Unified communications finally meets SOA

After all, it's SOA. The idea is lots of stuff working together; drag and drop interfaces for bringing services together. The payoff is business process efficiency and flexibility.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor

Voice communications and enterprise applications have been close neighbors on hundreds of millions of desktops (the telephone sitting right next to the PC), with nothing between them but stale air and a pencil cup.

Sure CTI has had some spotty payoffs. And while unified communications swallowed up huge VC investments over the past 10 years, few communications are today actually unified. How to finally bring applications and communications together? Well, SOA, of course.

Now, I know, SOA has been called on to fix everything from acne to loose dentures. But in the case of the long-awaited convergence between IP communications and increasingly open applications, SOA does actually provide a powerful catalyst to what I call "open API unified communications." It's the opening of the APIs and the concurrent break-up of monolithic applications into services that makes all the difference in bringing IP communications into applications, workflow, and business process efficiency.

Why not deliver VOIP and associated unified communications benefits as a service from your datacenter? If you're going to use SOA for applications, and you're moving to IP for more communications, then why not leverage the two for a higher productivity payoff? Why not give your developers graphical tools to bring these hitherto-fore disparate worlds together?

These must have been the questions bubbling up at BlueNote Networks when they set out the requirements for their series of SessionSuites products, including the newest member, SessionSuite SOA Edition. Backed by, and a spin-off from, Fidelity Investments, the giant Boston-based mutual funds and investment services firm, BlueNote Networks has made it a mission to establish VOIP as just another business service within a SOA -- and that's sans the proprietary soft switches of previous unified communications efforts.

After all, it's SOA. The idea is lots of stuff working together; drag and drop interfaces for bringing services together. The payoff is business process efficiency and flexibility. How good could BPM really be without being telephony- (and mobile telephony-) enabled?

Part of the problem, too, has been that enterprise developers have been trained to think within the palette of applications' PC capabilities. Now, they must think in rich media terms, too. Not just click to more applications and logic sequences on a GUI, but beyond -- to rich audio, video, ad hoc conferences, groups in presence-based orders. Developers must think about making workflow include more media- and communications-rich activities. They must think in terms of real-time intercepts to not just nodes but directly to the people and groups affected by the process. Work, time and space are not limited to the capabilities of a PC!

So two things need to happen, both interdependent upon each other. Developers need to exploit communications services more across any end-point the user has access to. And, concurrently, those developers need the ability to mix and mash applications services, network services, and WiFi and mobile services simply, without coding to the infrastructure. This, in essence, is what BlueNote Networks is after.

Their approach to a SOA-enabled framework -- using an event-driven architecture and session plug-in framework -- is worth a look. The opportunity is to embed telephony into the workflow that begins with Web applications, but can move on to oh, so much more.

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