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Contact Centres in the Cloud

04 Oct 12

Brendan Maree, Interactive Intelligence managing director, ANZ, asks is "A Cloud Unified Communications Solution Right for You?"

What’s driving contact centres to adopt cloud-based Unified Communications (UC) solutions?

The trend of cloud computing has increasingly spurred technology decision-makers in contact centres to ask “why can’t we reap the same benefits from moving our unified communications applications to the cloud?”

Vendors are responding. Today, there exists a wealth of cloud UC solutions for contact centres. What’s interesting is how the original drivers for this migration have already begun to change.

Traditional drivers boiled down to reduced costs: lower up-front capital expenditures, a “pay-as-you-go” pricing model, and reduced IT maintenance and management expenses.

A more recent driver, however, is flexibility: both the ability to quickly scale up and down (especially the ability to quickly provision multiple sites and remote agents), and the ability to more quickly add sophisticated applications.

This latter benefit is especially crucial because it gives contact centres a key competitive advantage by enabling them to differentiate services.

However, despite the potential benefits of cloud UC solutions, it’s not for everyone.

How do I decide if a premise-based or cloud UC solution is best for my contact centre?

There are certain business environments that might be better suited to a premise model. These include the following:

• IT staff requires full administrative access and control
• Applications require a high degree of custom development
• Industry requires stringent compliance with many regulations and/or security policies

While all of these are valid considerations, it’s important to note that the industry is rapidly addressing them. Some cloud UC vendors are offering new delivery models and new server architectures designed to dramatically improve control, security, and reliability.

In addition, migrating to the cloud is no longer an all-or-nothing proposition. More vendors today are offering hybrid options that enable contact centers to host some UC applications, while keeping others on-premise.

Should your contact centre decide to move to the cloud after a thorough due diligence process based on benefits, risks, and business requirements, the next step is selecting the right vendor.

What are the criteria contact centres should use to select a cloud UC solutions provider?

Control, security, and reliability.

One of the most important factors to consider when selecting a cloud UC vendor is the degree to which it offers control, security, and reliability. Differences in cloud delivery models and server architectures directly impact these capabilities.

For instance, does the vendor’s delivery model allow your contact centre to keep all voice traffic on the company’s network? Does it enable you to record and store all calls behind your firewall? And does the vendor offer virtualised, dedicated servers for each customer?

Finally, be sure to conduct a thorough audit of the vendor’s cloud facility (both the infrastructure and policies). Are they 24/7-monitored and SAS 70-certified? If the vendor can provide all these capabilities, then you can be pretty confident your control, security, and reliability requirements will be met.

Software supplier versus third-party

Another important factor is whether the service is offered by the company that developed the software or by a third-party. If it’s the software supplier, as long as the vendor has a proven track record developing and delivering cloud UC solutions, there are typically only advantages to acquiring services from them.

First, the software supplier gives contact centres immediate access to enhancements -- customers don’t have to wait for third-parties to get trained on enhancements and test them. Second, contact centres have a greater ability to influence development. And third, because the supplier develops the software, they are maximally invested and odds of them abandoning the business are reduced.

Migration path to premise

Providing contact centres with an easy migration path from cloud to premise is another crucial factor when selecting a vendor. Does the vendor even offer a migration path? If so, what, if any, application re-writes will the contact centre incur as a result of the migration?

If the cloud UC vendor also offers premise-based solutions, and if it also functions as the software supplier, odds are good that this migration is possible with no impact on applications.

Single-platform Architecture

This is where the “UC” aspect of cloud really kicks in. Many cloud UC vendor solutions are based on premise equipment composed of loosely integrated products from different manufacturers. This introduces an element of cost and complexity that the movement of “UC” has tried to address. But don’t be fooled. Many of these same vendors have simply slapped the UC label on the same old products.  Ask the vendor which applications were inherently developed versus which are offered via partnerships or acquisitions.

The more platforms in the mix, the greater chance of management complexity and finger-pointing should things go awry. A true UC cloud solution should include a wealth of applications running on the same all-in-one platform. And this platform should be open and software-based for maximum customisation and interoperability.

Conclusion

As the hosted UC market grows, one thing is for sure - growth will continue into the foreseeable future. Innovations in the areas of networks, virtual server technology, and Web interfaces will eliminate any remaining functional limitations, and vendors will continue to add applications to their cloud UC solutions. So do your due diligence and be glad to know that you’ll have plenty of company should you decide to walk the hosted path.

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