Computer telephony integration, or CTI, tools have been around for about three decades now, but have never really been a particularly "hot" area. A small number of applications have long had telephony hooks (particularly in the area of contact management), but the vast majority of applications have never had any kind of telephony hooks whatsoever. This may be about to change, however, as more and more IP-specific PBX vendors look to new opportunities for their products.In particular, IP PBX vendors are looking to expose telephony control services via Web services interfaces, which offer the potential for much broader deployment. This area of development is discussed in detail in this Networking Pipeline report, but in summary the basic idea here is to expose the PBX call-control functions via Web services, thereby allowing applications that are already SOAP-enabled to perform these functions without having to become peer devices on the telephony network.
For example, a browser-based call-center application might allow a user to examine the calls in the hold queue, pull up a customer record, look at historical activity, and then route the caller to the handset on their desk. While this kind of functionality is already possible today, this kind of setup has historically required that the application server be connected directly to the PBX or at least use a specific protocol, all of which raises the development burden. But by using SOAP and Web services interfaces between the application server and the PBX, the developers can use off-the-shelf toolkits for the control functions (transferring the call, etc.) without making them peer devices on the telephony network (although, it should be noted that media services will still require a streaming protocol). Of course, this same kind of benefit applies to all other SOAP-aware applications, meaning any old application can now start looking at integrating call-control services into their space. In short, the simplified interface makes traditional CTI much more accessible and therefore creates a much larger potential market.
This is all still very new, and there are only a handful of vendors currently selling products into this space, but it's a positive development, and hopefully one that will continue to be built upon.