The Web Paradigm - Integrating Communications into Applications

Real-Time Web Solutions

The Web Paradigm - Integrating Communications into Applications

By Phil Edholm, President & Founder, PKE Consulting  |  April 04, 2016

Since the mid-2000s the concept of integrating communications into business processes has been a topic of repeated conversations in our industry. The concept of communications enabled business processes – or CEBP – has been understood to have huge potential. However, while products like Skype for Business are well integrated into the personal process of Outlook, the integration of communications into business applications has lagged far behind. 

WebRTC and the real-time web have held forward the potential of adding a real-time voice or video element to business processes, but that has often been separate from the existing primary communications system of the enterprise. With WebRTC, companies like Facebook (News - Alert) are delivering a completely separate communications service that enables their users to interact directly though the app, both with each other and with businesses. 

Companies in the traditional communications and collaboration markets have seen the web trend and are responding. Amex used a solution from CafeX to integrate its call center with video calling from the iPad for its most important clients. This solution uses WebRTC and integration with the Amex Cisco Call Center to significantly enhance the user experience. Similar, Amazon Mayday is a web experience designed to dramatically increase user satisfaction with the Amazon Fire devices by delivering a transformational experience that reduces confusion and issues with the devices. 

Now the industry is making major steps forward by delivering solutions that are built to enable rapid integration into the new web applications paradigm. These solutions use what are called REST-based or RESTful interfaces that are very easy to invoke and program. With its Kandy (News - Alert) product set, GENBAND has delivered what could be called communications beans that can be added into an applications to rapidly integrate WebRTC-based communications services into applications. These allow the addition of communications without having the traditional infrastructure. 

In the recent Cisco rollout of Spark at its Collaboration Summit last December, application integration was front and center. Cisco showed REST-based API interfaces for developers to easily invoke capabilities of the Spark platform into applications. As the Spark platform is built with a room paradigm, this can include putting documents into a room and inviting participants to come and interact for a decision or process step. Think of how Google (News - Alert) Maps gets added into your favorite retailer’s website for an analogy. Cisco went even furthered by integrating the API into popular mashup applications like IFTTT and Zapier. With these applications, the interfaces to the Spark apps are presented as relatively simple interfaces and can be used to trigger and transfer information between apps. With Zapier, I was able to build an app that transferred certain emails from an individual into a Spark room in about 5 minutes. These recipes are then built into a community for re-use, enabling actual end users to leverage the communications platform for their departmental needs. 

The combination of these interfaces, integrations, recipes, and communications beans is opening the door to much more rapid integration with the new range of applications that have been built in the web paradigm. In the past, an integration through CTI-type interfaces into traditional business software might be a million-dollar development that could take a year or more. With these technologies and techniques, that can be reduced to a few thousand dollars and a few weeks or even days. Twilio (News - Alert) has demonstrated the power of easy APIs and integration; it now seems this is going to be the new standard of ease and flexibility in our industry. 

While the ability to integrate is great for customization, what about focus on a specific vertical industry? In this arena, Vertical, a mid-size UC company, has demonstrated that a focus in a specific vertical can yield significant benefits, both for the vertical customers and the company. The company chose the retail vertical segment as its initial focus.

While this focus may have been driven by the fact that CVS is a major Vertical customer, it has led to significant innovations that can be leveraged across the industry. For example, the simple process of integrating the scheduled playback of storewide announcements into the system saves significant time and effort, especially in large retailers with thousands of stores. For CVS, Vertical integrated a sensor in the drive-through lanes into its system to automate the response by the pharmacy staff. When someone pulls into a stall in the drive-through, all of the pharmacy phones issue a low-level alarm message. This message can only be cancelled by the phone at the drive-through window, yielding time to engage. When the cash drawer opens at the end of the transaction, that event is also tracked. The result is that CVS can see the average time to engagement and average time to completion of all of the drive-through events in 7,900 stores in real time. 

Vertical has leveraged these solutions to win a number of large retailers. With employment in retail totaling about 10 to 13 percent of U.S. employment, this is a great focus strategy.

The result of all of these technologies and systems/platforms is that the time to integrate communications into your business apps is here. To maintain a competitive posture, organizations must look at how they can improve their processes by using communications to change the customer’s experience, the time to complete a process, or any other factor. This is the focus of the real-time web. In this new world, communications will be integrated across a wide range of activities, improving them and accelerating results and outcaomes and delighting customers. To learn more about this, please join TMC at the Real Time Web Solutions Conference Aug. 1-4, 2016 in New York City.

Phil Edholm (News - Alert) is with PKE Consulting LLC (

Edited by Stefania Viscusi