Does Every App Need Communications?
And even if it does, will that necessarily mean we need Communications-Enabled Business Processes?
The title of this piece by Om Malik on GigaOm is "Why Apps Need Communication Features." But before enterprise folks get all excited about some finally "getting it" when it comes to Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBP), that's not really what this article and the discussion it reflects are all about.
The post (actually a series of 2 posts) really looks at consumer-grade apps, with a specific focus on Instagram. But Om Malik's larger point is that communications is a natural part of almost anything you'd do on the web. He writes:
"It is fundamentally my belief that most applications need a layer of communication--comments and lightweight signals such as Facebook's likes are part of that layer. And so is messaging. The web (and Internet in general) is getting closer to being synchronous, and alive."
So he's also talking about a different meaning for "communications"--the critical word in that previous paragraph, I think, is, "lightweight." Communications by its nature is often spontaneous and, increasingly in our world, short in duration if not ephemeral. Embedding communications in applications is a way of making communications serve the purposes that today's users have for it.
The Andy Griffith Show model of communications was the opposite of lightweight: You walked over to a box on the wall, turned a crank, asked a human being to plug a cord into a slot so that you could talk to a counterpart similarly engaged. That model worked for tele-communications at a time when this was the best the technology could support.
But that's not how we communicate when we're not "tele." When we're in close proximity to someone, we look up from what we're doing, say something, get a response, and go back to our respective tasks. Or we hold up something and call our counterpart's attention to it with a verbal cue. Today's technology can actually support that model in remote (or "tele") communications, and so that's the communications model that Om Malik is talking about here.
The quote from the Om Malik column talks about messaging and Facebook "Likes", but clearly envisions more interactive, synchronous communications at least being available within the application. He's talking about Instagram because in our generation, any new application of communications technology is going to have to be validated in the consumer space before most people will contemplate using it in their work setting.
We actually do see this dynamic at work, to a limited extent, in some enterprise applications. Salesforce Chatter is an example; and arguably one of the things that has made Microsoft Lync a more powerful UC tool than many of its competitors is the potential for people to be introduced to Lync not as a discrete client, but as a feature of the Microsoft Office applications they already use.
But it seems to me that one reason why CEBP hasn't taken off on a broader scale is that, as much as we talk about people "living" in particular applications, nobody really does. Even if there's one application you use more than all the others, how many people really spend all day staring at one application on their computer screen, to the exclusion or near-exclusion of all other tasks? Maybe a contact center agent, but guess what? That's the area where communications has been integrated with the applications, at least at some level, for going on two decades. Because it always made sense, even at a high cost to acquire and implement the technology.
So if every application needs communications, what will that wind up meaning for the enterprise? That, I think is still an open question.