Lync, CEBP and UC – Connecting the Dots
Our response here follows the flow of our presentation, where I’ll share my thinking first, followed by Kevin’s take on what Lync brings to CEBP. In case you weren’t there, our perspectives are different with mine being that of analyst, and Kevin’s being that of a more hands-on consultant. As UC Experts, we both contribute regularly to UCStrategies, with my focus being more on the business-level drivers and go-to-market issues facing both vendors and channel partners.
| ||A few weeks back at the UC Summit 2013, Kevin Kieller and I opened the conference with a presentation about the Lync business opportunity for channel partners. We covered a lot of ground, and while ever-mindful of being objective, we got some audience pushback, especially my comments about CEBP. This caught us by surprise, and we have been meaning to respond ever since ending up on the same flight back to Toronto after the Summit.|
The main issue, from what we can tell, is that my commentary about CEBP was taken to say that Lync doesn’t enable this very well. That is not the message I was trying to convey and I cannot conclude that first hand since I’m an analyst, not a consultant. I’ll leave the finer points around deployment in Kevin’s hands, since he sees this regularly in his practice.
Both of us are trying to be objective here, and I need to clarify my thinking as well as reiterate the context around my comments. Our audience was channel partners, and regarding CEBP, I was simply trying to say that CEBP may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Whereas Kevin was going to speak after me about the specific business opportunities, my focus was to talk about the broader landscape around the UC value proposition.
Channel partners will be well versed with Lync’s strengths and weaknesses to varying degrees, and CEBP was one of 10 considerations I addressed. My intention for each was to raise some basic questions to make sure they were given due consideration when comparing Lync to other UC options. I briefly addressed each, and didn’t expect there would be so much attention on CEBP in particular.
In hindsight, this may have been a good thing, as it brought to light how contentious CEBP can be. When thinking about the ultimate end users and economic buyers, my view is that they are more likely to think about Microsoft as a set of desktop software productivity tools than a communications solution. Lync certainly serves to bridge these two by tying CE with BP. There is no doubt that Microsoft can drive business processes, but doing so in the “communications enabled” fashion that UC vendors advocate is not yet first nature for what businesses associate with Lync.
Initially, the UC value proposition was been driven mostly by the telecom vendors, which tend to be voice-centric rather than desktop-centric. Today we have other variations of UC, not all of which are voice-centric. A key reason why I say CEBP may not come to mind first with Lync is the fact that most businesses are still voice-centric, and this is not Microsoft’s strong suit. Lync has come a long way to changing that, but when thinking about what customers associate when considering CEBP, I believe a gap still exists there.
This is what makes CEBP so challenging – not only is the spectrum of “business processes” broad, but so is the range of communications tools you can use to address them. As a result, each UC vendor is free to make their own claims of CEBP efficacy around what they do best. There is no universal definition for everyone to follow, which means that channel partners need to be careful matching up UC vendors with customer needs when it comes to CEBP.
I would also like to stress the fact that CEBP is still new and relatively unproven. None of the vendors have gotten very far marrying UC to business processes, and while they are talking more now about their successes, they’re on a relatively modest scale. They all know that CEBP takes UC to another level, and to stay at the forefront of the customer’s evaluation process, they will define it in the most advantageous way possible.
My comments regarding Lync were cautionary in that their messaging about CEBP is less pronounced than what you see from other UC vendors, and that needs to be considered in terms of what your customers may be thinking. Just as any vendor can come off looking strong with CEBP, they can also talk down to competitors about CEBP, simply because they define it differently. On that level, my main message is to take care in setting expectations about how Lync in particular supports CEBP, and how that delivers tangible benefits for your customers.
With that, I’ll pass the baton on to Kevin…
For years I have been frustrated by poor or misleading examples when it comes to CEBP. In order to communications-enable (“CE”) a business process (the “BP”) you must first understand, have automated and have access to the automation for the business process.
| ||As he did at our UC Summit session, Jon Arnold has once again done a good job setting the context and illuminating some of the key challenges and issues in dealing with CEBP, regardless of which platform is used to provide a solution. I will now try to provide some insight and experience related specifically to the Lync platform as it related to CEBP. |
And then to be successful, the implementation of CEBP must make your business more efficient and/or more effective. A CEBP solution that does not improve the business is really just a “cool” technology demo; it is not a value-added service.
Here’s the type of frustrating CEBP example I have heard over and over again: Wouldn’t it be great if just before our delivery trucks were 5 minutes from a customer’s house an automated system called the customer to tell them the delivery was almost there and asked them to confirm they were home and ready to receive the shipment. Firstly, if we did this would it improve our business? Would it save us money? Would it make our customers happier? If the answer was “yes” to one, or hopefully more of these questions, then secondly does our business process support this? If we don’t have GPS tracking to know when our delivery trucks are near the delivery location how can we “trigger” a communication? In order to communications-enable a business process you first have to have a defined business process.
Now assuming you have an understood and automated business process, communications-enabling the business process most often requires that you modify the existing application(s) source code in order to undertake specific communications activities as a result of specific business triggers. This means if you have developed your own line of business applications you can certainly communications-enable them; however, if you are using purchased applications, only the application vendor can choose to add CEBP to these applications. Without access to the source code you cannot add CEBP to most applications.
With the Lync platform, if you have access to an applications source code, adding presence status indicators (to show when specific individuals or department members are available) or click to communicate buttons (to IM, call or video available individuals or departments) is very straightforward. This is the type of presence integration SharePoint allows when you see if a document author is online should you wish to click and ask her/him an immediate question.
The Lync SDK conveniently provides a number of Lync controls that can easily be added using Visual Studio to any of your existing .NET Windows or web applications. For instance, adding a presence indicator, Lync contact card, and click to chat or call buttons to an existing application is usually a ten to fifteen minute exercise.
Granted, presence indicators and click to communicate functionality may or may not fall within your definition of CEBP. On the one hand, being able to “short cut” or “expedite” a process by directly communicating with a relevant individual often does improve business efficiency. On the other hand, because this intervention is a manual workflow step, as opposed to an automated one, under certain definitions this would not qualify as “true” CEBP.
Luckily, the Lync platform also provides the Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA) that allows complex communications-enabled applications to be built. Using UCMA, applications can facilitate special communication scenarios such as interactive voice response applications (using touch tones or speech recognition), outbound call distribution (e.g. emergency notifications, account balance warnings), IM notification applications, call monitoring, billing, and interactive automated query applications.
UCMA applications can act as automated agents responding to speech or IM instructions. UCMA applications can also initiate bi-directional conversations (not just notifications) in response to specific business process triggers. For example, a UCMA application could find an approver (based on presence state) could then IM information to an available person (or persons), solicit a response and then initiate further workflow steps based on the response(s). As an aside, if you want to dive deep into the power of UCMA, I highly recommend the book Professional Unified Communications Development with Microsoft Lync Server 2010 by George Durzi and Michael Greenlee.
This year I have personally had the opportunity to explore the power of UCMA and CEBP as I was involved in designing and developing a knowledge reinforcement tool (www.triviaengine.com) that uses an engaging, e-Learning "game show" format and leverages the Microsoft Lync platform. Trivia Engine uses presence information to invite a person to an online “edutainment” game show based on when they are available (and specific business process engagement rules such as time of day, number of times to “nag”, etc.). Other business process triggers, such as someone beating your score, cause Trivia Engine to re-engage. The well-defined UCMA SDK allows .NET developers to build robust, highly available and highly scalable applications such as Trivia Engine.
Modality Systems, with its LyncMe product line, and Clarity Consulting, with its Clarity Connect contact center and custom CEBP applications, are two other organizations who have developed several CEBP solutions based on the Lync platform. These, along with many other organizations, serve as further examples that while Jon may be correct in saying Microsoft’s “messaging about CEBP is less pronounced than what you see from other UC vendors,” it may be that Lync provides the strongest CEBP application platform available today.
In conclusion and summary:
- CEBP is relatively new and somewhat unproven.
- Successful CEBP should make your business more efficient.
- Vendors choose to define CEBP to “flatter” their own product set.
- It is most often the “BP”, business process, portion that causes the most headaches when implementing CEBP.
- Lync is a fantastic CE, communication enablement, platform.
- If you have developed your own line of business applications, and have the source code, adding presence and click to communicate to these applications is straightforward with Lync.
- Microsoft has a long history of courting the developer community and the APIs and SDKs they have released to leverage the Lync platform literally empower millions of existing .NET developers to build some great solutions to extend Lync.
- As a channel partner there is a fantastic opportunity around Lync CEBP but as Jon and I highlight you should proceed with caution and carefully manage customer expectations.
Now it is your turn. Are you interested in CEBP? Have you had success or challenges with CEBP solutions? Please let us know your thoughts related to CEBP by commenting below.