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February 05, 2008

A Practical Approach to Telephony and IT Application Integration

By TMCnet Special Guest
Greg Pisano, Director of Market Development, BlueNote Networks

Although IP convergence has been an adoption trend for the past several years, today many enterprises are still challenged with determining how to integrate telephone systems with IT applications. These issues have constrained most enterprises from extending communication-reach to distributed and mobile users, and realizing the productivity benefits, operational efficiencies, and overall value of a fully-converged communications and applications infrastructure.

The problem stems from the fact that many enterprises still view telecommunications and information technology as completely separate silos, making convergence difficult and highly ineffective. Voice is still the primary means of enterprise-wide communications, but today’s telephony systems (or PBXs), the lifeline for most businesses, are operated and managed as standalone entities. As a result, human interaction, information processing, and business processes also closely reflect this view.
The effect of this model is that telephony systems and IT applications exist in completely separate infrastructures, often with each having separate organizations for planning, budgeting, implementation, and management. However, if phone systems were more like software applications and integrated with business applications managed by the IT department, it would help to better align IT resources with company business objectives to achieve faster time to market, increased revenues, competitive advantages, and increased business agility.
One approach to integrating telephony into an IT application infrastructure that is gaining momentum is a SIP-based communications overlay model that can modernize and extend the capabilities of existing telephony systems, and in some cases also provide a practical TDM to IP migration strategy. By viewing telephony as a software application with standard application interfaces, organizations can overcome the challenges of siloed infrastructures and leverage the intrinsic advantages of integrating core enterprise voice communications with IT applications to realize multiple business benefits.
For example, leveraging SIP-based middleware solutions can bridge disparate telecommunications infrastructures, enabling organizations to enjoy the features and benefits of an integrated telecommunications system. This approach can complement and extend the capabilities of existing PBX systems, economically expand global communications reach to distributed users, and can be incrementally deployed and enhanced over time. These solutions can be initially deployed as a complementary service to installed IP and TDM telephone systems while allowing an enterprise to layer new voice-enabled Web services and business applications as part of an evolutionary migration strategy.
These new services and applications can be added to installed systems in an overlay approach to enhance capabilities in ways not supported by the legacy environment and also provide a path to a next-generation, software-based approach to telephony with minimum risk exposure and maximum economic lifecycle flexibility.
A question that may come to mind is how this approach can gracefully co-exist with incumbent telephony systems. One example is the preservation of user identity across the integrated telecommunications system. For instance, an employee’s corporate telephone identity, usually a DID or extension number typically published in the corporate directory, can be seamlessly carried through to the SIP-overlay infrastructure without any configuration changes.
This user-centric capability allows an employee’s identity to span multiple systems and end point devices—whether the employee is using a traditional handset connected to a PBX (News - Alert), a SIP User Agent, a cell phone, or home phone. In fact, all of these phones can be concurrently registered making the delivery of calls to the employee completely transparent to the caller, whether it’s from a customer, business partner or associate.
When SIP forms the foundation for multimedia service delivery, it opens the door to unified communications and voice-enabled Web services within an enterprise applications framework. Also, by treating voice along with video and other interactive communications as reusable Web services, enterprises can derive similar benefits from communications as they do from other software services to build robust communications-enabled business processes.
By combining voice services with business applications through Web services, along with the ability to interwork with an existing telecommunications infrastructure, enterprises can leverage the economics and global reach of the Internet to also extend voice and other IP multimedia services to remote and mobile users, Web sites and portals.
Voice-enabled Web services can add real-time communications to any process or application without embedding telephony protocol stacks in the application. Web services are just as easy to use as any other data service, and unlike traditional PBX Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) interfaces, do not require developers to have telephony skills and experience.
Even with most IP PBXs, CTI (News - Alert) is the only way to integrate applications resulting in tightly-coupled stovepipe integrations that don’t support the modern IT goals of business agility and reuse. Also, CTI implementations are typically limited to a specific vendor’s PBX platform often maintaining isolated islands of redundant information that don’t directly leverage existing business data, directories, processes, and logic.
Web services, on the other hand, abstract the complexities of telephony and provide a shared resource for real-time interactive communications across multiple business applications simultaneously. With Web services, any enterprise application, such as email, CRM, ERP, and SCM can easily become telephony-enabled. Typical Web Service APIs deliver telephony services that can be shared and reused across multiple applications, reducing development time and risks. Additionally, since Web services are platform-independent, a new application can be deployed on one or many existing computing platforms, reducing capital equipment expenditures, eliminating software ports and extending the life of installed computing technology.
Another benefit of Web Service APIs is that they abstract the complexities of the underlying telephony services so that developers can easily create and deploy new applications without needing specialized telephony knowledge. With this approach, shorter development time directly translates to reduced project costs.
Success factors are often based on how quickly, economically, and easily services can be pieced together to create new business applications that allow an enterprise to be more productive, have a competitive edge, and service their customers more effectively.
With SIP providing the building blocks for multimedia services and unified communications, Web services adds the ability to integrate voice and video into business applications that can create an enterprise-wide communications-enabled applications framework. And, by leveraging a SIP overlay model that interworks with existing telephony systems, it provides a practical approach to enabling greater levels of business agility so that enterprises can be more adaptable and responsive to ever-changing business needs while economically streamlining IT operations.
To learn more about integration of telephony and IT, please visit the SOA/Web Services channel on, brought to you by BlueNote Networks (News - Alert).

Greg Pisano (News - Alert) is Director of Market Development at BlueNote Networks. With BlueNote SessionSuite platforms, enterprises, ISVs and partners can quickly and easily embed interactive real-time communication services into a range of commercial or custom software applications, Web sites and internal business processes using industry-standard interfaces and technology.


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