building communications-enabled business processes

It is rare for a conversation about unified communications (UC) not to turn towards the phenomenon of communications-enabled business processes (CEBP). But what exactly are they, why should you be interested, and what do you need to deploy them?

Put most simply, CEBP is where unified communications functionality has been integrated directly into a business process. The idea is that it will speed up workflows and reduce mistakes. A CEBP would allow an employee to communicate directly with the relevant person directly from the workflow. So for example they would be directed to the right person in the finance department to sign off their expenses from within the application.

Analyst Frost says that to be a true CEBP, it has to put communications into context within a business processes – by connecting people with the right information at the appropriate time. Analyst Rob Arnold says that putting simple click-to-call functionality in a CRM applications does not count as a CEBP.

identifying processes

To successfully communications-enable business processes, businesses need to be able to identify them in the first place. “That’s not always easy, and it requires experts with deep knowledge of either vertical businesses or horizontal applications (or both),” says Melanie Turek, Industry Principal, Frost & Sullivan. “Once companies figure out where to improve business processes, the key to success is better development of open engines that allow communications applications to literally plug-and-play into business software—whether horizontal (like or SAP) or vertical (and related to specific industries).”

This report from Unicomm Consulting and Microsoft provides a good overview of how to identify the communications ‘hot-spots’ where CEBP can provide the most value. It says that the seven best opportunities are:

  1. optimize resource utilization: using presence functionality, click to contact the most relevant available person for your current task, such as allocating an engineer
  2. accelerate transaction completion: often a workflow requires a manual intervention, or additional information to complete. By integrating communication directly into the workflow you can accelerate this communication.
  3. increase notification precision:  allows a business process to automatically contact a relevant person and track the communication when an event is triggered. For example, contacting engineers if there is a network outage.
  4. improve contact success: help external parties contact your company via contextual click-to-call with presence on your public facing website for example. This will help prevent the call going just through to voicemail.
  5. automate communication processes: simple workflows that send out emails automatically on a trigger already exist. This proposes tackling more complex scenarios, such as automatically joining parties to a conference at the earliest available time.
  6. speed information delivery: embedding communications functionality into all types of equipment, allows you to contact relevant personnel for information even if they are not in a traditional office environment.
  7. enhance collaboration effectiveness: UC already helps improve collaboration, using CEBP can take it one step further such as tracking team involvement document review cycles and contacting only the relevant people with information at the appropriate time.

overcoming integration barriers

Creating CEBPs sounds like a no-brainer, but in a new report analyst Ovum warns that interoperability and integration remain major barriers.  “Only a few CEBP development platforms support a wide range of open standards and protocols such as session initiation protocol (SIP), voice extensible markup language (VoiceXML), asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax), web services description language (WSDL), and extensible messaging and presence protocol (XMPP),” says Saurabh Sharma, senior analyst at Ovum and author of the report. 

Sharma says that to reap ultimate CEBP success, organizations should take a strategic approach and prioritize business processes for communications enablement based on their business value. They should then use their existing integration infrastructure to developed their CEBPs. Sharma says that service-oriented architecture (SOA) and event-driven architecture (EDA) are key prerequisites for this process.


Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.