Siemens Introduces 'Socially Aware' Unified Communications

User-configurable Twitter functionality now integrated into the OpenScape UC platform.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Nov 20, 2009
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According to recent studies, while unified communications has grown nicely over the past couple of years, it hasn't anything like matched the exponential growth of social networking applications, most notably Twitter.

The trigger for this explosive growth, according to Siemens' vice president of large enterprise and application strategy Adrian Brookes, was the advent of the iPhone and other mobile devices capable of supporting software applications.

Developers at Siemens Enterprise Communications Group sat down not long ago to brainstorm the problem of how to harness the considerable communications power of Twitter for the enterprise, while at the same time expanding the flexibility of its existing unified communications platform OpenScape by bringing services to users' chosen devices (smartphones) and integrating with their chosen way of communicating.

The result, previewed earlier this month at VoiceCon in San Francisco, was Twitter functionality for the OpenScape Unified Communications (UC) application while running in the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) environment.

Enterprise VoIPplanet had an opportunity to chat with Adrian Brookes about the Twitter integration, and got some idea of the scope and nature of the project.

"When you look at all the little messages that go out on Twitter," Brookes explained, "things like: 'I’m at lunch.' 'Can you call me now?' 'Can we have a conference call about this?' We sat down and we thought 'If , when OpenScape saw those types of key words, it could actually do something in response, we could really harness the power of OpenScape with that.' "

Indeed, the essence of the integration is that OpenScape can scan Twitter text and, when it spots words or other strings that have been set up as key words, it can then perform one or more predetermined actions. Brookes hastened to stress that, after a lengthy debate, developers decided to leave the configuration process "as open as possible," so that people could structure their communication in a way that was natural to them—as opposed to reflecting a CTO or other management mentality.

Furthermore, key words or triggers can be plain text, or abbreviations with or without some demarcation character, such as an exclamation point, pound sign, or @ symbol. "The flexibility is there for you to decide," Brookes said.

"Suppose I'm on my Twitter application and I say something along the lines of 'Out to lunch right now, back soon.' Those key words—'Out to lunch'—can be plain text or we could put some sort of escape sequence or other identifier around them—the hash mark, say, or speech quotes," he reiterated.

"OpenScape will see that treatment I've used and say 'Adrian Brookes says he is now "out to lunch," so I'll change his presence to "busy" and I'll then put all of his calls through to voicemail.' "

If, on the other hand, you were to Tweet "I'm in the office," OpenScape would know to set presence to "available" send all calls to the desk phone. If you were to Tweet "I've just landed in San Francisco," it can use that contextual information to change your presence to "available," but also to do a lookup of San Francisco on Google Maps and conclude that all calls should be routed to your mobile phone.

In a slightly more sophisticated example Brookes hypothesized "Suppose I’m on a Tweet with somebody, and we're discussing an issue, and something is unclear. I can say, 'Can we have a quick conversation about this? Call me now.' "

"If I have set up 'Call me' and 'now' as trigger words—'now' indicating immediately—OpenScape would then place a call out to numbers it actually has access to for both of those individuals. It creates that call."

The same sort of capability can apply to conference calls, either using 'now' or a similar trigger to generate an immediate call, or a specified later time. "However you set it up, OpenScape will create the conference to include all the people on the Tweet and actually dial out—now or later—to bring all the parties into a real live conference call," Brookes said.

The essence of the application, Brookes reiterated, was to "See how social networking is being used in the commercial and business worlds, then take a tool that people enjoy using—that's intuitive to use—bring it into your communications system and create some rules: 'If it sees this or see that, do the following actions.' "

Brookes pointed out to Enterprise VoIPplanet that the whole integration was developed within about a two week timespan, using three open interfaces, SOAP, XML and OpenSOA, in keeping with Siemens's long standing strategy of using open standards.

"The guy that actually developed all this work utilized the OpenScape system that's currently running on the Amazon EC2 cloud," he pointed out.

Basically, it's a whole new way of bringing developers of board: "If you've got an idea, doesn't matter how big or small," Brookes said, "you can literally go up to the Amazon website and register, give it your credit card details—they'll charge you $0.40 an hour—and you can develop any application you like, because you get a full instance of the OpenScape environment."

"So, it's really a two-pronged announcement: Social networking and UC coming together, sure, but we're also trying to make some game changing plays here by making it easy for people to interact with it—easy for people to get stuff done— and by putting it into the cloud."

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