The worlds of telecommunications and IT have been colliding for more than a decade, but that loud crashing noise may be reaching a crescendo thanks to SOA (service-oriented architecture). As with mainframe applications, what was once the isolated, proprietary office PBX, then the IP PBX, has started evolving into a set of abstracted software services for unified communications that can be interwoven with business app services and processes in an SOA, without specialized telecom or VoIP expertise.
How long will this evolution take? Probably a few years or more, as both SOAs and unified communications mature in the enterprise. But PBX vendors Siemens and Avaya, as well as data upstarts BlueNote Networks and Ubiquity Software, are laying the groundwork today. Back-office service and application providers such as Salesforce.com and SAP are also jumping on the bandwagon, communications-enabling CRM and ERP applications, along with enterprise integrators such as IBM Global Services and Accenture.
SOA-enabled unified communications are not just another form of CTI (computer-telephony integration), more of the click-to-call and customer screen pops you’ve seen in the call center for years. The interactions between voice and data may well pervade the enterprise and will harness presence, “find me/follow me” (which tries multiple communication channels for a single user simultaneously), Web conferencing and video conferencing, and other advanced unified communications features to enhance collaboration, decision-making, and customer service. Applications will no longer have to access these functions directly through the specialized CTI protocols, such as TAPI, JTAPI, and CSTA, of yore. Business developers will no longer need to learn the intricacies of SIP. Instead, they can build applications that access unified communications in loosely coupled fashion via Web services protocols.
“CTI was never designed for the average developer,” says Anne Thomas Manes, Burton Group vice president and research director. “You needed people who were well experienced in the integration between the business application and all that archaic telephony networking stuff. BlueNote, Avaya, and Siemens are encapsulating the arcane features of telephony and making them available as software services exposed through an open protocol interface that is much simpler for an application to consume.”
Aside from being easier and quicker for business developers, encapsulation means that telephony services such as presence, click-to-call, call routing, and Web conferencing can be combined with other communications and data services to create innovative new composite apps and services that can be recombined and reused to create still other new apps and services. “It’s part of the IT-ification of telecom,” says Ron Gruia, program leader of emerging communications at Frost & Sullivan. “No more rip and replace. Make it all modular, interoperable, and reusable.”
No single, killer app will drive widespread integration of unified communications into business processes. Instead, expect developers to discover hundreds of little ways to increase efficiency.