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July 14, 2006

Interactive Communications and BPM

By Brian Silver, Chief Technology Officer, BlueNote Networks


While not strictly tied to Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) concepts, business process management (BPM) has been gaining (or re-gaining) attention recently due to the value it can bring to an enterprise.
 
As an “outgrowth” of enterprise application integration (EAI) architectures, workflow and content management tools, and business intelligence software, BPM strives to take complex business processes and provide the enterprise with better control over the processes and the decisions that result.
 
So, you ask, what’s a company like BlueNote doing talking about BPM? While we sometimes get pigeon-holed in with the rest of the “IP PBX” or “VoIP” vendors, we’re really neither. We’re a company that provides services, in the form of a platform for interactive communications, for an enterprise SOA.
 
While we happen to provide SIP services (specifically voice and video), our relationship to the PBX vendor is much the same as eBay’s relationship to a garage sale. The merchandise might be similar, but how you go about the transaction is completely different.
 
What’s really going on here at BlueNote is that we’re driving business value by creating reusable interactive business assets that provide listening, talking and seeing as features of a composite application. In that context, a discussion about BPM makes all the sense in the world.
 
You see, process modeling is very data-oriented right now, and we truly believe that if you can incorporate interactive communication into the process at the modeling stages, you can create telecommunication tools that dwarf your PBX in much the same way eBay dwarfs your local garage sales.
 
The modus operandi of business communication is almost exclusively outside of the realm of the desktop (or portal-based, take your pick) application. Here’s an example. You’re sitting in front of your tube (or LCD flat panel, take your pick) and you’re cranking away on the ERP system, maybe a manufacturing database of a supplier, and lo and behold you’ve found a problem. You’ve got to call … call? Call who? How? Where are they? Do they really want me to call?
 
Why is the interactive portion of this exception processing completely separate from the application you were just using? In a traditional telecommunication system (PBX or PSTN) the connection and transmission of the call itself is the reason for the existence of the system. That’s what they do--they connect one phone to another.
 
But in the process modeling view of the world, the call itself is a side-effect. This notion highlights the need for modeling interactive communication as part of the BPM modeling phase.
 
If you were cranking away on a spreadsheet, and the business process you were involved in did have interactive communication modeled as a branch, then the process for “who to call,” and “how,” would be implicit—rom the user’s point of view—in the execution.
 
The process would know how to resolve “who to call” and, in conjunction with the rules imposed by the underlying communication platform (e.g., call-forwarding, do-not-disturb, voicemail-on-no-answer, etc.), the process engine could handle most of the heavy lifting of resolving the called party, and connecting you to them.
 
The “owner of the widget in the ERP database” does not need to be known to you; the system simply needs to be able to resolve that indirect reference. The system needn’t know how to reach the “owner of the widget in the ERP database,” the “owners” themselves can control their reachability via the rules and controls of the underlying service itself (e.g., call-forwarding, do-not-disturb, etc.).
 
To achieve this level of integration and productivity you need to stop thinking of the telecommunications complex as a separate business asset. In the simplest sense, telecommunications can be modeled as an I/O process, much the same way other I/O processes (e.g., comments on a shared document, feedback from a customer, etc.) are incorporated into our business process models.
 
More complex models can incorporate telecommunications both during exception processing (e.g., Oh no! I’ve got to call Bob!) and during normal procedures contained within a business process (e.g., the sales team has a weekly conference call, the process engine connects all participants to the meet-me number).
 
SOAs to date have been considered almost exclusively in the realm of data applications. This seems ironic in an era that is otherwise so focused on application and transport “convergence” of voice, data and video. Voice and video calls actually are relativelysimple services, and if they are made available in the SOA they can be readily leveraged by other applications.
 
The modeling of business processes is seeing a renaissance with the incorporation into the SOA. Modeling interactive communication as part of the business process will create added value by better leveraging telephony assets, thus supporting more effective communication and increasing productivity.
 
Brian Silver is chief technology officer with BlueNote Networks, which is pioneering the collision of SIP-based interactive communications with service-oriented architectures (SOA) by delivering the first enterprise-class interactive communication platform: SessionSuite. He can be reached at mailto:bsilver@bluenotenetworks.com
 


 



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