For a number of years now, the Unified Communications industry has positioned Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) as the end game for communications technology: rather than delivering communications functionality through stand-alone appliances or special-purpose software, the thinking was that communications would ultimately become a software feature of all types of technologies, including enterprise business software. Communications functionality would be at users’ finger tips from within any software application, and there would no longer be a need to switch to separate communications tools. Business processes providing communications features would treat person-to-person interactions as a first-class citizen and manage and capture these interactions just like any other transaction in the system.
However, this evolution hasn’t happened nearly as fast as many (myself included) would have thought or hoped. In retrospect, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise: software support for interactions between people presumes that people themselves get first-class treatment in the tool. Unfortunately, enterprise software packages today generally limit information about people to contact entries similar to those found in traditional address books. This hardly puts people front and center in the supported business processes and as a result it doesn’t create an environment that is conducive to communication directly from within the tool.
Social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook, on the other hand, do put people front and center: they provide users with the ability to manage profiles that provide insights into their backgrounds, their interests, competencies and opinions, the groups they are part of, the activities they participate in, and their relationships with others. In addition, social networks are rapidly becoming an alternative platform to email and IM for managing communications between individuals; these communications can often be observed by others and provide additional visibility into the personality of the people involved.
Including this type of social information in enterprise business software will provide significant additional context about people that can be used to make organizations much more effective by tailoring business processes to the people involved rather than the other way around. In addition, if today’s social networking trends are any indication, putting people at the center of all business processes will ultimately provide a stepping stone towards communications-enablement of these processes as well, in my opinion.
So, the next frontier for the UC industry is not communications-enablement, but rather social-enablement. Let’s focus on people first, communications second. Let’s push for social features everywhere, and let’s integrate our communications tools into social platforms wherever possible. Through Social-Enabled Business Processes (SEBP) we may yet deliver on the promise of CEBP.