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Using APIs to Integrate Communication into Business Workflows

By CIOReview | Monday, February 20, 2017

Traditionally, communication modules including chat applications, telephonic infrastructure, video conferencing platforms, have always existed in silos, separately from one another. Unified Communications (UC) is now seamlessly integrating them all together on the same platform by means of Application Program Interfaces (APIs). An API is essentially a software intermediary that allows two separate modules to communicate with each other. By supporting communication through enterprise applications such as ERP and CRM, APIs have been instrumental in altering the dynamics of IT workflow. Although UC has been taking the IT industry by storm, its roots lie in the Communications-enabled Business Process.

Communications-enabled Business Process (CEBP)

The concept of integrating communication modules with business applications has emerged from CEBP. It not only enabled the communication between two applications by means of APIs, but also between the applications and users, which ultimately resulted in the automation of human communications, thereby optimizing the business workflow significantly. Reduction in human latency to boost productivity and also enablement of real-time communications between the customers and employees were just some of the benefits introduced by CEBP. Hence the venture is undoubtedly a promising venture for enterprises.

Ground Reality

Although the integration is a promising one having the capability to transform business workflow, various surveys indicate that the full potential of APIs is far from being unleashed. It is apparent that most companies use APIs to enable Click-to-Call and Screen-Pop functions in their business applications, primarily for better engagement with their customers. According to the annual study carried out by Nemertes on unified communications and collaboration, a mere 25.4 percent of the global companies embedded UC into other business applications. Only 9.7 percent of the companies are building custom UC applications using the existing development platforms and APIs. A careful analysis reveals that the primary reason for this trend has been the legacy systems.

Role of legacy systems

The technical limitations of legacy systems operational at enterprises is said to be one of the prime factors hindering the deployment of CEBP. Although, legacy systems as a rule, do not impede CEBP, a small change to the components in one of the systems, is likely to have a cascading effect on others; the inter-dependency of modules is likely to backfire and disrupt the regular functioning of systems. As a result, institutions like banks are generally wary of replacing their legacy systems as such a move is likely to impede their operations.

A closer analysis reveals that the problem also lied in the nature of UC deployments, which mostly focused on replacing legacy infrastructure, as opposed to application integration. Moreover, in most organizations, UC is typically a concern of the networking team that interacts very less with the application development groups.  Therefore, the use of APIs to integrate communications and business processes for an improved workflow has not been as expected.

Changing Dynamics

The IT landscape has witnessed a change with a rise in the number of partnerships among organizations to serve customers jointly. Also, the market has witnessed a sudden spurt in the number of third-party and open-source applications. These developments have resulted in the companies beginning to work towards facilitating the integration of their applications with other products in the market. This is testified by the fact that companies like Avaya, Cisco and Vertical communications are now delivering APIs that permit the integration of UC into business applications. These developments indicate that the enterprises have begun to take cognizance of the benefits that UC and API have to offer.

As the industry begins to leverage UC in a big way, vendors of API platforms have begun to release off-the-shelf components that allow application developers to integrate UC modules directly through the visual interface. This is likely to be more beneficial as it discounts the need for having to invest resources on coding. With the UC owners too working towards providing a hassle-free integration of their offerings with business applications, the future looks very promising to the industry.