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UC, Mobility, and CEBP Integrations Driving IP Telephony Implementations

TMCnews Featured Article

March 22, 2010

UC, Mobility, and CEBP Integrations Driving IP Telephony Implementations

By Art Rosenberg

The industry press has been filled with recent reports about Nortel customers being faced with the challenge of having their legacy Nortel phone systems converted to future Avaya systems. Avaya appears to have done a good job of taking on the responsibilities of an incumbent telephony provider by quickly laying out a PBX (News - Alert) migration plan for them to do so cost effectively.

However, what Nortel customers are really facing reflects what all enterprise organizations are dealing with today. That is, the new role of “intelligent,” software-based IP Telephony as a foundational component of mobile, multimodal unified communications (UC) that integrate with enterprise applications to “optimize business process performance” and effectiveness.

The question that Nortel and other customers really must answer is this: Can your incumbent telephone system provider help deliver new, UC-based IP Telephony “applications” that will be used by your next generation staff, customers and business partners?  Furthermore, is your communications infrastructure flexible enough to adapt and integrate with your industry’s standard business applications now and in the future?

Partnering IP Telephony with Mobile Web Services and Online Applications

To meet these ever-evolving demands by the next-generation end user, Web services and online applications have since jumped in to improve visual interactive application access at the PC desktop. However, until the advent of handheld broadband smartphones, such efficient solutions have not been conveniently available for use when users are mobile and away from a desktop PC. Needless to say, consumers were thus left out in the cold until now for improved and more efficient automated customer care based upon visual self-service application interfaces! 

UC is not just a matter of making the costs of telephony cheaper, but also of making voice communications selectively more effective and complementary to other forms of visual and text-based communications and information access.  This is where new UC capabilities like presence management, coupled with “click-to-call” capabilities, will make voice and video conversations and conferencing efficient supplements to the many forms of real-time text messaging (IM, SMS) and information exchange that are now available.

The new responsibilities for business communications and operational interactions must include the different business process application needs of end users from both inside and outside of the organization (business partners and customers). So, the real challenge for both large and small businesses is how to exploit all the pieces of UC, including IP Telephony applications, cost efficiently.

Mobility Will Become a Big Influencer For CEBP Integration

Mobile accessibility is not only a big factor for enabling UC flexibility for traditional person-to-person contacts via voice or text, but it will also facilitate application process-to-person and person-to-application process contacts that can exploit real-time, multi-media exchanges between people and information from automated self-service applications. In addition to being able to make immediate contact with mobile users, and, depending upon the person’s situation and information content, the choice of visual or voice application interface can also be dynamically determined by the individual users.

Automated business process applications that can effectively initiate any kind of direct communication contact with a person can efficiently replace the expense and delays that result from requiring humans to perform such contact tasks via phone calls. Such capability has been labeled as a “Communication Enabled Business Process” or CEBP and is of particular value where time-sensitive situations have to be dealt with immediately. It is useful to quickly and automatically notify people of an urgent problem or as a reminder to take action to avoid problems, and get immediate confirmation feedback as well, e.g., reminders for taking medications, an appointment, flight change notifications, etc.

Mobile, multimodal smartphones will enable customer care contacts to be more automated, while still allowing flexible, on-demand customer access (“click-to-call”) to live assistance (voice, chat), whenever necessary. Again, ”contextual” access to available live assistance can be efficiently provided on-demand, based on the dynamic needs of the customer and qualified resource availability.

“Different Strokes for Different Folks?”  Software-based Architecture for Mobile UC Flexibility!

End users, whether enterprise employees or consumers will no longer be satisfied with the limitations of the legacy telephone user interface, and will start exploiting the benefits of UC flexibility and integrated visual and voice user interfaces. Now that consumers have had a taste of multimodal mobility with innovative smartphones, they are starting to expect freedom of choice in how they initiate and receive contacts from both people and business process applications.

The key to extending communication flexibility and interoperability will rest with making communication applications functionally software-based, hardware independent, and with standards-based open interoperability. That requirement is particularly applicable for the increased use of new mobile smartphones that are already being used to communicate with all kinds of mobile applications under varying user circumstances.

Whether a user is initiating a contact or is the recipient accepting a contact, the choice of how a UC contact is made will depend upon each individual’s circumstantial situation.

  • Sometimes contact is requested with a specific individual vs. anyone who is qualified, accessible, and available
  • Sometimes the contact required is an immediate voice conversation
  • Sometimes a user can’t talk (noisy, privacy)
  • Sometimes they can’t hear (noisy)
  • Sometimes they need to send information to be viewed in the context of a voice conversation
  • Sometime a user can’t read or type (driving)
  • Sometimes the response to an asynchronous message requires a voice conversation, real-time IM exchange, or a change in the message medium. 

One Example of Telephony Providers Responding To UC Change

Leading telephony system providers recognize that the flexibility of communication interfaces is becoming critical, and they are converging their new IP Telephony offerings with other text-based communications. One example of this is NEC (News - Alert).

According to Jay Krauser, General Manager of Sales Support and Engineering, NEC Corporation of America:

“The users we are developing products for today may use texting more than voice and email combined. They’ve used any number of social networking and online collaborative tools for many years. They’re tech-savvy and mobile, and whatever business user interfaces we put in their hands need to fit a highly evolved work style.”

As an example, Krauser referenced a hospital setting where the software-based communications infrastructure integrates with patient data using the HL7 standard to give workers in any role - operator, administrator, nurse or doctor - access to the clinical, financial or other administrative data quickly and on-the-go.  Automating notifications to mobile devices to advise clinical staff of a change in patient status ultimately speeds patients through diagnosis and treatment to where they’d rather be, which is home.

NEC put its IP Telephony technology where its mouth is when the company announced last month that its software-based Unified Communications platform, Sphericall, is fully integrated with IBM’s Lotus Foundations platform. When installed, it is literally a part of IBM’s (News - Alert) software package and shares resources with IBM’s text messaging applications.

This is a step forward in integrating all the key communication applications of UC together as a single, interoperable product set. NEC’s other major partner, Microsoft (News - Alert), is also a candidate for such close-knit interoperability through its Exchange server for email and unified messaging and its OCS Office Communications Server for Instant Messaging, presence management, and unified conferencing.                                                                                                                                                                         

Who Will You Trust To Provide New UC-based IP Telephony Applications?

It should be pretty obvious that UC functionality that includes more than traditional person-to-person voice contacts will require new, heavy-duty capabilities from the other technology providers involved. Those new technology offerings are still evolving, so reputation and direction must be part of your evaluation.  Because the various UC technologies involved are generally developed by different suppliers, there will be different combinations of UC software applications available as alternative solutions.

UC will depend heavily on text-based interfaces for both messaging and application information, so the two big players in the business email and IM industry, Microsoft and IBM, will have to be part of the team that can offer customers a complete UC solution. Their offerings will be most important for UC integrations for presence management, unified messaging, CEBP, etc.

Well-established, experienced, IP Telephony providers who can offer both a new software-based platform along with integration capabilities to work with a variety of existing PBX and IPBX systems, will be a safe bet for implementing a new IP Telephony solution.

Traditional contact center capabilities will have to be accommodated with what I have labeled as “Customer UC” functions, which provides increased contact and interaction flexibility for customers who will exploit multimodal smartphones.  

While legacy IVR solutions were very limited in their role of self-service applications, providers, who have already exploited them innovatively in the context of Vertical Market applications, will most likely be able to use their experience more effectively within the expanded context of a multimodal mobile smartphone environment.

Future-proofing an IP Telephony investment will require that it be based upon open industry standards, support for mobile device independence, and integration with third-party business process applications. These will support communication innovation that the next generation of users of IP Telephony and UC will require.

With the move of IP Telephony into a software-based environment, it has opened the door to providers who can also offer the use of that software as a hosted service (SaaS (News - Alert)) or, in the case of communication services (CaaS). That option is rapidly gaining traction in the UC marketplace and can provide an alternative mode of implementation with lower capex costs and greater opex flexibility.

Will Your Incumbent Telephony Provider Be Able to Deliver Your UC-based IP Telephony Applications?

In planning your move to the future of mobile, UC-based IP Telephony applications, it may be questionable whether a traditional telephony provider is really ready to tackle the fast-moving new demands of multimodal and transmodal Mobile UC self-service applications required by your customers. One new source of technology for telephony applications is based on using speech to simplify end user information input, but using speech recognition to convert it to text, which is more efficient for application processing, storage, retrieval and user management. For this reason, it will be appropriate to consider other reputable technology providers who are moving more quickly to deliver innovative UC solutions that will support voice with speech recognition as application inputs, but also exploit visual output for practical online user interface efficiencies. 

 What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: [email protected] or (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 Kelly McGuire

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