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Communications in Your Apps

A recent briefing with Esna highlighted a key UC trend to embed communications directly into business applications. Esna's opening slide said, "Esna integrates communication and collaboration inside business processes and applications people use every day."

That pretty much sums up the trend that has been moving into the forefront of UC. Sometimes referred to as "Communications-Enabled Business Processes"--CEBP--we have been highlighting this in sessions at Enterprise Connect for the past 5 years, featuring vendors who are leading the CEBP charge, such as Esna, Microsoft, Cisco, Unify, NEC, Avaya, Oracle, and others.

Esna's communication software now plugs into a wide range of applications, such as Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365,, Cisco WebEx, and Jive Software (social networking). Their web architecture also enables them to integrate with any application that uses Google Chrome or Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers.

Their client capabilities operate on all the mobile platforms, too--Android, Apple, BlackBerry and Windows. Connection to desk phones and the PSTN is provided by connection to Avaya, Cisco, ShoreTel, Mitel, Alcatel-Lucent, and Unify PBXs, as well as Sonus gateways.

But Esna is surely not the only fish in this big pond. There is a growing list of providers that have realized that customers want to buy communications built into their applications rather than buying two separate systems that require the user to manually bridge between the technology silos. Here are a few examples:

* ShoreTel recently announced upgrades to its packaged integration with ShoreTel is not alone; the App Exchange shows communication connectors for Mitel, Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft Lync, IBM Lotus Live, Asterisk, NEC and many more.

* Microsoft Lync is integrated into a number of vertical market applications such as Wonderware manufacturing software or Schlumberger Petrel oil exploration software.

* IBM Sametime is integrated into IBM's Connections social platform and many Websphere apps.

* And, of course, Microsoft Lync embeds communications in two of the most popular, most used business applications--Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office. Most other UC vendors offer competing plug-ins to deliver similar functionality for Outlook and Office.

In parallel to the trend to embed communications in business applications, a number of IP-PBX vendors have been enhancing their products for vertical markets, providing packaged apps, configurations, and customized devices for specific workflows and specific industries.

* Interactive Intelligence has advanced their Interaction Process Automation (IPA), enabling customers to define and streamline workflows based on both information and communications.

* NEC is preparing a set of vertical industry applications based on its UC Enterprise Application Platform.

* Cisco offers APIs for Jabber client for business application integration. Cisco is also introducing the Jabber Guest application, for customer real-time communications via web pages.

* Avaya is emphasizing Avaya Collaboration Environment (ACE) and Avaya Client Applications (ACA), also for business application integration.

* Unify Openscape Fusion has pre-defined connectors into business and social applications.

However, vertical industry packaging of communications systems is not the same as embedding communications into business software applications and portals. Most customers and users want the communications tools built into their apps, rather than wanting their business apps running on IP phones, even if the phones are versions of Android tablets.

We should not be surprised by all of this activity, since almost all of us use CEPP (Communications-Enabled Personal Processes). Who hasn't clicked to call a retailer found through Web search on our mobile phone? Who hasn't used the email or chat or click-for-callback functions on almost all retailers' Web pages? And who hasn't seen a smartphone automatically tether to Bluetooth in a car so the car's audio system becomes a hands-free headset?

Our preferences for the personalized convenience and application richness of our smartphones has taken over the enterprise communication device market with BYOD. It seems likely we will also see our preferences for communicating from our personal software apps drive our choices at work, too.

Expect communications in applications to be a significant part of the future of UC.