC is a prerequisite to automating business process applications. Why? Because, there are a gazillion business processeswith many alternative forms of people contact, with varying degrees of importance and “ROI,” that can be selectively implemented by a business organization.

“What really blew me away was their integration of process tools.  Business processes can be defined by anyone, refined by anyone, instantiated by anyone, measured by anyone.  As a result, they could count 50,000 different business processes that were captured on the platform in some form or another.” (See GE example of long-term development of over 50,000 business processes, above.)

However, lacking UC’s simplified communications access and interface flexibility, will also limit the ability of such applications to make effective and efficient contact with specific individuals.

A familiar example of this problem can be seen in the limitations experienced with traditional Interactive Voice Response (IVR) applications. Even though speech recognition technology has now improved significantly enough to efficiently support voice inputs, voice outputs have always been severely limiting. Not only is speech output slow to navigate, but it may also require manual user transcription to capture key data items (if not done automatically). This is where UC capabilities, combined with multimodal smart-phones, can effectively supplement or replace such telephony and speech transactions, by selectively enabling visual interfaces for output, rather than voice, e.g., text menus rather than speech. (See UC Views article)

So, it will make no sense to invest in automating various business processes with CEBP if the end users cannot also effectively exploit alternative and more efficient ways of making contact and accessing information through a choice of user interfaces with UC. The reality is that both UC and CEBP can evolve gracefully together – not every process needs to be automated, nor does every end user have to have all the latest pieces of UC!

Maximizing UC “Accessibility” For Greater “Availability”

End user “availability” without communication “accessibility” is of little value because there will be little or no information exchange of any kind taking place. So, some form of contact accessibility will be a pre-requisite for also maximizing individual availability for business processes too. This is a key factor in why mobility is becoming so important for business communications  - mobility increases accessibility and accessibility increases potential availability!

The fact that mobile “smart-phone” devices are becoming increasingly “multi-modal,” now means that such communications are also more flexible, both for contact initiators as well as recipients/respondents. As discussed elsewhere, contact initiators can be both person-to-person connections, as well as automated notifications that result in access to either self-service applications or live assistance.” So, both forms of application support can be exploited efficiently with the combination of UC and CEBP through mobile “smart-phones.”

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: artr@ix.netcom.comor (310) 395-2360.


Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to TMCnet. To read more of Art’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison


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