Surfing the Wave of Communications-Enabled Applications

A new wave is building momentum in enterprise communications, just as it's doing in consumer communications. Communications technologies are becoming just a part of the software apps that we use on the devices we own. This wave is moving less quickly for enterprises since changes to business processes require much more work than the immediate shift of a consumer preference, but the wave is here and will continue to grow.

While the wave may seem small or even insignificant to the CIO, it's looming large, even tsunami-like, for IT professionals who have responsibility for enterprise communications and collaboration.

This wave is called communications-enabled applications.

For enterprises, these are business (or workflow) applications in which communications will increasingly be provided via features of software applications and of computers and devices on which these applications run. The fundamental reason this will happen is that end users increasingly use application software to manage workflows, to access information, and to document results in doing their jobs. To the extent that communications is part of the job, the users will access these tools through the application software, not by turning to a separate application or device.

We have seen the front edge of this wave in the form of generic products that UC analyst Dave Michels identified early on as workstream communications and collaboration (WCC). These products empower users to choose and to manage their communications from a single interface integrated with their collaborative work, mostly based on team messaging and document processing. Organizations can define workflows in these WCC interfaces, but most will prefer the purpose-built applications to ad-hoc or self-defined WCC workflows.

Communication-enabled applications will be much different from WCC, since the producers of the business application software will design the communication functions specifically for job workflows. Enhancing the communications-enabled workflows with bots, machine learning, and artificial intelligence can result in amazing quality, service level, and productivity improvements, accompanied by dramatic decreases in the time and the labor costs implicit in the workflows of the past.

This wave will arrive at different times and with different force across the various workflows within vertical industries. To understand the difference, consider the application of Usage Profiles, as I've discussed previously on No Jitter.

In some vertical industries, companies are rapidly redesigning workflows in response to disruptive changes in business models, such as we've seen in the retail, real estate, healthcare, transportation, finance, and education sectors. Organizations will redesign other workflows at a different pace to harvest the benefits, even in the absence of an existential threat from disruption; think about workflows like claims processing, sales management, supply chain coordination, or government services. But in any case, it's hard to imagine a redesign that won't include the communications functions needed for that workflow.

As the pressure builds for these business model and workflow redesigns, plenty of business application software vendors will aggressively market their communications-enabled applications solutions. Communications platform as a service (CPaaS), WebRTC, and smart devices -- from smartphones to Alexa-type -- are making it easy, if not even mandatory, for business application software to include communications features.

Likely, the users who work in these Usage Profiles and workflows will have simple configuration choices for the communications functions embedded in their applications and workflows. On their PCs or Macs, they'll just select a USB or Bluetooth device. On their iOS or Android device, the configuration will be by default to the phone, headset, or Bluetooth device in use.

And, these business application software vendors will be plentiful. Just take a peek at this marketing technology article suggesting the number of software companies to hit one million by 2027. Also, the chart in the article (from Forrester) shows how this growth is occurring within each specific business workflow or function, not just generically as has been the case with enterprise communications products.

I'll admit that in my own recent No Jitter posts, such as this one, I've suggested that an IP-PBX vendor could participate in this wave as a CPaaS competitor based on the communications APIs offered by its communication products. However, that approach seems decreasingly likely since it's limited to the installed base of a single IP-PBX or contact center brand. Pure-play CPaaS providers such as Twilio, Nexmo, Kandy, and others have much more consumable, global offerings for use by the business application software producers.

Enterprise IT teams will embrace this communications-enabled applications approach since it provides the best solution for the relevant group of workflow participants. The application vendor will be responsible for the proper functioning of the communications features, and it won't need to maintain and support any custom or fragile interfaces to the IP-PBX.

The question on the table is whether enterprise communications departments will have a part in surfing this wave. The answer to that question is yet to be known, but the signs are overwhelmingly visible -- so we'll see if the communications teams will lead, follow, or perhaps just float along. Here's hoping for leadership, which will require teamwork and even organizational change.