Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
8/14/2014
12:04 PM
Marty Parker
Marty Parker
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Enterprise Communications: Next Big Thing Is Embedded

Enterprise communications will be delivered as capabilities of application software, not by separate generic communication systems. Are you preparing?

Think carefully. Do each one of the communications activities in your enterprise serve the objectives of some specific process or function? Most likely your answer is yes. In the prior article in this series, "Secrets to Communications And Collaboration Success," we showed that communications within almost every usage profile are connected to processes and functions in the enterprise value chain.

Now think again: Have most of those processes or functions been packaged as software applications, both on-premises and in the cloud? A quick mental inventory reveals that almost everything today is being facilitated by software, from the complex processes in aerospace, financial trading, and health record maintenance to the most personal tasks of managing a contact list or finding a local restaurant.

[It's time to embrace a new enterprise communications model. See Goodbye PBX, Hello IT Architecture.]

This trend of using software applications to facilitate business processes is redefining enterprise communications as well, as application vendors build communications capabilities directly into their products or integrate with on-premises and cloud-based communication services. Some examples:

Salesforce.com is building its business mainly on managing the workflows for specific jobs. It started by focusing on sales roles, but it has expanded to include customer service, marketing, and collaboration roles. Users find that almost all of their communications are managed from the Salesforce.com user interface. Salesforce provides presence and instant messaging via Chatter and email and voice communications via IP interfaces hidden behind the user interface. Furthermore, Salesforce's "communities" support richer communication-centric engagement with customers.

At any point in their workflow, Salesforce users can initiate a text message, call, or conference with a click or touch. Office users can have voice calls routed to their desk phones (as most PBX vendors provide connectors to Salesforce.com), or they can make or receive calls via a software client on a computing device or via cellular.

(Source: Joan M. Mas on Flickr.)
(Source: Joan M. Mas on Flickr.)

Manufacturing production support systems have built-in communications capabilities. One example is Wonderware, which allows for remote and mobile monitoring of machine operations and production flows. Wonderware delivers the usual status and alert notifications to users' devices, but it also has integrated unified communications software, letting users open up chat, voice, or video conversations to resolve equipment problems. As a result, there's less of a need for phones in production areas.

In healthcare settings, communication is tied directly to the patient electronic health record and the associated care team. EHR systems provide text messaging tools that let care providers communicate immediately with other team members and with ancillary departments to initiate and accelerate decisions and logistics. Most EHR systems also include secure mobile device software to send alerts to any member of the team at any location. Some of these systems also support voice and video calls or conferences with shared access to the EHR, supporting rapid decision-making with secure, auditable communication logs. Consequently, the use of text paging, overhead paging, and phones is declining in this environment.

In higher education, most colleges and universities use learning management systems (LMSs) for class communications, assignments, student project delivery, and online instruction. Class participants can use their computers and mobile devices to communicate via messaging, group visual collaboration, one-to-one text, voice, video, and sharing. All of those communications flow through the LMS, not through the PBX or unified communications system.

In online commerce, communications between the customer and vendor usually begin with a web page or a mobile app. When customers have a question, software guides them to answers accessible on their devices or, if needed, affords the opportunity to open a chat session, send an email, talk live with an agent, or even engage in an online sharing or video session. The communications functionality of these web pages and apps is provided by built-in modules, often with no connection to the enterprise PBX or UC system.

These examples illustrate how enterprise communications will be delivered as capabilities of application software, not by separate generic communication systems with their proprietary user interfaces. The application producers are driving this communications integration as a product differentiator, often charging a premium price.

Forces within the enterprise are also driving this trend. Functional managers want to improve operational performance. IT managers want to reduce or eliminate the cost of non-integrated communications systems.

Embedded communications will be the norm for business workflow applications, and those communications will be provided by alternatives to the PBX or UC system. Now is the time to make changes to your enterprise architecture for apps and communications services. It's also the time to rethink your organizational structure so that your teams work on the opportunities of the future rather than protect the silos of the past. Our next two articles in this series will address both of those compelling issues.

IT must support employees on the go as well as build mobile apps for customers. Both initiatives still have a long way to go. Get the new Frictionless IT: Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest today (free registration required).

Marty Parker, Principal and co-founder of UniComm Consulting, has more than three decades of experience with computing and communications technologies. He has been a leader in strategic planning and product line management for IBM, AT&T, Lucent, and Avaya. Now, as ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
ChrisMurphy
50%
50%
ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 8:32:11 AM
Re: The 24/7 business
Great point Broadway -- these systems can turn email into a LESS effective tool, if they cram that channel full of alerts. (That said, my InformationWeek account is set up to get email notifications when someone replies to a comment, so it worked to know that you'd shared a fresh viewpoint. It worked here!) 
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 7:22:24 AM
Re: The 24/7 business
@Curt Franklin, The biggest challenge I see is the mental shift of "business hours".  Currently I work an odd set of hours in the office and I know that others also keep hours that aren't 8am to 5pm but I am reminded time to time that my schedule isn't "normal".   Like most salaried positions I don't have to track my hours but I can say with certainty that there hasn't been a week in 8 years that I've worked fewer than 50 hours (vacation aside).  I would love to shorten my office hours and do more from home but I don't feel that kind of flexibility exists yet. 
Broadway0474
50%
50%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Strategist
8/16/2014 | 2:54:05 PM
Re: The 24/7 business
Chris, you are so right. To boot, a lot of these software systems also will alert you on in-software communications via email. So when it comes down to it, you always end up mostly communication through email ---- or at least I do.
ChrisMurphy
50%
50%
ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
8/15/2014 | 4:53:22 PM
Re: The 24/7 business
But no channels go away. We have all these other channels, but you still have to monitor email like a hawk, b/c people expect fast answers. This just speaks to the need for technology to help us manage these interuptions, lest we work so hard collaborating we never get anything done.
aditshar1
50%
50%
aditshar1,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/15/2014 | 2:55:40 PM
Re: The 24/7 business
I guess enterprise communication came more into existence and closer to user with web browsers that had real-time communications capabilities built-in.
Curt Franklin
50%
50%
Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
8/15/2014 | 12:10:09 PM
Re: The 24/7 business
@SaneIT, we're absolutely moving the direction of always-available interactions with companies. The question is whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing. As a long-time "night owl" I tend to go with "good thing" but I understand the arguments that say we should have more time in which we don't expect to transact business rather than less time away from our electronic tools.
Curt Franklin
50%
50%
Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
8/15/2014 | 12:08:14 PM
Re: The 24/7 business
@Stratustician, I think you're right: The technology will inevitably change the way that we expect to interact with the company. The spread of the technology will bring up another set of issues, as well: We saw at the recent Black Hat that many of the embedded systems were far more trusting than is optimal. In several cases, researchers showed that it's almost trivial to defeat the minimal security that exists. Customers are going to want to see assurances that their account and other private information is secure before they're willing to interact with these systems in any significant way.
Curt Franklin
50%
50%
Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
8/15/2014 | 12:04:30 PM
Re: Kindle help
@soozyg, that's a great question. We've seen, in the case of "healthy food", that what customers say they want and what they're willing to buy (or in this case, use) can be two very different things. It's nice that Amazon has included the one-button help feature, but it would be interesting to see how many of their customers know that it's there and take advantage of it.

For what it's worth, I've found Amazon's "regular" support to be quite good. A couple of years ago I had a problem with the music downloader and ended up in a couple of extended de-bugging sessions with Amazon software development. I was stunned at the level of access and the lengths to which they were willing to go to solve my problem.
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
8/15/2014 | 7:29:17 AM
Re: The 24/7 business
I would argue that we are already at that point or very near it.  Calling a company and getting a "please call back during normal business hours" message feels very antiquated.  Even the companies who have such a message also tend have the option to reach someone in the event of an emergency.  This means it is just a small step to routing every call 24/7 and stop having "business hours".  I know many of us in the IT field have never really had the luxury of saying "it's after 5PM, I'm off the clock" so we are used to the 24/7 model, maybe when everyone else goes to it we'll get to flex our schedules a little more because people will understand how we work.
Stratustician
50%
50%
Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
8/14/2014 | 6:48:17 PM
The 24/7 business
As these technologies advance, it's inevitable that it will change the way customers expect to interact with businesses. This means customers will be less tolerant with companies who bounce them between different departments as they expect that these integrated systems will not just reduce the painful reiteration of customer information, but actually provide better overall service because their service/contact history will be available.  

Additionally, it will most likely drive a culture where customers will want to be able to do business on their schedules, even after business hours to compensate for multiple time zones.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
The Business of Going Digital
The Business of Going Digital
Digital business isn't about changing code; it's about changing what legacy sales, distribution, customer service, and product groups do in the new digital age. It's about bringing big data analytics, mobile, social, marketing automation, cloud computing, and the app economy together to launch new products and services. We're seeing new titles in this digital revolution, new responsibilities, new business models, and major shifts in technology spending.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - September 10, 2014
A high-scale relational database? NoSQL database? Hadoop? Event-processing technology? When it comes to big data, one size doesn't fit all. Here's how to decide.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.