SOA/Web Services

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October 18, 2006

Driving Business Value from Telephony Services

By Alan Rosenberg, BlueNote Networks


 
Ask any CIO to name the things that keep him up at night, and there’s a good chance that improving business processes, shortening software development cycles, and making IT more agile will be at the top of the list. It should come as no surprise then that Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs) are all the rage. Many industry analysts predict annual SOA spending will reach multiple billion dollar levels by the end of the decade.
 
SOAs promise to fundamentally change the way applications are developed, by treating software components as reusable services that can be flexibly assembled and reassembled to support changing business needs. SOAs have the potential to shorten development cycles, lower project costs, reduce risks, and make more efficient use of IT assets. Perhaps most importantly, CIOs can leverage SOAs to help drive business process improvements to strengthen a company’s bottom line.
 
Since interpersonal communications are an essential part of nearly any business process, forward-looking CIOs are including telephony services in their SOA planning initiatives.
 
Voice as a Reusable Web Service
At BlueNote, we’ve coined the term Business Communications Platform (BCP) to describe a new product category that delivers voice, video and other real-time interactive communication services as an integral part of a Service-Oriented architecture. This common communications infrastructure can be “implemented once” and shared by many departments and applications within an enterprise.
 
Real-time Integration with External Applications
Beyond providing basic call set up and tear down, BCPs involve external Web Services and applications in real-time call-routing and policy decisions, enabling enterprises to weave business logic into the telephony infrastructure and integrate voice services with business processes. As a primitive example, an application can consult an external calendar service during call set-up to determine how to handle a call based on the called party’s availability and configured preferences.
 
High-Level Programming Interfaces
BCPs provide a programming abstraction layer that shields developers from the complexities of the underlying communications infrastructure. Programmers are not required to learn new protocols or acquire new skill sets; they just have to learn how to add communications capabilities to an application or Web site. Project teams can focus on the business solution being created rather than the details of telephony implementation.
 
Session Correlation Techniques
BCPs allow developers to attach meaningful business data to a phone call or any type of interactive communications session (video, chat, etc). The data stays with the call, even if the call is transferred to different parties or applications. Among other benefits, session records can eliminate the call-center frustrations we’ve all experienced at one time or another. Call a credit card company or a utility to resolve a problem, or call your airline to claim a frequent flyer award, and it is not uncommon to get bounced from agent to agent, department to department (and nowadays from country to country). More times than not, you are forced to repeat your account information and retell your tail of woe at each step along the way.
 
“Oh, you wanted to use that award to travel to Europe, hold on sir, your call is very important to us, and I know you’ve been on hold for ten minutes, but I’ll need to transfer you to our International Awards group, where the average wait time is approximately twenty two minutes, and you can repeat everything you told me to the nice operator over there in the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan.”
 
With BCPs, pertinent customer information, account data and transaction histories can be associated with a call record and passed to any call center agent served by any enterprise application, so callers don’t have to restate their account information or describe their problems over and over again.
 
Perhaps no industry has embraced the SOA concept as much as the financial services community. The financial services landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade. Industry deregulation has led to mass consolidation, globalization and intense competition. I don’t know about you, but my checking account has changed hands seven times in the past ten years.
 
Financial CIOs are adopting SOAs to make their IT infrastructures more agile and adaptable to changing business and regulatory requirements, and to better leverage IT assets and reduce expenses in the face of increased competition. A recent brainstorming session with a leading financial services organization uncovered an interesting application for BCPs on Wall Street.
 
Legislation introduced in the wake of banking and corporate accounting scandals has thrust new compliance requirements upon the financial services community. Various SEC, NYSE, and NASD regulations require financial brokers and dealers to monitor and supervise the external transactions and communications of registered representatives. In a compliance entitlement scenario, a BCP can interact with an external entitlement system to regulate communications between say, stockbrokers and financial analysts. The entitlement system maintains call-handling rules that describe who can communicate freely, and what forms of communications require some form of compliance intervention. When a broker attempts to telephone an analyst, the BCP consults the entitlement system to determine how to handle the call. Based on the rules configured in the entitlement system, the call could be connected, logged, recorded for auditing purposes, dropped, or directed to a compliance agent.
 
It seems like every time we talk to an enterprise organization, we uncover some new application for delivering voice as a Web Service. I think that’s because interactive communications are such an indispensable element of nearly any business process or transaction.
 
If you have an idea for a new application drop me an e-mail at arosenberg@bluenotenetworks.com. We’d love to hear from you.



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