Where unified communications ROI should start

Communications-enabled business processes were a big topic a few years ago, but there are few signs of them in production today. Complexity is the biggest problem

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Recall 2009: Back then, many of us following the IT industry were discussing communications-enabled business processes (CEBP)—a concept wherein business events are integrated with communications. One example had a financial investment manager receiving a text message when his company’s stock dips below a certain price point. Or the price drop may automatically trigger a stock purchase process. Additional imaginary case studies focused on health care, customer service, inventory management and other areas.

But today, just try to find real-world examples. There aren’t too many. It seems CEBP ha stalled. Paradoxically, while it means to simplify business processes, the concept is difficult to implement.

Melanie Turek, VP of research at Frost & Sullivan, notes that few companies use CEPB. In a phone interview, she explains that unified communications (UC)—the underpinning systems required to support CEBP—isn’t quite there yet. “We’re just starting to see maturity of that market,” with organizations finally looking to combine erstwhile disparate email, VoIP and presence applications. “You have to integrate them before you can deploy CEBP.”

At the same time, businesses have to analyze their business processes—to truly understand them and then decide how best to connect those processes to the communications infrastructure. “That requires a certain level of business consulting, as opposed to IT consulting,” Turek says.

As if linking business and communications together wasn’t challenging enough, organizations also need to scrutinize the CEBP market carefully before diving in. CEPB systems providers take different approaches to the market—so customers need to understand their own preferences before investing in a CEBP development platform, says Saurabh Sharma, Ovum analyst, in a paper exploring CEBP’s potential. Organizations must ask themselves: Do they want CEBP mechanisms to start in UC and extend into their business apps? Do they prefer CEBP to kick off from the business-process management suite and reach out to UC?

Businesses need to “develop a strategy and roadmap…and select the platform/solution best suited to current and near-term requirements,” Sharma says. That’s a tall task—one that may require many years for organizations to put into play.

Meanwhile, the near-term dearth of CEBP case studies hasn’t completely staunched exploration of the topic. Just as Turek and Sharma follow this space, Cindy Whelan at Current Analysis notes a connection between UC deployment levels and CEBP. In a post last year, she points to an Information Week survey indicating that UC market growth has slowed. “While most respondents were deploying or planned to deploy a UC solution within the next 24 months, 33 per cent had no plans to deploy UC. Of those not deploying UC, 32 per cent indicated that they saw no definitive business value.”

CEBP may help convince reluctant organizations that unified communications is valuable, Whelan says. By positioning it as a business-process enabler, communications equipment vendors make a stronger case for UC. Suddenly the technology isn’t only about better communication. It’s about increasing the speed of business, outpacing competitors for faster customer service, quicker sales-closes and improved efficiency that saves money and boosts the bottom line.

That message supports CEBP. But it’s a complex concept. No wonder CEBP remains a rare beast in the IT wild at this point, only a few years after the idea initially appeared.

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