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Jim Burton of UCStrategies is joined by Brad Herrington, Senior Manager, Solutions Marketing at Interactive Intelligence, for a discussion about the release of Customer Interaction Center (CIC) 4.0, and its enhancements in analytics.
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton. I am joined today by Brad Herrington from Interactive Intelligence. As you all know, we have done a number of podcasts over the years with Interactive Intelligence, one of my favorite groups to talk to because I believe they are leading the market in quite a number of ways. For those of you who have followed some of my writings over the years you will know that I view unified communications as coming in three phases and Interactive Intelligence has actually led the last two of those phases. “UC-U,” which is the user interface, point-and-click dialing, everyone has been doing that. But the first one to do integration into business processes in a real way was Interactive Intelligence. And now they have a new release of CIC, it’s version 4.0, and with that they bring along the “UC-A,” unified communications for analytics, and we will get into that later.
So why don’t we get started, Brad, with you giving us some understanding as to what is new in this release and kind of what drove you there.
Brad Herrington: Sure. Thanks, Jim. With the 4.0 release, as you mentioned, this was our latest release of our core application, CIC, and came out at the end of last year. Three big areas we focused on: architectural changes, some enhanced experiences from the agent side, and then really the expanded management insight which Jim alluded to in the analytics piece.
To start out with on the architecture, just to give a really high level overview, we have moved our application to a true real application server. We moved the audio, everything that has to do with audio, out to the media server, which has been an evolution that has been part of I think, not only us, but the industry over the past decade or so. Everybody went from board to a hybrid IP to finally full IP. With our 4.0 version we have now gotten to the point where our core contact center application, enterprise application, CIC, is an application server. It is basically there to tell everybody else everything from your media servers, your gateways, where the phone calls are. It is still there to manage what is in the queue, who is talking, what present state people are in, but we have gotten to a point with this release where it is much more cloud friendly. I use that as I guess a buzzword, clouds being big right now, in that it is not only a vendor offering cloud, but a lot of organizations want to build their own private cloud where they have these application server rooms and then the remote sites just have very small media servers gatewayed. That is probably the biggest change in the architecture is we have gone to a true application server model which allows us increased scalability. The ability to do things like put it in Hyper V, virtualization is big now. So we have changed a lot from what we used to be where the CIC server was part and parcel, it was always part of a call at some point whether it was playing a prompt or listening to DTMF, things like that. Now, what we have done is we have moved all the audio processing down to media servers so you can get in that sort of “rack them and stack them” mode and distribute things out. That is probably the really biggest change from architectural, if you are familiar with us from the days of old. That is really it on the architecture.
And then, as I talked about, the enhanced experience – really just adding more and more into the agent experience where Jim, you mentioned the click-to-dial going to things like the web clients and email response management. Really just improving and moving along with the industry and the contact center and the UC space, really just improving on things we have been doing for quite a while in the business process.
And then the last area was expanding the management insight which is giving organizations the ability to see what is going on their calls down into their contact center and that is really the I guess that is the new product that came out with CIC 4.0, which is interaction analyzer. That’s the analytics piece. I will actually stop there. I do talk fast sometimes, so I apologize. But the idea is that is the new thing with CIC 4.0 – the new product name is Interaction Analyzer and that’s our analytic. Jim, I actually will toss it back over to you.
Jim: There are a couple of questions; I know you are a customer driven company. What was the customer requirement for getting into the analytics? What do they see the value and the need for that?
Brad: Analytics has been around for quite a while, but the requirements from our customers – especially the all-in-one, the unified type of customer. They are already familiar with having everything in one solution, being able to manage it. It was making sure it was a core part of what they already did, so couldn’t be a separate application, a separate group of servers. It also had to be easy to deploy and manage because analytics has had a bit of a bad rap, especially on the voice side. They are expensive, they took a long time to implement. And our customers were looking for, “I will use it; I will see the value in analytics, being able to understand what is going on on a day to day basis in my calls, but I need to be able to do this realistically in the confines of what resources I have. So I can’t just create another department for analytics. It just doesn’t work that way anymore.”
A lot of the customer feedback was, “make this part of the overall solution, not a separate application somewhere else. And make this easy to manage and cost effective. And then the ROI can build itself.” Everyone understands the value of having the data. So it was more on the deployment side and how to manage was really a big push in this.
Jim: Good. Brad you had made a comment about your cloud service and Joe Staples and I have done a couple of podcasts where we talked about the cloud service and how it has evolved and it is happening very, very quickly. So could you give us an update on your experiences with the cloud offering and the services there? The types of customers you are getting, if you could share with us any information on the percentage of your business that is moving from a regular contact center into a cloud service?
Brad: Sure. And really as you mentioned this has been a hot topic probably for the past 24 months. It went from a query type of interaction with our customers – “can you do cloud?” To now, when we are talking to organizations the dialogue is, “what are the costs and benefits of premise and what are the costs and benefits of cloud?” There is no longer some people ask for it. It is part of every conversation now – people are actually looking for the cloud. It has become a very large part of our…I apologize. I don’t have specific percentages here but I can provide those at a later date. It is part of everything we do. When we talk to people now it is not just designing new products and adding new features. It is how are those going to be delivered through the cloud? What are the benefits of certain features and functionality as it applies to the cloud? And that goes back to our architecture where we, ourselves, as a vendor offer this cloud-based solution. We saw the need for architectural changes to get these two application servers, get them into things like Hyper V where you can actually make better use of your hardware. So the benefits are there for the customers because the vendors are seeing the huge uptake in the cloud model and products are changing so they can be better based in the cloud and that just bleeds down into the premise because the architectures are becoming a lot more robust, a lot more scalable, and a lot more flexible in a lot of cases with what we talked about earlier.
Jim: When you look at the customers who are actually implementing cloud is there a profile, are they smaller companies? Bigger companies?
Brad: In our case, it has been bigger than we thought, we believe. I don’t think when people first started looking at this they thought that maybe cloud was something that a 25- to 50-person contact center would be looking at. We are seeing up into the thousands and we are also seeing a lot of multi-site and multi-national because people have just an incredible amount of infrastructure in many different sites all over the globe and it is becoming just too much to manage. You talked about what part of UC – now it went from just being a robust IP phone system to now business process is part of there and analytics is part of there. So there is more and more that they have to manage and they have to do that across multiple sites now. So I don’t have a specific industry. There is not like one vertical; clouds for this vertical. It has been anywhere from software-based companies to medical companies, financial companies. You know, really no specific vertical but more tilting toward the larger side than I think even we thought about early on. Because you would think that a lot of companies just don’t want to give up the control. You hear that as a negative; we don’t want to give up control and a lot of companies understand that they don’t have to control everything. They have a business to run and their communications is a key part of it, but they don’t want to have to have an incredible amount of infrastructure in place where it is just getting too cumbersome out there.
So no real vertical, I guess getting back to your question there; but tilting more on the larger side than I think what a lot of people would expect from the initial cloud.
Jim: It is going to be interesting to see if that applies to just hosted communications in general whether a lot of people think that is going to be the market whether it actually scales its way up to SME or even larger. I know that if we look back at the days of Centrex, a lot of small companies, but then a lot of very, very large institutions use that as well. That is going to be a fascinating thing to follow and I think it is interesting to see that your early reports are that you are surprised at how large that is.
Brad: When you mentioned Centrex, I think we are seeing the same type of deployment model with private cloud. Where Centrex used to be carrier based, there were very large switches up in the technically, the cloud, but they were large carriers at this point and companies would basically lease space or lines off of that. You saw even large universities become their own Centrex. They brought it all down and became their own phone company in a sense. With us, that is where the architecture for 4.0 that we started talking about where you can have it in the cloud, but (in) a lot of cases you may want to bring that down as a larger organization and bring your own private cloud type of deployment, synonymous with Centrex. Obviously, incredibly futuristic from what we remember Centrex to be, but still the same type of model where it is moving back and forth between the cloud depending on the size of the organization in some cases.
Jim: So with the introduction of 4.0, are you finding a new type of customer or is it just that you are finally delivering something that is evolving that customers have been looking for and needed and that’s why you did it?
Brad: I would like to think we always thought we knew what the customers were needing there. But yeah, I don’t think 4.0 would address the specifically new customer. It certainly may address how they would deploy it or how they thought about their communication simply because the cloud is now an option. As we add features those are cloud enabled. Everything we do now we have to make sure this applies to the cloud. So, no, I don’t think there is a specific new customer that 4.0 would look at. Although, with analytics we certainly get a little bit more I guess, business exposure. So the operations side of the house saying “what can you tell me of what is going on in the contact center?” So we may get a little bit more traction into other parts of the business and more interest in the contact center than we would in the past. But no specific different customer that I can come up with right now.
Jim: One of the things that always comes up as a question is, is there a particular platform that you work best with? Meaning, there are clearly some of your competitors like Cisco and Avaya who have contact centers, and of course, we know you sell products to their customers as well. Then of course, Microsoft and IBM come into play where I know that you are having some benefits of working with them as well. Can you kind of tell us is there a profile or type of customer that you work best with or let us know which platforms you work the most with?
Brad: Sure. So profile of the customer, first of all, there has to be some sort of, in many cases we are talking contact center here. Really they see the value in the contact center and then that touches other areas of the organization. You brought up IBM and Microsoft, so the Lync product and the SameTime product where those are enterprise desktop applications that we interface to. And we provide really robust contact center applications on the back. So our role in a lot of organizations is not to be the PBX for everyone but to be that contact center focus area providing the customer service and making things easier for a Lync user or a SameTime user to interact through different departments. So we see ourselves as working with those companies as an open platform and providing what we do best in the customer service and applications, business process and things like that. And then moving out into the enterprise from there.
And then you mentioned others, obviously those are competitors but in this space there is a co-opetition so there are many times where we sit behind or beside a Cisco switch or an Avaya switch and it really depends on what role they need us to play and what functions and features that we have. So yeah, we, as you mentioned, we have a promotion on right now to actually talk to Cisco people, Cisco customers and say “this is what we do.” We are the contact center piece here. We don’t have to be everything. We like to call ourselves an all-in-one platform, but it is not an all or none. We are more than willing and able to work with what else you have in the organization. It takes a lot of pieces now to run an organization. You need to be able to actually interface with a Microsoft or an IBM and with other switches. We still see ourselves really focused on the contact center, but we are moving out into the enterprise specifically you mentioned the business process, which obviously believes in all types of departments. We are not just focusing on the contact center. But that is really where we start at this point.
Jim: So when you say you’re focusing on other parts of the business are you talking about how you are doing the integration with business products as in analytics, but are you also talking about call control?
Brad: Oh yes. Either or in that case. It may be just a case where we are interfacing out in the organization whether that is just business process. So we are using our IPA product to actually route things around to specific business groups and organization. It can also be as an all-in-one, we are the PBX in a lot of cases. I would prefer not to sit behind or beside a competitor but I can act as the complete communication solution for all of your organizations – all of your enterprise desktops, your phones, everything. So we are a complete solution for an organization, but we respect the fact that there are going to be decisions made on certain desktops and I guess, facilities for communications, where we need to play in both of these. We would like to be your total communications solutions. We understand there are places for us to make things better in your organization without having to supplant that you already have there.
Jim: Great. Well, this has been very interesting. I always appreciate an update and I had a good conversation with you today, Brad. Appreciate it and look forward to talking with you again soon.
Brad: Alright, great. Thanks Jim.
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