You got your unified communications (UC) suite approved, tested, accepted and in production. Congratulations. Now what?
UC is functionality. It’s just hardware, software and the rest of the infrastructure necessary to do something. The “something” is communication-enabled business processes (CEBP)—and that is much more challenging to define.
Traditionally, CEBP use cases relate to reducing human latency, speeding up transactions and information sharing, and generally improving communication and collaboration. Not only are these benefits vague, they’re old, coming as they do from a 2011 Microsoft whitepaper, which in turn cites a 2007 article from Business Communications Review.
A lot has happened in the meantime: the Internet of Things, wearables, WebRTC. How do these new technologies facilitate communications’ impact on business processes? Also, we’ve gone into and out of a recession and experienced another tech bubble since the BCR piece appeared. What are the market dynamics that will drive CEBP adoption in 2016?
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CEBP, Proximity Payments And Fund Transfers
The most ubiquitous feature of the ever-shifting CEBP landscape is fund transfer via mobile device—so ubiquitous that you might consider it a category of its own, apart from CEBP. But which part of “communication-enabled business process” doesn’t apply here?
Last year, proximity payment accounted for $8.7 billion in transaction value in the United States. This year, Statistica projects it will top $27 billion then more than double in 2017.
I’m one of those knuckle-draggers who still pays with cash. But I use an array of Google functions, hold an American Express card, have a PayPal account and, of course, carry an iPhone, which means I have four financial apps enabled by near-field communication technology that I never even asked for! Proximity payment apps and e-wallets are coming in faster than the old AOL CD-ROMs. Ever hear of Paytm, MobiKwik or Oxigen? I haven’t, but I have heard of Square Cash, which allows you to transfer funds via text messaging, because that’s how 20-year-olds hit their dads up for money these days.
All this is apart from the legacy banks, which all allow online transfers and bill payment, an ever-increasing slice of which is phone-enabled. I say “apart” because making payments with your phone is a whole different animal from paying your actual phone bill.
So these distinct CEBP use cases aren’t in competition. Yet. The real breakthrough in the proliferation of mobile payments, though, might come not from phones but from wearables. According to Medium’s Wristly blog, 80 percent of U.S. Apple Watch owners used Apple Pay last year.
“By comparison, the various surveys published in 2015 in the U.S. assess Apple Pay usage level on iPhone 6 at around 15 to 20 percent,” Bernard Desarnauts blogged, noting that a quarter of all Apple Pay subscribers surveyed used the app first on their Apple Watches.
CEBP Tools In The Enterprise
When we think of CEBP, though, we tend to focus on the contact center. The human latency struggle is real.
“Sixty percent of IT departments say they need more than 15 minutes just to identify who should respond to an incident,” David Wall of xMatters reported in Business Insider. “Finding the right person takes as long as, or longer than, resolving the issue.”
Wall’s solutions—automating notification and escalation procedures—basically break down to adopting CEBP tools.
Telephone operators have been placing callers on hold since at least 1908 (seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it?). Somehow, hold outlasted rotary phones, fax machines and landline modems, but CEBP will finally end it, as more and more contact centers opt for callback functions.
Still, the real value of CEBP won’t be unlocked until it is adopted throughout the enterprise. And it’s not just for the order takers and complaint department.
“Any time you’ve got a well-defined business process and there’s a communication step, that’s a possible use case,” Blair Pleasant, president of COMMfusion, a California-based consultancy, told Tom’s IT Pro.
Pleasant noted that her clients include an industrial company that now uses CEBP to automatically alert the right technician to make adjustments to the production line as soon as a quality defect was detected. The value of this reduction in real-world downtime (as opposed to IT downtime) is much easier to calculate. But sometimes the business metric isn’t dollars; it’s heartbeats. No industry is experiencing more impact from CEBP than healthcare.
“We had an implementation where a hospital took six to seven hours to go through the discharge process,” according to California-based Phil Edholm, president of PKE Consulting. He noted that most of that was hang time waiting for the right people to sign off in the right order and, in the meantime, the patient just sat in the ward with no medical reason to be there until the bureaucracy granted its permission to leave. “We were able to improve that by four to five hours. It freed up a lot of beds.”
The Changing Landscape Of CEBP
All this change in technology is bound to express itself as changes in the market. In the CEBP space, we’ve already seen the emergence of a Big Two—Cisco and Microsoft—a second tier led by Avaya and a plethora of niche players. The Big Two each have their own, unique CEBP platform, but that might not be a permanent advantage. Practically from the get-go, the customer side has been making interoperability an issue for signatories of the International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium to contend with. Ultimately, CEBP solutions could be technology-agnostic.
“It’s going to come down to system integrators,” Pleasant said, citing Dimension Data and Accenture as examples. “Vendors will be kind of irrelevant.”
And maybe you won’t even need the integrators in some cases.
“The apps themselves and communications system integration are getting easier,” Edholm, told Tom’s. “We’re almost to the point where an end user can mash things up. For example, there’s a whole range of APIs that allow other companies to integrate with Salesforce.”
All this isn’t necessarily good for the client, though. This wide array of niche players is like chum to the sharks. Expect Cisco and Microsoft to go on a feeding frenzy.
These smaller companies all have their unique install base—the number and location of seats they have under contract. If either of the Big Two decide to aggressively market for those seats, it might be cheaper and less unpleasant to simply buy out the niche CEBP operators, add other functionality to the mix then jack up the monthly subscription rate commensurately.
Consolidation in the CEBP space is coming, and sooner rather than later. This might just be speculation, but it’s not just one scribe’s opinion. Content aggregator Unified Communications Strategies recently convened a panel to offer predictions for 2016, and that if nothing else was the takeaway point of unanimous agreement.
The Future Of Communication-Enabled Business Processes