Connecting UC in the Workplace
With UC maturity comes the impetus to build bridges between communications platforms and business processes, applications, and information.
It has always been clear that communications is part of an organization's workflow and service delivery functions. Communications is not an end unto itself, nor something done in isolation from information or procedures.
Yet, the connection of communications functionality to the business or organizational workflows, procedures, and information has come slowly (with the exception of advanced contact centers that have integrated agent desktops). This is surprising, since the connection of communications to business processes was one of the early visions of unified communications, with Gartner naming this as communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) as early as 2003.
This slow adoption is likely attributed to the immature state of the UC systems in the period from 2003 to about 2013. However, the industry is now mature, with a few clear leaders in UC system adoption. This maturity of the base UC platforms makes it viable and profitable for developers to build the connectors and bridges between the communications platforms and the business processes, applications, and information.
Now we are finally seeing rapid growth in this area. The system vendors, value-added resellers, and system integrators (SIs) are all investing in software and tools that make it easy to connect a current release UC system to the major software application tools already installed in most business and public sector organizations.
Some examples in various categories include:
- Email and Instant Messaging - Microsoft Exchange with Outlook is clearly the dominant enterprise email platform -- including contacts and calendar -- with smaller shares held by Google Gmail and IBM Notes. The email vendor usually provides the enterprise IM as well, so we see Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business, Google Messenger, and IBM Sametime/Connections as leaders in this category, too. Essentially all UC vendors now offer a connector from their systems to Exchange and at least IM and presence federation with Lync/Skype for Business. A few UC vendors (Cisco with CUCILync, Avaya with Microsoft Lync Integration and Esna, Unify with OpenScape Fusion, et al.) offer plug-ins to provide click-to-call from the Lync/Skype for Business clients already installed on users' computers. However, these plug-ins have had poor acceptance because of their complexity, limitations (e.g., only Windows OS), or intrusiveness that forces the UC vendors' clients onto desktops. We are now seeing alternative solutions, such as an economical connector offered by BridgeOC. This tool uses the computer-telephony integration (CTI) services of a Cisco Unified Communications Manager or Cisco Collaboration 10.x and 11.x (Cisco UCM as a group) to provide enhanced Cisco phone presence to the Lync/Skype for Business user as well as click-to-call from the Lync/Skype for Business Windows client with all of the voice calls coming through the user's Cisco desk phone.
- Office Productivity Software - Of course, Microsoft, Google, and IBM can each assure their customers that their own UC packages will natively integrate well with each of their office productivity suites (Microsoft Office, Google Docs, IBM OpenOffice). Some voice-centric UC vendors also provide connectors or plug-ins that provide presence and click-to-call integration to at least Microsoft Office and, in many cases, Google Docs office productivity software.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Application Packages - This may be the fastest and richest growth area for UC connectivity. We now see an abundance of connectors between leading voice UC platforms from providers such as Cisco, Avaya, Unify, NEC, and Mitel with one or more of the CRM packages like Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and SAP CRM. In most cases, these are provided by well-established SI partners such as Bucher + Suter, Ingenious, SpinSci, and many more.
- Document Management and Collaborative Workspaces - We are seeing major initiatives and alliances between the voice UC platforms and the groups of applications that support the 10% to 25% of the workforce whose jobs are collaborative in nature, requiring active document sharing and creative project work. Most voice-centric UC providers have connectors to the document storage leaders such as Box. Most also have connectors to the leaders for "social software in the workplace." Some voice-centric UC players have even decided to compete in this space with solutions such as Unify Circuit and Cisco Spark, yet we expect most enterprises will stick with the collaboration platforms they already own and require UC connectors to those.
- Custom Integrations - Finally, we see a growing capability for easy custom integrations between almost all of the voice-centric UC platforms and business processes or software applications. Essentially all UC vendors are emphasizing the modularized capabilities of their development platforms and are promoting, even providing incentives for, participation in their developer communities. Some SIs, such as CafeX Communications (2016 Best of Enterprise Connect winner) and SpinSci specialize in customizations, some of which they later productize. These initiatives will simply accelerate the acculturation of UC into enterprise workflows and business apps; the best of breed will be promoted into the productized categories as mentioned above.
When these integrations are effectively deployed, an organization can realize benefits in one or more dimensions. In many cases, work is done much more quickly and efficiently, and this often translates into better customer service, lower cost per transaction or per project, greater growth potential, or higher quality and more innovative solutions. If the integration between communications and application technology is well done, the metrics to prove, realize, and manage these benefits can be readily available via management dashboards or reports.
We wish great success to both the enterprises and to their UC vendors in this maturing, "unified" world.