BPM & Enterprise Architecture
Architecting Collaborative Applications (Part I of II)
By Paul Liesenberg, Enterprise Architecture and Technology Manager, Cisco Systems
In rocky economic times, a successful collaboration strategy can unlock employee
potential, reduce costs and help achieve true customer intimacy. Companies can
motivate their workers, make them more effective, improve leadership, and foster
innovation. Innovative application models are emerging to incorporate collaboration
into core business processes, which will encourage greater teamwork and set
productivity free throughout the increasingly borderless enterprise. But this
shift requires an architectural approach that can support this evolution.
Beyond technical capabilities, the next-generation application architecture
must accommodate new ways of working, support collaboration across end-to-end
business processes, extend current practices of service-oriented architecture
(SOA) and Web 2.0 to new environments, and take advantage of new technology
But the last thing enterprise architects -- or users -- want is new technology
and process silos. Both enterprise architects and empowered users want tools
that are already integrated or that can be easily integrated into applications,
business flows and enterprise architecture. Avoiding new silos represents a
significant challenge to enterprise architects. But using the network as a platform
helps enable a future-proof, open collaboration architecture for the enterprise.
The network can provide key services that contribute to the security, performance
and scalability of collaborative applications.
Collaboration as the platform for business
What fundamental issue must an improved collaboration architecture solve? Many
of us experience this issue every day in our work lives.
At critical junctures, a business process frequently requires key team members
to collaborate. They need to access, process and transform information from
a variety of sources to advance the business process. Application silos, data
silos, technology silos and collaboration silos hamper productivity, slow down
the business process, and invite error. People engage in "swivel-chair
process integration," mediating between silos and trying to convert information
between them by using cut-and-paste operations or relying on memory. A simple
example is dialing the wrong number while reading it from a computer screen.
As companies expand their business processes throughout a borderless enterprise,
the complexity escalates. Imagine a network of business partners trying to institute
a common set of business processes and achieve a common goal. Each partner company
has its own internal application and data infrastructures, to which it is hesitant
to provide open access. The result is partners emailing documents back and forth
or talking on the phone if they can actually connect in real time. At the same
time, each partner must still negotiate internal siloed communication, application
and data architectures.
Despite a plethora of available communication tools -- desktop and mobile phones,
instant messaging, email -- it is still an everyday occurrence for key team
members to fail to connect at critical junctures in the business process. Teams
work overtime to complete a customer proposal, but if the one person required
for ultimate approval isn't reachable, the entire process comes to an abrupt
halt until that person can be located.
Enterprise architects, more than anyone else, are keenly aware of this problem
at a scale far beyond the examples presented here. But how do EAs architect
collaboration-enabled business processes that help break down silos?
One could say that collaboration as a whole is a workgroup dashboard that is
designed to optimally support a particular business process. As shown in Figure
1, it could be referred to as a shared presentation layer that allows every
user instant access to other users and to relevant data and that allows the
team to drive the business process forward wherever they are, whenever they
Far beyond chat rooms and instant messaging, the definition of enterprise-class
collaboration includes composite applications as a whole: things like service-oriented
architecture (SOA), enterprise-class mashups, and task-specific widgets that
support the activity of the workgroup. Team members get a shared dashboard with
all the up-to-date information they need, which allows them to be fully synched
up anytime and anywhere.
Figure 1: Collaboration Dashboard (click here
to enlarge image)
Network-based services in collaboration architecture
Key to this collaboration nirvana is the network. Today's network has the unique
ability to enrich the collaboration-enabled business process with services that
can further accelerate the business process. It can accurately and reliably
pinpoint the location of users and, for example, dynamically link presence preferences
to locations. The network can provide the type of security these composite applications
require as infrastructures become more open by necessity, while ensuring application
performance for remote users. As enterprises aggressively integrate business
video into their communications portfolio, the network must ensure adequate
network resources to establish and maintain the end-to-end session and protect
By considering and deploying network-based services, EAs can leverage communication
and collaboration, security, application delivery, transport, management and
virtualization services that can all enrich or enable the business process.
Using this approach, EAs can use collaboration-enabled business processes to
align technology with business layers, making IT extremely relevant to the business
and exploiting network-based services to enable and enrich emerging composite
But where can an EA start building a truly collaborative architecture?
We can analyze collaboration along the dimensions of time and space, where
the cooperating parties may or may not be in the same time and place when trying
- Same Time, Same Place (Synchronous): traditional face-to-face communications
such as in-person meetings
- Same Time, Different Place (Synchronous Distributed): mostly audio
conference calls but, increasingly, video conferencing, webcasts, desktop
application sharing, virtual presence and instant messaging
- Same Place, Different Time (Asynchronous): usually email and voicemail,
with discussion forums and wikis rapidly growing in popularity
- Different Place, Different Time (Asynchronous Distributed): traditionally
email and voicemail, which provide limited benefit; this model lends itself
well to discussion forums as well as social networking and collaborative workspace
Figure 2: Communications Classifications (click here
to enlarge image)
As enterprises become increasingly dispersed across the global marketplace,
trends are emerging that promise to overcome many of the challenges associated
with these variations in time and place. Virtual-presence systems, such as Cisco
TelePresence, extend face-to-face meeting quality to any "same time"
meeting; asynchronous tools are converging, whether local or distributed; and
mashups will evolve to create an egalitarian collaboration field across time
Existing on-premises technologies provide a very robust framework within the
traditional enterprise boundary. However, as enterprises extend their reach
to include partners, customers and mobile workers into a powerful collaborative
environment, they need to embrace an architecture that will extend those technologies
throughout the borderless enterprise.
Architects need to combine the best of both worlds -- the on-premises and Web
2.0 on-demand (software as a service, or SaaS) model. But is this possible?
The natural response is to implement separate technology solutions: one inside
the enterprise and another outside. This simply perpetuates the tradition of
technology stovepipes and a belief that these are mutually exclusive environments.
It also stands in the way of enterprises developing a truly effective collaboration-enabled
Linking these worlds is the one ubiquitous technology that touches everything
throughout even the most distributed enterprise: the network. Not only does
the network support both on-premises and on-demand models wherever needed to
best support business goals, it has the ability to mediate between the two and
makes the transition seamless to users. Although transport and quality of service
are critical for new productivity boosters like Cisco TelePresence, network-based
policy and resource utilization (virtualization) are vital to overcoming the
chasm between on-premises and on-demand and allowing enterprises to derive maximum
benefit from both models.
The network is positioned to overcome today's most difficult collaboration
challenges such as policy management and dynamic collaboration resource management.
Because it is ubiquitous throughout the enterprise, the network is the ideal
place for enforcing policy, separating policy decisions from applications, providing
reliable location information, and enabling reuse of these network-based services
by all applications. Complete visibility into resource use (including availability,
load and location) streamlines management and enables mediation between cloud
and on-premises resources.
Part II of this article coming soon!
About the Author
Paul Liesenberg is an Enterprise Architecture and Technology Manager for Cisco where he develops methodologies that optimally align next-generation infrastructures and overarching business processes. Prior to Cisco, Liesenberg was VP of Strategic Marketing for ZettaCom and Bivio Networks, orchestrating product and partnership strategies. Earlier, he was with Cisco through the acquisition of StrataCom, and was previously with Nortel's Data Networks Division and Siemens' Public Networks' R&D division. Liesenberg holds two patents in the area of VoIP, and an M.Sc. from TUM (Technische Universitaet Muenchen).More by Paul Liesenberg