Among the many tasks I perform in the CTO office, customer interaction is by far my favorite. I supopse the main reason is that I am constantly seeking to get customer feedback and input on our strategy. The other day a customer asked me a rather complicated question around unified communications, Business Process Integration, and what the value would be to his particular company. I have to admit I was not prepared to answer his question directly since it was our first meeting. Normally I like to get the customer talking to me about their business and the associated challenges before I would try to provide the kind of advice that would be meaningful. After the meeting, I spent some time considering the question in more general terms. Integration of voice and data applications has always been a forgone conclusion for our industry. It was just a matter of when. Now that we are in the middle of the UC revolution, acronyms such as BPI, CEBP (communications enabled business processes), and CEBA (communications enabled business applications) get mentioned in articles, press releases, panels, and customer briefings constantly. Its a whirlwind of concepts that are often difficult to comprehend let alone pronounce. Lets try to break it down into something more easily understood.
Most if not all large enterprises have business processes that they utilize within departments as well as across departments. These processes help define roles and responsibilities and drive some consistency and efficiency within and between enterprises. When ERP systems were all the rage in the 90's, there were several high profile lawsuits against ERP vendors from customers who claimed the vendor's technology didnt deliver on their promises. One of the lessons that vendors have taken away from this experience is that no matter how wonderful your technology a successful implementation hinged equally if not greater on the end users abilitiy to adapt and fully use the new system often in fundamentally different ways than they were used to. Whats all this have to do with BPI and Unified Communications? In my opinion, we are going through a very similar exercise today with UC. Often times a customer's business culture is unable or unwilling to make use of the benefits that UC and BPI can provide. I contend this has more to do with the way you go about introducing the technology but it also has to do with how flexible your offering is to work with the line of business applications the customer employs. Customers should have the following criteria for vendors they are evaluating in this area.
- Are the APIs extensive enough to provide multiple integration points into a customer application
- Beyond the standard line of business apps, what other integrations can be offered into areas such as management, modeling, and provisioning applications.
- Does the vendor have a well conceived methodology covering needs assessment, design, integration, and on-going monitoring to ensure success
- Does the vendor have experience across the line of business landscape or just within one segment (Microsoft only, IBM only, SAP only)
Of course these are just a few questions that should be asked. Just as important to the overall success of implementing BPI through UC is how well you know and understand your corporate culture. Does your company typically work in silos, do your employees embrace change or are they somewhat resistant. Do you natuarlly collaborate across departments or with other companies/customers/partner? How do you measure employee productivity? In addition, it is important to understand and model employee roles and responsibilities. Are employee roles well defined today? Finally, how well do you understand your current business processes? Are you able to model these processes to see if they are viable and efficient today? Are you able to analyze where improvements can be made? If not is your vendor capable of providing this service in order to identify where UC atrributes can be applied to result in improvement.
if you can answer the questions above than you are well on your way to gaining real value for your enterprise with BPI/CEBP.