The UCStrategies Experts share their expertise in bylined articles, opinion pieces, blogs, and podcasts, to define unified communications, educate you about unified communications technologies, and help you make informed decisions about unified communications solutions.
UCStrategies.com defines unified communications as “Communications integrated to optimize business processes.” The definition of unified communications narrows significantly when you can read and hear about real-world examples that other companies are implementing right now—and apply them to your situation.
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Note: This article is the first in a series. Also read:
With the cloud being one of the leading trends now in communications, it’s little surprise to see this extending to contact centers. Hosted contact center solutions are not really new, but where things get interesting is when Unified Communications is added to the mix. There are several intriguing story lines around this, and enterprises need to carefully navigate their options when evaluating cloud-based solutions. This UCStrategies Spotlight article sets the stage for a series of upcoming articles featuring Interactive Intelligence, a vendor well-known to our audience. They have long been pioneers in this space, and this series explores a number of perspectives that enterprise decision makers need to consider in their thinking about cloud-based contact centers.
Trends Driving the Cloud
No matter how you define cloud communications, there is no shortage of launch announcements or industry forecasts that validate the current trend. While the cloud is not immune to hype, there are really two factors to consider with all this activity. First is the fact that enterprise adoption of cloud-based services has been underway for some time, but only recently has that come to include communications services. Many of these outsourced services have historically been defined as hosted or managed, but in essence they are cloud-based. Today, we’re calling these same services “cloud”, so the underlying trend is bigger than what the most recent announcements would imply. As such, the world of cloud-based services has become broader, with the scope expanding from IT-based applications to now include communications.
The second factor relates to the cloud concept coming of age. It is only in the last year or so that enterprises have started moving new services or applications into the cloud, and the contact center is a prime example of this. The same is true for Unified Communications, and we certainly expect that trend to continue. Both of these are truly mission-critical functions, and for many enterprises, the cloud has gained enough stature to now be their home.
To gain that stature, the cloud must prove itself in many areas. On a technology level, the cloud has to be reliable and scalable, especially for contact centers, which typically handle large volumes of calls, and increasingly must be able to communicate seamlessly with customers across multiple modes – email, voice, chat, etc.
Then there is the business case to consider. Contact centers are expensive to run, and premise-based operations require considerable Capex to build out, along with Opex to maintain. Furthermore, large enterprises face ongoing logistical challenges managing a decentralized infrastructure, especially when serving a global customer base. In these cases, important tradeoffs need to be made, especially when weighing the value of running an in-house operation against a cloud model, which provides centralized management but on a utility model basis. The trend suggests that more enterprises are favoring the outsourced pay-as-you-go model over the status quo of owning and maintaining their contact center operations.
Aside from the attractive economics, enterprises have another aspect to consider for the cloud. To get full value from contact centers, many discrete elements must interwork, with IVR, CRM, presence applications, PBX integration, click-to-call, email being just a few examples. As multimodal communications become the norm, customer expectations keep rising, and contact centers must be agile enough to handle all these modes.
This is where UC and contact centers intersect, and enterprises are quick to recognize that staying on top of this is a real challenge. Contact centers can no longer limit themselves to handling inquiries only by phone. Agents need to have all the tools at their disposal – voice, text, chat, video, etc. – and this is where UC can really add value. However, there are simply too many point-based applications from multiple providers and vendors, and to deliver a consistent contact center experience for customers, enterprises are looking for a more streamlined approach to manage all this. With so many of these elements becoming cloud-based now, it only makes sense to consider an integrated platform for all of these on a hosted basis.
Key Decision Factors for the Cloud
Gaining trust in the cloud doesn’t come easily, especially for enterprises with long histories of dealing with legacy vendors for telephony and contact center solutions. In the upcoming articles for this series, we will be exploring some of the key considerations around this. Central to all this is determining what types of vendors are the most suitable. At a basic level, this has to do with core functionality, network compatibility, ease of implementation, ability to support contact center need across the entire enterprise, etc.
These are all essential factors in the roadmap to cloud communications, but there is a more fundamental element in terms of vendor type. Unlike legacy offerings, a cloud-based contact center solution is a service, and is largely software-based. There are premise-based elements here, but they really are secondary to the hosted elements. Not only does this shift the value proposition away from being hardware-based, but it also means that the provider does not have to come from the world of telephony or even contact centers.
As such, enterprises can consider providers from a wider range of offerings. While having more choice is a good thing, the task of making fair comparisons across these options becomes more difficult. Some telecom vendors have strong UC offerings, but not much for contact centers, while others will have both. The same holds for contact center vendors. There could also be providers offering contact center services that are completely cloud-based, but from providers having little background in telephony or UC.
To help enterprises navigate these choices, the following are three decision factors that should be foremost in your thinking about cloud-based contact center offerings:
1. Going to the cloud should not mean a total loss of control. Flexibility is a hallmark of the cloud, and enterprises should be able to choose the solution that best fits their needs. This is important not just for the initial implementation, but also for down road, as the enterprise’s needs evolve. Some of these needs will evolve organically, and others will change based on major events such as an acquisition or entry into a new market. Therefore, it’s important to work with a vendor that has flexible options that allows you to remain agile and able to easily change, enhance or expand your contact center operations.
2. Enterprises need assurances about security and data integrity. This is a core concern for any form of outsourcing, especially for companies with global operations. The further away sensitive data is stored from where customers are based, the greater these risks become. Contact center vendors live with this as a matter of course, but it should not be assumed that all potential cloud-based providers are created equal in this regard. In this regard, it’s important to work with a vendor that truly understands these issues, not just on a technology level, but how they impact the customer as part of the contact center experience.
3. The cloud-based provider should have a proven reputation. This can be defined many ways, but the key point here is that for many enterprises, the cloud is a new option for their contact centers. To have confidence in the cloud, enterprises need to know that the provider has a track record in this space, and that they can deliver reliable quality as well as a consistent experience across all locations and customer environments.
Setting the Stage
These decision factors offer a preview for the three articles to follow, with each providing an expanded analysis. What you can expect to see will be a more detailed explanation as to why these factors are important, as well as what types of vendors or providers measure up to them.
Based on my research and experience, while there are certainly other providers to consider for cloud-based contact centers, Interactive Intelligence embodies the needed qualities for a cloud-based provider. Interactive Intelligence has quietly built up a reputation for quality, reliability and innovation, and this is ultimately reflected in their standing as a profitable public company. More specifically, the company is reporting very strong year-over-year growth for their cloud-based offering which is the fastest growing segment of their business today.
Comparable reporting is not easy to verify from other providers in this space, but if you consider Interactive Intelligence’s metrics, a picture emerges about the type of company you should be considering for moving your contact center into the cloud. This article has identified some key decision factors around this, and in my view, flexibility of the solution, data security and integrity, and track record in the contact center space should be core considerations. Each of these will be further explored over this upcoming series of articles, and collectively, our analysis should provide a solid grounding to support your final decision.
This paper is sponsored by Interactive Intelligence.
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements.
Uses presence capabilities for coordination, and presents a consistent unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types.
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