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How CEBP Goes Mainstream

When it comes to unified communications, it's not always easy to tell reality from hype. For instance, for many years I have been reading how the use of video conferencing is growing by leaps and bounds. Anyone who reads often touted market research numbers would think that it would be hard to walk into a typical office and not see video conferences taking place at nearly every desk and in most conference rooms. After all, cameras are built into every modern PC and smartphone, and video software has been embedded into products from large UC companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, and Avaya.

The sad truth is that I walk into places of business all over the country and can count on one hand how many video conferences I've seen taking place. As for me, it's nearly October and I have yet to broadcast my face to someone else's PC monitor or tablet this year. That's not to say that I couldn't do it if I wanted to. I have the technology. It's just that video has yet to make its way into my day-to-day workflow and the workflow of most of the people with whom I come in contact.

We've taken the horse to the water, but he's not drinking.

In my mind, Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) are a close second to video. I have been talking and writing about CEBP for years and although I have definitely seen an increase in adoption and deployment, the number of enterprises that have done so are fewer than anyone had hoped for six or seven years ago. Like video, people see the promise and power of CEBP, but they have been slow to make it as common as the desk telephone.

So, you can imagine my surprise when driving to work one day, listening to National Public Radio (NPR), I heard a story all about CEBP. No, the reporter didn't actually use those words, and I don't expect that she's ever even heard them uttered before, but that made it all the better. CEBP will become mainstream when it's no longer a subject exclusive to No Jitter and other unified communications outlets.

Like every other U.S. state and government municipality, elected officials and civil servants are focused on lowering expenses, increasing efficiency, and basically learning to do more with less. Every dime is being scrutinized, and accountability is high on everyone's minds. Both tax payers and governmental agencies demand this of our public resources.

In Louisiana, they wanted to find a way to significantly lower the cost of fuel, maintenance, and insurance for state-owned automobiles. To that end, they added GPS tracking devices to 10,543 state-owned cars in order to monitor driving patterns, fuel consumption, and driving routes across Louisiana.

An early pilot of this system at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry produced very impressive results. According to its statistics, in the first year, fuel usage dropped 28% from 567,212 gallons in 2009, to 404,264 gallons in 2010. Without the detailed information that GPS devices provided, the department felt that they would have no way to accurately monitor how its cars and tractor trailers were being used. Data -- and lots of it -- was the key to finding better ways to do business.

The process is quite simple. These devices monitor the cars in real-time and send email alerts to supervisors when drivers violate policy rules such as speeding or using government vehicles for personal purposes. They can also be used to help drivers operate more efficiently. In addition to gathering and logging this information, supervisors can make telephone calls to drivers to stop inappropriate behavior or suggest cost saving changes.

"You're more self-aware of your driving habits. We're not saying that people are purposely abusing the system, but they are more aware," said Jan Cassidy, assistant commissioner for procurement, on the NPR program. "If you know someone is watching you, you're not going to wander off a path."

Personally, it's not hard to come up with additional ways to apply this type of technology. Big brother concerns aside, precise monitoring of daily activities can often lead to improved performance, cost savings, and better processes. In Louisiana, government officials expect to save $30 million dollars over five years. I cannot imagine that other states won't be keeping a close eye on this program to determine how it might be applied to their workforces. As I said before, everyone is looking for ways to save money.

It's also not hard to think of ways to enhance Louisiana's solution. I would love it if those calls back to the drivers were launched with WebRTC click-to-call. Even better, why not automate the entire process and reach back to the drivers with an Integrated Voice Response (IVR) system? Supervisors and department heads could still be made aware of any pressing issues or pervasive inappropriate activities, but backend computers could perform the real-time remedial actions.

This is just one real-life example. Like unified communications itself, the applications and permutations of CEBP are endless.

As I previously wrote, my favorite part of the story was that this application of CEBP wasn't labeled as such. To me, that's how it should be. This technology will become more widespread when people see CEBP not in terms of communications and business processes, but in terms of efficiency and dollar bills. As a reader of No Jitter, you understand this, but preaching to the choir only gets you (and me) so far.

As for how I began this discussion, I still hold out hope for video. While I am certain that people will write to me saying, "I use video every day," it's not where it should or needs to be -- not by a longshot. We need Louisiana-style success stories that apply video technology without making a big deal about the fact that it's video. Like my CEBP example, I want to hear about it on NPR from a reporter who wouldn't know H.264 from a firetruck.

The point of all this is simple. Technology for the sake of technology is the wrong approach. People don't want acronyms and buzz words. Whether it's video conferencing or communications enhanced business processes, people want solutions.

Things like putting a camera into a PC or exposing an API (Application Programming Interface) on top of a communications platform are manifestations of technology. Turning those technologies into ROI stories is success. Hearing those success stories on National Public Radio is triumph.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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