Oct 01 2013

Fulfilling the Promise of Advanced Collaboration

An open approach to collaboration will drive a surge in innovative apps. Here’s how businesses will benefit.

No one doubts the increased productivity that simplicity in collaboration brings to a business. By merging social media, mobile and cloud-based apps with voice, video and other communications tools, team members can collaborate more readily from any location, boosting both decision making and performance.

Here’s just one example: Today’s best-in-class contact centers use powerful self-service and skills-based routing applications to speed customer service and enhance the customer experience. Imagine the added value when these applications extend beyond the contact center and move into the heart of the business, where the tools can be used more broadly across many company functions. When back-office applications and customer-contact tools converge, they can transform how a company delivers customer service and how it works: Productivity goes up while costs go down.

Fortunately, we’re on the cusp of bringing this hypothetical world into reality. But getting there has meant overcoming some sizeable challenges that have slowed innovation.

The hurdles slowing collaboration excellence in business harken back to the lack of an open, standards-based development framework. Typically, developers looking to incorporate communications into their business applications have had to approach the task with little more than an application programming interface (API). They needed to become communications experts and understand trunking, protocols and other special nuances. It’s like having to learn how the engine of a car works before being able to drive.

The absence of a standards-based development environment has also affected repeatability and compatibility. Developers persistent enough to add real-time collaboration features to one application have had to start all over again with each new solution. To add to the complexity, it can be nearly impossible to get two applications to “talk” to each other when they aren’t built on the same development framework.

For communications-enabled applications to come into their own, developers need a technology framework. Think about the impact a common, service-oriented architecture has made in the business-apps arena. Developers can easily create processes that interconnect and work in dynamic new ways. That same type of sea change in the communications-applications arena has been sorely needed — and that change has arrived.

Fueling the Next Wave

The impact of new, industry-standard development tools is already being felt. Developers can now choose fully integrated and open platforms that effectively handle collaboration development and delivery elements across any device or system. Using an open architecture dismantles proprietary silos and brings significant, immediate advantages to developers:

  • Expertise in SIP, H.323 or other complex communications protocols is no longer a barrier to building new applications. Developers simply need to understand the function of an application and plug it in.
  • There is no more worrying about deployment methods, since they are working within a fully virtual environment.
  • Operational imperatives and performance factors, such as high-availability and redundancy, are “inherited” as part of the development environment.
  • They are able to “snap” communications applications into place just once and then reuse them over and over, reducing costs and speeding time to market for new solutions.

The introduction of new standard-development tools is already fueling innovative applications across a spectrum of vertical industries and opening up new market opportunities. Here are a few glimpses into this new collaboration-enabled world that is now working in prime time:

  • Developers at a property management firm created a smart workplace platform by communication-enabling the company’s building- and property-management software. An application originally designed to detect whether an elevator was on the fritz now initiates an outbound phone call or text message to alert maintenance and is capable of sending video of the maintenance dashboard to the building manager — all as part of one automated process.

  • Esna Technologies expanded the capabilities of its cloud-based Officelinx productivity apps with the new development platform. Instead of working with multiple communication products and APIs, developers have simply plugged directly into voice, video, IM and other communications services, accelerating time to market and simplifying the deployment of new solutions that integrate live-communications capabilities.

  • At Canadian startup UserEvents, a team of developers with no experience in the SIP protocol or Avaya solutions produced an Avaya-compatible version of UserEvents’ software that melds Big Data analytics and customer-experience management tools to monitor a customer’s journey in real time across all touch points — and they did it in just four days.

  • A developer in the education marketplace has used new open-collaboration development tools to create an application that helps colleges retain more students. The software monitors a student’s progress toward graduation, informs counselors via email if problems arise and activates a video conference with the student to address any issues.

In each of these examples, developers are creating apps that improve results by connecting the right people to the right information in the right context. They have embedded communications with the assurance that the applications they create can “talk” to each other.

The Future Is Now

The rapid evolution of smartphone applications serves as a bullish analogy to the trajectory of this brave new collaboration-enabled world. Though the first iPhone was introduced just six years ago, followed a year later by the first Android, today there are more than 800,000 third-party applications for these devices. Today, smartphones enable people to make bank deposits, participate in video conferences and monitor home-security systems from just about anywhere in the world.

It’s easy, then, to envision this same pace of innovation transforming the world of business. New communications-enabled applications with impactful purpose and functionality will sense events, automatically initiate collaboration, and coordinate people and information for quick resolution. The greater efficiency and effectiveness promised by M2M (machine-to-machine) communications will be boosted by ensuring that employees, partners and customers have ready access to information when and where they need it.

The key is to ensure that a business uses a development platform that allows the rapid creation of new open and integrated solutions. This route leads to the realization of the long-awaited promise of communications-enabled business processes — linking advanced collaborative functions to business practices and to customer-service needs. We should all be eager to see what the future holds, and the future is now.