Lippis Report Issue 70: Developing Custom Communication Applications For Your Business
Say good-bye to communication silos. The IT and communications industry are gearing up to change the way corporations use communications and write applications, linking them tightly together. Gone will be separate communications applications such as voice mail, instant messaging, e-mail, conferencing, call centers, et al., as separate and distinct applications. These applications will not go away, but access to them will change. Access will be increasingly more integrated and seamless to users while they become ?¬¢‚Äö√á¬®?√¨callable" services for IT developers seeking to extract human and system delay from business process. Yes, Microsoft announced Unified Communications last June and its ICA relationship with Nortel in July, but this effort is focused on integrating access to communications with users. The real revolution and boom in communications is the common trend lines of IT and communication industries, toward a common service creation model of web services and SOA. In short the industry is serving up communications-enabled business process and all the major players are participating such as Citrix, Microsoft, BEA, Cisco, Avaya, Siemens, Alcatel, Nortel, IBM, Oracle/Siebel/PeopleSoft, Open Source and SAP. All of these players will be wooing IT developers to write their applications on their platform.
Computing and Communications Industries Adopting Web Services/SOA Service Creation Model
IP networks and web services permit telecommunication-oriented services and business application-oriented services to blend together in ways never before possible in support of simplifying human activities, enriching human collaboration and optimizing business processes. Conditions are right for the development community at large to deliver on the long-awaited promise of innovation over IP. This innovation will not come just from the few thousands proficient in CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) programming, but rather from millions of developers already skilled in coding Java and .NET applications and the business analysts who will compose applications using services-orientated modeling tools and Business Process Execution Language (BPEL).
The Schism: Internet and Web Impart Disruptive Forces on Telecommunications Networks and Service-Creation
Considerable advances made in service-creation efficiencies for telecommunications networks through the early 1990´s were stopped in their tracks just following the advent of the web browser. In the decade spanning 1995 to 2005, as the on-line Internet population expanded from a minority to a majority, the focus and capital investment of the telecommunications industry turned to the network. First telecommunication providers diverted internet dial-up traffic off the public circuit-switched network infrastructure onto a separate IP network for internet. Subsequently telecommunication providers invested in making the IP infrastructure reliable enough to support basic voice services. During this time, billions spent on applications creation efficiency went by the wayside as service innovation ground to a halt as the broadband build-out was born.
While the telecommunication service providers were busy with basic network build-out, the enterprise market was focused on integrating web technologies into their portfolio of corporate IT services. The cost of application integration and maintenance consumes as much as 60% of enterprise IT budgets. The IT vendor community has been serving up a suite of tools to address the most difficult and costly aspects of an IT organization, application integration across different systems to address business process and flows. Companies such as Microsoft, BEA, IBM, Oracle/Siebel/PeopleSoft, Open Source and SAP embrace web services/SOA service creation environment which provide a high degree of cohesiveness in that common tools provide access to development, security, management, operations, etc.
Within the enterprise, service creation efficiencies are driven by:
- Dominant business applications
- Infrastructure software vendors
- Large enterprise´s best practices
- Commerce-oriented standards organizations such as OASIS and W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)
Coming into 2007, businesses are prioritizing growth and new value creation to drive their future technology investments and view SOA governance frameworks as a means to achieve high ROI (Return on Investment) at ever-decreasing TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). With broadband and fiber core build-outs well underway service providers are once again focused on service creation and are using web services/SOA as their architecture. For the first time in the history of communications and computing, both are aligned in service creation strategy, being web services with an SOA governance framework. This synergy will offer massive economies of scale and application interoperability as the nearly $1 Trillion computing and communications industries build services with the same tools. In short, the road ahead for IT developers will be paved with web services/SOA. The first IT application space to be addressed is the breaking down of communication application silos.
Communication Application Silos Can´t be Stitched Together
Some developers may have the view that today´s telephony technology allows for a great deal of flexibility. For example, developers can write programs that turn calls into e-mail and/or audio files. Developers can offer contact center agents the ability to communicate with customers via interactive desktops too. But to enable these communication services requires developers to cross communication silos of e-mail, v-mail, chat, instant messaging, conferencing etc., all with their own set of complexities. IP converges application silos onto one network, but the application integration is still too complex and brittle. To cross these silos developers often find themselves with an ?¬¢‚Äö√á¬®?√¨n-squared" problem to write to and most importantly to maintain. The ?¬¢‚Äö√á¬®?√¨n-squared" problem is unsuitable for use as a foundation for business-critical processes.
Enter Session Initiation Protocol: A step in solving the n-squared problem.
SIP will go a long way toward solving the n-squared problem for developers. SIP simplifies multi-modal sessions, meaning communications between different end-points such as hard IP phones, softphones, IM clients, mobile phones, smartphones, etc. SIP will set up and tear down communication sessions with a single set of primitives. When you reach out to someone, SIP tells you which media that person prefers to use to communicate. For example, Jane needs to communicate with Joe and Sally to address an important customer issue. Jane requests a session with Joe and Sally. Joe is on a smartphone while Sally is on a conference call. Sally responds to Jane´s request via an IM and specifies IM as her preference while Joe is available on his smartphone. The session takes place with Joe on his smartphone, Sally on IM and Jane on her softphone. Multi-modal access is powerful because it extends reachability, but it must also be simple to use and access to be useful.
SIP enables seamless connectivity of networking elements and end-points so that both developers and more importantly employees need not be concerned with individual nuances of each communication silo. SIP does make networks flatter and more distributed, eliminating discontinuities between communication silos, but it still requires SIP developers to understand the complex behavior of telecommunications networks and systems. To gain the value of SIP, end-points must be SIP end-points meaning that SIP is a forward migration strategy rather than a backward one.
SIP is a major underpinning for communications-enablement. But it is not the only underpinning because of the need to provide backward migration of an embedded base of systems to gracefully migrate towards SIP IP telephony at an enterprise´s pace. There are still many features only available through traditional TDM communication resources. Some suppliers will expose all communication resources, be they SIP features or non SIP-based features, across a SIP and TDM network to the business developer, without their needing to know the intricacies or transactional behavior of the individual communication resources.
In the reality of today´s mixed communications world, a SIP developer can use SIP to expose features, but this requires a SIP-skilled developer. With web services exposure of SIP features, any IT developer, not just an IP/SIP knowledgeable developer, can utilize SIP features without knowing how SIP, the protocol, works. In short, web services abstracts and hides SIP and other communication protocols into a set of common primitives such as make call, hang up call, transfer call, conference call, etc., so the developer does not need to know the underlying languages and their associated syntax. SIP is a major underpinning of all the major vendors´ application development platforms such as Microsoft, Citrix, Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, Alcatel, Nortel, et al.
Unifying Silos with new tools and technology: SIP, Web Services/SOA
A New Development Environment Emerges
Communications-enabled business process will unify multiple communications modes such as e-mail, IM, chat, voice, v-mail, conferencing, etc., through access. Most think of communications as a means for person to person interaction, but in a communications-enabled business the business process may initiate a call when an exception and intervention is required. People and processes will be able to respond to events in real-time thanks to communications linked to business process. To facilitate these different types of flows, a rules-based platform is required.
Many IP telephony concerns have either offered or soon will be offering application development that incorporates SOA and web services developer constructs to tightly link communications and business applications. For example, a new Avaya Intelligent Communications development platform for integration, orchestration and services-based composition promises to enable the fusion of right-time communications into business applications and processes. Siemens Communications´ OpenScape is their web services/SOA engine. Nortel´s Nortel Application Center takes each of its component applications, e.g., unified messaging and contact center, and builds SOA wrappers around them allowing the applications to share services like reporting and licensing, and in the future design and administration. Cisco´s SOA approach is to embed callable services into the network fabric. It calls this Services Oriented Network Architecture
With IP telephony providers embracing web services/SOA architecture, developers are empowered to provide the entire ?¬¢‚Äö√á¬®?√¨wrap around" to address business issues quickly through collaborative communications. This ?¬¢‚Äö√á¬®?√¨wrap around" goes well beyond SIP and presence, which has occupied the telecommunications industry for some time. SIP and presence is in essence only the beginning.
Consider the requirement for a real time meeting with a group of executives. As a request is made to organize a conference, the communications-enabled business application will know simple but important pieces of information, such as who is on vacation and who is not. For those not available, the communications-enabled business application will know their alternate. Presence, the knowledge and dissemination of one´s on-line state, is driven by personal rules. Presence will clearly be an important piece of information that the communications-enabled business application will use in facilitating an on-line meeting. But the business has its own rules, which could usurp presence´s personal rules. Thus the communications-enabled business application could call in someone on vacation or at home to address an emergency.
While SIP facilitates open interoperability between communication networks, network elements such as gateways and media servers and end-points, it still requires application developers to possess specialized knowledge of real-time communications to enable new value creation. To deliver on the promise of services over IP, next generation service delivery platforms must effectively insulate the business analysts and application developers from the complexity of real-time communications. This is accomplished by development platforms supporting open standards-based services and tools that allow customers to ?¬¢‚Äö√á¬®?√¨compose" highly differentiating business scenarios that can evolve in real time along with their strategies. Unified communications is delivered through IT developers´ use of SIP, web service/SOA so that application silos are eliminated and replaced by horizontal applications which react to business dynamics.
The Growth of Web Services
Web services/SOA is a powerful force in the IT and telecommunications communities since it addresses the entire supply chain of an enterprise by abstracting the multitude of APIs into a standard set of programming interfaces with SOA-governed business applications. IP telephony suppliers offer real-time communications into an SOA construct by using web services as the main programming interface into real time communication application servers.
Bringing the right information to the right people at the right time will allow business to be efficient. Web services enable convergence and IP telephony infrastructure consolidation to go further up the protocol stack. SIP and SIMPLE are foundational communication-oriented protocols that will, in time, reduce the complexity and cost of the real-time communication infrastructure, bringing multi-modal access as part of the business process. SIP and SIMPLE are callable services which will be available through web services interface.
Current status is that a web service for communications is at the early stage of adoption, but promises to be variable in granularity and useful for businesses to consume and extend. Call recording is the most popular web service for communications today. Web services enablement is simple: make call, hang up, transfer, hold/record, etc. Click-to-call for example is a powerful tool in financial services for power dial applications. In addition to easier communication methods, more and more communication manager administration and end-point configuration will be pushed down to users allowing them to customize their communication experience. Web interfaces allow users to easily turn features on and off.
Conference and office productivity improvements are the current focus of new web services features. Linking to an Outlook calendar and directing calls to a cellular phone when you are out of the office are incremental productivity improvements. Click-to-conference or on demand conference brings communications-enabled business process via web services up to another level. Extending conference capability to include associates, customers, partners with notification and respond starts the linking of communications with a set of business applications. Notifying users of a conference request with situational context increases the value even further. Managing conference attendance increases the value of the system yet again, by triggering an escalation mode if an attendee can´t participate.
But with all these advancements web service implementations can be difficult too. Imagine a siloed application with some web services that call upon the application´s functions. Now multiply that by ?¬¢‚Äö√á¬®?√¨n" number of siloed applications. You get web services, but you have a mess underneath to maintain. There needs to be a governance to the calling of services which is what SOA provides.
The key to simplifying maintenance is a single composition platform, i.e., middleware that connects to a scaleable media processing infrastructure. Then developers can take discreet parts of communication applications and re-engineer each of those parts into functional blocks of code. From each functional block of code a developer extends a web service, which is an XML-based contract for its respective functional block. The Web Service contract (WSDL) describes the methods of the functional block, such as feature-levels, in a manner which other applications/web services can inspect, dynamically bind to and call upon its methods/features at run time.
Applications can be thought of as one person who does everything. Web services are like a group of people who each perform a specific function towards a unified goal. Web services offers the hope to make communications-enabled application development easier to pull together people who know communications and business process so organizations can communicate more effectively by streamlining business process. Look around at your IT and communications application world because it is all about to change. Say good-bye to silos and hello to unified communications.