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UC's Evolution: Becoming a System of Insight

This article is intended to introduce the idea of the communications-enabled business, a concept that owes a lot to the analysts who have spoken about communications-enabled business processes as the core of building a true return on UC investment.

For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to name four sets of systems based solely on my perception of these applications. Although we may disagree on the nuances of each of these phrases, they'll at least provide a common language for discussion. They are:

    • Systems of Engagement: systems that enable communications among two or more people to communicate. Phone, email, instant messaging, texting, social platforms, and collaborative intranets are all examples.

    • Systems of Progression: systems that demonstrate a shared two-way understanding of events that leads to progress and outcomes in a specific task or process. These systems can include help desk software, project management, and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

    • Systems of Record: systems that provide the "single version of the truth" for a specific point of view based on context, semantics, time, data sources, and other personal and business perspectives. These systems are often represented either by a standalone database that pulls information from a wide variety of sources or an enterprise software package that collects and displays a single source of enterprise data.

    • Systems of Analysis: systems for processing data into a summary, calculation, or visualization, and providing users greater context and meaning from their data. These systems include traditional business intelligence solutions as well as predictive analytics and data discovery tools.

• Systems of Engagement: systems that enable communications among two or more people to communicate. Phone, email, instant messaging, texting, social platforms, and collaborative intranets are all examples.

• Systems of Progression: systems that demonstrate a shared two-way understanding of events that leads to progress and outcomes in a specific task or process. These systems can include help desk software, project management, and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

• Systems of Record: systems that provide the "single version of the truth" for a specific point of view based on context, semantics, time, data sources, and other personal and business perspectives. These systems are often represented either by a standalone database that pulls information from a wide variety of sources or an enterprise software package that collects and displays a single source of enterprise data.

• Systems of Analysis: systems for processing data into a summary, calculation, or visualization, and providing users greater context and meaning from their data. These systems include traditional business intelligence solutions as well as predictive analytics and data discovery tools.

End Goal: Unified Business
When I started in IT, moving information from one of these system categories to another required a lot of work. Actually, transferring data between systems within a single category also could be quite involved -- which is why we have UC, application integration, and data discovery, just to name a few examples of application categories that exist simply to help us move between channels and technologies more quickly.

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But to translate our face-to-face meetings, emails, memos, and other communications into positive business outcomes, a company needs a process for turning each into a prototype, contract, or actionable advice. It then needs to send that deliverable to the appropriate people. And, often, the company also needs to document or archive those newly developed assets and services either for compliance purposes or for asset reuse... which leads us to a world of enterprise application alphabet soup and a mess of applications. We end up putting all of our engagements and progressions into a system of record, not because the record itself creates additional business value, but because none of the other previous points created new data and information.

However, we are finally reaching a point at which we can start thinking not just about UC but a true unified business. It would be amazing to see UC vendors take advantage of new techniques such as speech analytics, text analytics, and big data analytics to make UC the basis of how a seamless business works. These technologies, after all, are now readily available and affordable.

As a quick example, consider the most basic business activity: the sale.

In today's world, a salesperson calls a customer and a conversation takes place. This system of engagement leads to a sales agreement. The sales organization, however, rarely records or archives the conversation. Then, the salesperson goes into a separate file system to get a contract. The salesperson also logs into the CRM database to update the status of that sale through a system of progression. The sale then kicks off some sort of delivery mechanism for distribution of the goods or services sold. And what ties all of this information together? Typically, either enterprise resource planning software or a hodgepodge of spreadsheets used as the system of record. And if you actually want to figure out what happened or find a summary of transactions, you need a separate system of analysis.

Why not just tie it together with the call?

First Comes the Business Action
In theory, an organization should be recording and archiving every business conversation. Using text analytics and sentiment analysis, the organization would then automatically create the contract by parsing the terms and pricing agreed to in a call. It could then, using a graph dataset, analyze that call and all other related calls made by the salesperson associated with the client company to gain an understanding of the connections among those calls. That call also could be the primary key associated with the order.

And the best part is that the company now has a governed process that goes all the way back to the initial conversation rather than relying on an intermediate CRM tool as a system of record. In this way, the actual business action is the basis of everything else that an organization records, transacts, or creates rather than being just another set of information to be put into yet another system.

So, why do we still do business backwards? Why do we still pour loads of information into a third-party system after the fact rather than simply connecting related business information starting from the source of the initial email or voice call?

To be honest, we may still be a year or two away from the vision I've described. But in technology briefings, I've seen:

    • text analytics
    • good voice transcription and archiving
    • a variety of sentiment analysis tools both from analytics and contact center vendors
    • a variety of NoSQL and graph database technologies that can deal with non-traditional data and the connections created within networks
    • text parsing technologies
    • text search technologies
    • automated data cleansing and correction
    • predictive analytic functions now accessible through simple plug-ins

• text analytics
• good voice transcription and archiving
• a variety of sentiment analysis tools both from analytics and contact center vendors
• a variety of NoSQL and graph database technologies that can deal with non-traditional data and the connections created within networks
• text parsing technologies
• text search technologies
• automated data cleansing and correction
• predictive analytic functions now accessible through simple plug-ins

On top of all these, the advances in visualization and data discovery over the past five years have made it possible for the typical business user to find new insights from large datasets.

Bringing It All Together
So, the real answer is that the technology is all there. However, the vision of making the calls, emails, and conversations that define our business world as the actual center of business seems to be one that traditional UC vendors have trouble accepting. Because of this, we're still stuck with a set of last-generation enterprise applications that have successfully convinced all of us to put all of our data that gets created from traditional systems of engagement into a separate system of record.

Perhaps it's too late and the CRM and ERP vendors already have won. And perhaps the existing enterprise communications vendors are too baked into the traditional world of telephony and networking to see themselves as the true hub of business. But I don't actually think that's true.

In my tech conversations, I've started to see an emerging trend where end users are moving away from third-party software for the sake of software and towards custom-built tools that combine systems of progression, systems of record, and systems of analysis into a single tool that is the best of all worlds: relatively non-intrusive, strong data governance, and with the ability to guide employees to make the right decision. But the one missing piece is the system of engagement that led to all of this. If end users are putting the other three pieces together, it's only a matter of time before they add in engagement.

For UC, I think there is room for newer vendors focused on integration, data, design, and business interactions to treat communications as this primary key of everything that happens in the enterprise. Rather than simply talk about the buzzwords of "social mobile analytics cloud," it is time to truly bring together call records, mobile behavior, network analytics, the scalability of cloud computing, text analytics, and core business processes together.

The notion of communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) is still vitally important to UC's progression. But the next true challenge is to make every process a CEBP and, in doing so, create a true communications-enabled business.

I'm looking forward to seeing the right UC vendors take that next step and use the data that I've poured through for most of my adult life to bridge the key gaps between engagement and action. By doing so, UC vendors will truly reinvent the way we work -- and recreate the world of enterprise applications in the process.

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