It’s Not the Journey, It’s the Goal

They may have different ways of getting there, but everyone at last week’s Communications Developer conference agreed on the destination: unified communications.

“Communications is becoming open in a way that allows developers to connect communications to virtually anything from hardware to software to network equipment,” says conference producer TMC President Rich Tehrani. “Leaving the decision about what to implement to the purchaser.

“Virtually every company in the communications business will be offering APIs or some sort of developer program — that’s cast in stone. That’s going to allow all communications developers to connect communications to everything and anything — devices, business processes,” he continues. “Set-top boxes will become video conference hubs. It will just continue.”

As a result, software was the dominant interest area at this year’s conference, Tehrani reports, “driven by various XML languages and SIP. These are the things allowing developers to focus on software and abstract the hardware.”

While everyone agrees on where we’re going, there are two schools of thought about how to get there. If you sell phones, you integrate applications with the phone. If you sell software, you integrate communications with the desktop.

“You see the world through your own glasses,” is how Tehrani puts it. the dichotomy also reflects the ways people interact differently with devices and applications. For example, call center staff are used to interacting through the phone, so it makes sense to have the phone call initiate the transaction. Engineers, on the other hand, interact through their desktop, so it makes sense to have the application initiate the phone call.

Regardless of the model for working, everybody was promoting two things. First, that “unified communications is the ultimate business process enabler,” as Cisco vice president for advanced services Parvesh Sethi put it. And second, a development platform to implement it.

Cisco was showing its Unified Application Designer, an intuitive, graphical tool for building .Net communications applications based on Cisco Call Manager.

Everything is drag-and-drop or menu selection. Cisco development engineer Atul Trasi created a simple application for me in less than five minutes — and that included explaining the system to me.

Not quite as mind-numbingly easy was Avaya’s Voice Portal and Dialog Designer, but the interface was still graphical and building applications was also based on drag-and-drop. Avaya offers both APIs and SDKs as free downloads in addition to comprehensive resource for developers that include technical consulting and equipment discounts.

While some may say that Avaya’s century-long history in telecom leaves the company shackled to old school business and technology models, a huge installed base and long experience in the telecom trenches also gives the company an advantage in the larger marketplace.

Currently, Avaya is actively recruiting development partners, especially to develop vertical market products. One way market growth is going to come is by allowing applications developers to create new value for customers, according to Avaya Marketing Manager Joe Manzuella. “Moving people from traditional telephony to VoIP is not just about saving money,” he adds. “But to voice-enable communications to connect them to the full potential of VoIP.”