Can we build our phone systems as standardized applications or services that will easily plug into the rest of our IT infrastructures?
That's the promise of service oriented communications, which could convert communications and communications channels (voice, text, conference calls, email, IM) into software, so we can better integrate it into everything else we're doing. I recently had the opportunity to join Dana Gardner and the other analysts in a good give-and-take podcast on the rise of service oriented communications, as well as the future of service oriented architecture in today's rough-and-tumble economy. (Link to podcast here, full transcript here.)
What is service oriented communications? The Wikipedia definition states that the goal of service-oriented communications "is to enable business environments to easily build communications into their business processes, enabling more streamlined collaboration among people within the business."
I like the way NEC's Todd Landry described it during the roundtable. Service oriented communications addresses the "real connective tissue" between applications, which is people, Todd explained. He says service oriented communications looks at taking dialogues between humans and wrapping them in metadata to become part of the digital assets of the corporation.
"The decisions and actions that take place in a business on a day-to-day basis are highly dependent on these people being effective. Therefore, the manner in which we can help them with their communications and help them collaborate becomes a critical factor in how the workflows can be more effective and more efficient. We've looked at that and said the more you can make communications into business applications, the more you can make communications a more natural part of an SOA."
Is there ROI in service oriented communications? Tony Baer said there's clearly as case to be made in terms of compliance. "The idea of being able to manage and integrate spoken communications may actually be a critical gap in compliance strategy. I could see that as being an incredible justification for trying to integrate voice communications."
Another angle -- the integration of communications as another software service can really help cut corners in development shops as well. Anne Thomas Manes, who also joined the panel, pointed out that developers are often burdened -- or ignore altogether -- the code inside PBXs or even voice over IP. "That’s arcane and completely out of the realm of normal development skills that you would get in a Web developer," she says. "Wouldn’t it be nice, if we actually had a much more powerful communications service that a developer can use to communicate with a customer, communicate with a shop manager, or communicate with whatever at this point in the application? They can call out to a communications service and specify, 'Here is who I want to talk to. Here is the information I want to send. And, here is the method through which I want send it.' And, and then they can have the communications service completely take care of the whole processes associated with making that work."
A much better alternative to asking a developer to "write all kinds of arcane code in order to figure out how to send an email or how to launch a phone call," Anne adds.