How to Give Your Business Apps Better People Skills

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Silos. Every businessperson claims to hate them, yet most businesses continue to operate in them, even in this communications-rich age.

One of the biggest reasons? The applications that we use for work haven’t caught up to the collaboration technology available all around us.

“You can’t have an agile business without agile IT, and you can’t have agile IT until your communications infrastructure is agile,” said Zeus Kerravala, the well-known ex-Yankee Group analyst during an webinar last week.

The experts on the Avaya-sponsored panel, who besides Kerravala included TMCnet publisher and editor-in-chief Rich Tehrani, Singapore business software developer Eutech’s CEO Dr. Hari Gunasingham and Avaya senior vice-president for collaboration, Gary E. Barnett, agreed that most businesspeople understand how non-communication-enabled legacy apps create and exacerbate silos. 

(Listen to a replay of the webinar or download the entire slide deck below.)

Indeed, better collaboration capabilities is their second highest priority, behind analytics, and ahead of crowd-pleasers such as mobile and cloud, according to Ventana Research:

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Indeed, they’re already dreaming about the collaboration capabilities they’d embed in their next-generation of apps:

Slide7.JPGThe struggle is that for most developers, communications remains a complex specialty field that they don’t know very well. To bring these features into their apps would require a huge investment in time and/or money.

“You can’t expect most developers to understand all of the nuances around telephony and communications,” said Kerravala.

Barnett compares the situation to the late 1990s, when Web developers used to building lightweight sites using HTML initially struggled to build rich retail and B2B sites that tapped databases and other back-end data sources. The arrival of Web application middleware such as Weblogic and Websphere greatly simplified things for Web developers.

Similarly, what’s needed today is a comprehensive middleware platform – not a set of individual APIs – that makes it easy for non-communications experts to embed communications features into their apps.

Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment, which was launched officially last week, is our attempt to fill this gap during a time of great demand. (Read InformationWeek’s take here).

Avaya already has a bunch of leading ISVs, including Esna Technologies, UserEvents Inc. and now Eutech using Collaboration Environment to accelerate their dev time.

Eutech recently built a mobile app for Middle East luxury retailer, Paris Galleries, embedded with voice and video conferencing features. Eutech’s team was able to do this despite, according to Gunasingham, “having zero knowledge of collaboration from a Unified Communications (UC) point of view.”

Eutech was able to build the app in slightly more than a week, compared to the months Gunasingham figures his team would have needed without Collaboration Environment.

That benefits the final end user, Paris Galleries, and its salespeople. Armed with mobile devices, they can now quickly call upon remote cosmetics and other experts when customers ask for them.

“Customers want to be pampered,” said Gunasingham. “If you want your customers to spend a few thousand dollars on impulse, it’s very important that their experience be excellent.”

Collaboration Environment is compatible with the Eclipse programming environment. “We very purposely chose Eclipse because we knew every app developer knows it,” said Barnett. 


CE also comes with a Collaboratory – a cloud-based area where they can quickly build and test apps. “Developers don’t need to build their on-site lab; with Collaboratory, they can be up and running within a day,” Barnett said.

Collaboratory “de-risks things for developers,” agrees Kerravala, who says some Avaya developer partners he has interviewed credit CE with cutting their development time from half a year to a few days.

Eutech’s Gunasingham concurs. CE “had a real benefit for us,” he said. “Without CE, we couldn’t have gotten into this field at all.”

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Another Developer's Experience with Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment

Earlier this week, I wrote about leading communications software maker Esna Technologies and their positive experience porting their popular OfficeLinx application to Avaya using our just-announced Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment.
For Esna, Avaya Aura CE saved them development time, allowed them to build a simpler app, and opened up huge new markets for them.
That harmonizes with independent communications analyst Sheila McGee-Smith’s assessment:
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Avaya CEO’s Kevin Kennedy likens Avaya Aura CE to WebSphere from IBM and WebLogic from BEA (now Oracle). These Web application servers were absolutely crucial to accelerating the creation of e-commerce sites and jumpstarting the whole dot-com economy. 
I personally see parallels between Avaya Aura CE and SAP’s Mobility Platform, a popular mobile middleware that enables developers to write apps faster and for multiple operating systems (i.e. iOS, Android, Windows) at the same time.
Esna wasn’t the only ISV I spoke with. I also had a chance to interview Jeff Thompson, CEO of UserEvents Inc., a New Brunswick, Canada startup, about Avaya Aura CE.
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UserEvents’ flagship application, called CxEngage, enables organization to deliver consistent, exceptional customer experiences by monitoring customer journeys in real-time, across all touchpoints. Blending big data analytics with customer experience management, CxEngage gives organizations the ability to engage in the moment with a phone call, email or SMS. It’s a potent combination that Thompson wanted to bring to the Avaya Aura contact center user base, the largest in the market according to various analysts.
“I deliberately assigned a small team of developers that had no SIP or Avaya experience to integrate CxEngage with Avaya Aura,” he told me during an interview at IAUG’s Converge 2013 conference in Orlando this week. 
Their lack of experience was not surprising. Most of UserEvents’ developers are Generation Y Millennials who didn’t grow up in an Avaya or Nortel era. Your classic Silicon Valley hoodie-wearing developer more comfortable developing applications in Clojure, a Java-based language designed for high performance applications like CxEngage, than the complexities of SIP.
Despite their lack of familiarity with the platform, “Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment allowed them to build a Proof of Concept in just 4 full programmer-days,” Thompson said.
Was that because UserEvents’ developers are really, really bright? Perhaps, though Thompson also credits the platform. “Collaboration Environment masks a lot of complexity by providing us an efficient interface that we can snap into so that we can enjoy the richness of what’s powered by the Aura stack,” he said.
Aura CE is also powerful. “It gave us access to a lot of rich communication capabilities while minimizing the number of developers and their time needed,” Thompson said.
I put the same question to Thompson and his team as I did to Esna’s Petralama: what do you think about WebRTC? Their answers were similar.
“We’ve started to look at WebRTC,” he said. “The challenge is that it’s relatively new.” As a result, most of CxEngage would-be clients, the large Fortune 500s, who are unlikely to abandon current communication and contact center applications overnight. 
Thus, something like Avaya Aura CE “provides a brand that is well-known and trusted in the market, while delivering today on the capabilities that WebRTC will someday provide,” he said.