In previous articles I have outlined the business and technical value of Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) software and application development. I was also in a video most recently that will air on CNN, Discovery Channel, Fox News, and other media in a segment for the Today in America Show with host Terry Bradshaw, discussing the value of CEBP applications that my company has created. Bottom line and apologies to repeat myself, but CEBP is the differentiating factor in the Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) marketplace. Platform providers that enable this application development architecture will win this battle, and currently, Microsoft has the ultimate offering in that the development of their CEBP platform for Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Communications Server 2010 can be developed within Microsoft Visual Studio.
So, let's look at this from a consulting services perspective. How can CEBP applications or CEBP application development create opportunities for professional services? The simple answer? Easy! The explained answer can be found in several different scenarios but the result is the same in that CEBP adds many opportunities in consulting services simply due to the nature of CEBP and its many integration areas.
To explore these scenarios, I’ll break them down individually as shown by example below:
1. Scenario 1 – UC Infrastructure Services. Within any CEBP opportunity there are always opportunities to provide consulting services for UC infrastructure architecture and deployment. Whether you are selling a CEBP packaged application or simply responding to a CEBP application development services requests, you will always uncover an opportunity to provide infrastructure consulting services to perform any of the following services:
a. UC Infrastructure Architecture & Design consulting to assess and correct any issues that the customer has currently with their UC infrastructure or may run into in the future based on the current infrastructure design as is the case with many customers we work especially in the areas of voice and conferencing services.
b. UC Server Deployment to support additional users or enable support for federated communications with the customer’s business partners and customers. Where I normally run into this is when we are selling one of our applications. The applications we sell are more geared towards the business user community so these users may not be enabled for UC&C features or even provided with the UC&C client application itself as only the IT department has been enabled. This is quite often especially when dealing with the financial services sector. They may have 40-50K users deployed worldwide, but 90% of those are IT resources or contractors so a CEBP application that provides UC&C capability for a business user, makes the case for new user enablement and thus required consulting services to deploy an infrastructure to support them.
c. Voice and IVR Consulting Services work to support voice and IVR features provided by a CEBP application. Leveraging the new Microsoft UCMA 2.0 and 3.0 APIs, Visual Studio developers can create very innovative applications that make use of speech, IVR, and voice services to enable business processes to activate or integrate with other applications. These IVR and voice services may not be in use by the customer today or they are running on old non-IP-enabled PBX systems or are flat out non-compliant so the opportunity to install voice gateway or Direct SIP solutions is now provided by a CEBP application.
2. Scenario 2 – UC Application Integration. The biggest value of CEBP application development is the ability to integrate many applications with UC&C capabilities and modalities. One of our most popular products that we sell integrates Microsoft Communications Server 2010 with SharePoint Server 2010. The services opportunity provided there includes not only the UC&C infrastructure required to support the product, but also the services to deploy and integrate these applications with our CEBP software product, thus creating a massive professional services opportunity especially when dealing with such a popular and proven product such as SharePoint. But the greatest opportunity has to do with general application integration development work whereas a service provider would be able to offer integration services with existing business and IT applications that the customer has deployed and either enable these applications with UC&C capabilities or integrate them with a UC CEBP application. For example, we sell a customer service and helpdesk application that provides integration with CRM, ERP, Helpdesk, Contact Center, IVR, and Call Center applications. Every customer has a unique set of these applications whether it’s Seibel, SAP, Salesforce.com, Dynamics, etc. for CRM. Our product comes out-of-the-box with a Microsoft CRM 4.0 plug-in which is great for customers running Microsoft CRM 4.0, but it at least shows that we can provide the CRM application integration for whatever CRM application they are using, so we use our product as a template and leverage the power of CEBP application development within Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 to illustrate the integration capabilities for these other CRM systems easily. And to create these additional plug-ins is easy once you have the template. To a developer, it’s just another API J. The same goes for ERP, Helpdesk, Call Center, Contact Center, etc. Whatever the application that the customer needs to integrate with, we will provide that consulting service and in almost all cases, this discussion and architecture strategy opens up additional application development and infrastructure consulting services opportunities.
3. CEBP Services. That’s right, just plain CEBP application development services capabilities is enough to create a business around, wait, that’s right, that’s what I did J. There is nothing more inspiring to a customer than seeing that their Line of Business (LOB) application that sets them apart from their competitors now can be enabled with Instant Messaging, Presence, Enterprise Voice, VoIP, Conferencing, Telepresence, and Video communications through the power of CEBP application development. That is the power of software in its true form and the consulting services opportunity there is massive, you just need the talent to perform it! Luckily, Microsoft provides this capability to the largest development community in the world and enables everyday Microsoft Visual Studio developers with yet another API to develop unique and innovative applications with leveraging the Microsoft Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA) as well as controls and SDKs for the client and server Microsoft Unified Communications product platform.
I don’t want to leave Avaya out of this article although I am primarily a Microsoft supporter. The reason I don’t want to leave them out is that unlike Cisco, Avaya has made great strides to create a truly unique Unified Communications environment leveraging a foundational communications infrastructure that has been a dominant force in the telecommunications industry for some time. Avaya is creating CEBP opportunities for developers to create unique LOB applications as well as integrated solutions within their platform to enable applications with IVR, voice, video, call control, and PBX integration as well as presence and Instant Messaging, but the mechanics and tools provided to developers is not up to snuff with what Microsoft provides to the Visual Studio and .NET development community today. I also want to make sure others know about Avaya’s capabilities to lessen the Microsoft biasness of this article as I am a Microsoft evangelist.
So what is the best way to seek and achieve this new massive revenue stream provided by CEBP? Well, to answer that you need to look at what your company can provide and if you cannot develop this capability in house, then you must partner with or acquire an organization that can. CEBP application development today is very specialized and only a few firms truly know what they are doing. They’re out there, you just have to find them and make sure that they have proven themselves through case studies and customer references and are, well, as goes without saying, easy to work with! To build this capability in-house, you first need resources experienced with Microsoft Visual Studio with the Microsoft UCMA API and Microsoft UC SDKs if you’re going to develop Microsoft-based CEBP applications. From there, developers will need to become familiar with UC architecture and the API architecture and classes themselves. Leveraging a template or starter application is best to see how each class interacts with specific modalities provided by the Microsoft UC platform and from there most developers are able to venture into writing their own applications or begin with integrating others or enabling existing applications with Microsoft UC&C features starting with basic IM and Presence.
Once you have acquired this capability as a professional services provider or Systems Integrator (SI) and back to the reason for this article, not only will you experience an entirely new revenue stream of services as well as enhance and multiply the services you offer today, the real benefit is the ability that CEBP provides in connecting solutions and providing those solutions in addition to the software and services sale. Take a provider that offers professional services as well as provides solutions within specific industry verticals such as a large SI for instance or even a Software Manufacturer for that matter. These companies can now provide an integrated sell that includes their vertical industry solutions, their UC&C professional services, and CEBP application development services in addition to software licenses.
This is how you drive your stock price up and truly offer a combined solution to your customers that benefits all of your major business units and it is this capability that truly unites a company and drives unified communications and collaboration throughout a company that once worked in silos and disconnected based on the walls created by business units, industry vertical solutions, sales teams, field reps, technicians, support services, and IT over a long period time and has been such the case with many large SIs and Software Manufacturers to date. Field reps are disconnected from business units and program managers, Sales reps are disconnected from industry vertical solution specialists, and professional services divisions are completely disconnected from everyone else, with IT trying to support the whole lot of them. It’s disconnected, it’s archaic, and it hurts the business in one of the most difficult economic times ever!
With this information, I hope that there are systems integrators and software manufacturers that are listening and hopefully this can shed some light on the value of CEBP and the opportunities that this key differentiator in the UC&C marketplace has to provide.