The Fuzzy Future – and Present – of Unified Communications

Communications-enabled Business Processes (CEBP) are the future of unified communications. That isn't surprising, since CEBP is, in a sense, UC's past and present as well.

 By Carl Weinschenk
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Communications-enabled Business Processes (CEBP) are the future of unified communications. That isn't surprising, since CEBP is, in a sense, UC's past and present as well.


Unified Communications (UC) is a sea of slightly fuzzy terms and acronyms. CEBP fits firmly into this vague landscape since a business process – with or without CEBP capabilities – offers alerts and finds other ways to keep people and other processes informed of its status and progress. CEBP, a term attributed to Gartner, pushes the envelope by embedding communications functions deeper within business processes and making them more proactive and integral to the task at hand.

Suppose, for example, a CRM suite is CEBP-enabled. A person using the product would be able to identify folks needed for an emergency or impromptu meeting, get the details of their presence status and establish the meeting. This can all be done from a menu or some other user interface resident within the program itself. In a non-CEBP scenario, these tasks would need to be performed manually by different programs. It is, quite simply, a more cumbersome and inefficient approach. CEBP also facilitates communications in which one or both of the communicating entities are machines.

Dan Miller, the senior analyst and founder of Opus Research, uses a mortgage processing procedure as an example of CEBP's capabilities. Processing a mortgage involves several layers of communications performed over an extended period of time, and often has interim and final deadlines that can't be missed. People must speak to people; forms must be sent out, completed and returned; and various visits and meetings must be set. Some steps can't begin until another is completed. In some cases, third parties must be called in. This all can be done manually. However, a variety of automated person-to-person, machine-to-person, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications processes will undoubtedly speed the process considerably.

The basic premise is similar to computer telephony integration (CTI), an earlier vintage technology that found – and still finds – use in data centers. Bern Elliot, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, suggests that a clear distinction be made between CEBP and CTI. He suggests that CTI focuses on voice communications, while CEBP runs the gamut of communications channels used in any UC environment, inside or outside the contact center. CEBP, he points out, is more deeply enmeshed in the process and able to provide far deeper functions to users.

More Than Semantics

This is more than a semantic debate. The lack of specificity in the terms and how they relate to each other – particularly in the case of UC and CEBP – suggests that the industry is extremely unclear on how the future will unfold.

CEBP now generally is seen as a subset of UC. One school of thought is that the two will diverge. “We are at a fork in the development,” says Patrick Murphy, the vice president of Business Development for North America for VoiceSage, a company that offers online messaging tools. “I really believe UC is the next iteration of the PBX. It's being sold for the most part into the enterprise by the same folks selling [telecom] equipment to enterprises for ages.”

This article was originally published on Feb 9, 2010
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