Five steps to creating communications-enabled business processes

So you’ve put in an IP–based communications system or application in the company. Now what?

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It’s only the first step in a long chain that hopefully will lead to better business processes, says Gartner analyst Geoff Johnson.

IP telephony is not a “killer” application in its own right, he writes in a recent report. But it can provide a “killer” infrastructure and environment to manage contact centre, unified communications, CRM, mobility and related technologies in a systematic way.

The goal, he said in an interview, should be to create what he calls communications-enabled business processes that will help an organization better serve employees and customers.

An example might be giving online retail customers the ability to right-click on an application and create a live e-mail or video link with a support person to cut down on the number abandoned transactions.

It may seem obvious, but Gartner felt it has to put the message out in a paper called “The Big Picture” to remind organizations that IP telephony has to lead somewhere. “The business case for replacing PBX with IP telephony is weak if one technology (PBX) is merely being replaced by another (IP), and the result is the same basic telephony service as before an investment outlay,” he wrote.

“A more compelling business case is created when IP telephony is deployed as an essential infrastructure for some targeted improvement such as in customer service or more productive internal business processes.”

Already some managers shrug at the concept of unified communications, said Johnson, a vice-president of research specializing in enterprise communications applications, from his base in Brisbane, Australia. But they should remember that today there’s flesh on the bones – Internet protocol is pervasive, there’s a tremendous amount of application development being done around SIP.

By 2009, Gartner predicts, unified communications including voice support will be provided from within IT platforms by major vendors such as Microsoft (Communicator), IBM (Sametime), SAP and Oracle.

By 2010 communications will be provided from within major enterprise IT applications (eCommerce, CRM, ERP, HR packages).

By 2012 customers will expect businesses to always have voice support from within any applications browser they are using.

There are five steps organizations should take to create effective communications-enabled business processes, Johnson said:

–Provide and upgrade the basic communications infrastructure to an IP-based system; –Deploy horizontal communications applications such as voice support across the organization;

–Selectively enable small groups to use collaborative technologies such as Web conferencing.;

–Broadly integrate these technologies across the organization;

–Work to create a transformed organization.

Managers have to determine where they are in these steps and plan where they want to be, advised Johnson.

He also cautioned that organizations should be prepared for this not to be a smooth ride. As happened with the introduction of e-mail, workgroups may start using different tools, so enterprise-wide adoption of one application could come late in the process.

“The smart thing to do is at this time, because products are just being launched, is think about it from a planning perspective,” he said. “Think about whether you want to run some small scale trials in your IT shop or with a project team. Certainly no one is recommending enterprise adoption [of unified communications] at this point in time.”

The goal is not merely to have people send more messages back and forth, but to use communications to reduce process delays, manage exceptions to business rules and improve access to support.

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