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Moving To IP Telephony In The Contact Center

By Laurent Philonenko and Parvesh Sethi, Cisco Systems


Thorough preparation — and some good advice — will deliver huge benefits and help prevent common challenges when deploying IP-based contact centers.

Internet telephony (IP)-based telephony is fast becoming the standard for many service organizations. These organizations are using the technology to boost efficiency and affordably scale both remote and local services. In addition to cost savings and service improvements, the convergence of voice and data allows a business to leverage a single infrastructure with all its benefits, including a centralized, virtual point of configuration and control of all dispersed contact centers. Given these benefits, it’s understandable that many organizations today are eager to move to IP telephony in their contact center as they replace aging time-division multiplexing (TDM) systems or deploy new solutions for branch offices or enterprise departments. A complete business needs assessment and thorough planning for deployment and support will help companies reap the benefits of an IP-based contact center (IPCC) and avoid common pitfalls.

Like any mission-critical system, an IPCC requires a careful, deliberate implementation that proceeds methodically through the technology lifecycle: preparation, planning, design, implementation and post-implementation/ support. A robust, dependable IPCC solution can be deployed by taking a lifecycle approach that addresses all aspects of planning, implementing, operating and optimizing a converged solution, including people, processes and technology. Each stage has a series of steps and specifications that should be met before moving on. This approach helps align business and technical goals throughout the solution lifecycle.

In that spirit, here are some tips that will dramatically aid organizations as they plan, prepare and deploy their IP-based contact centers.

The Right Team
A smooth implementation begins with a great team. Organizations must bring the right individuals to the project, and then must give the team the time and resources to do its job.

This is often easier said than done. In the traditional TDM (define - news - alerts) world, the voice technology experts dominated decisions regarding contact center technologies. With IP, however, responsibility is shared among additional individuals, including business owners, voice specialists, data specialists and network engineers. Because the new environment touches upon all these areas, people with the appropriate skill sets must be represented on the team.

Team members must clearly understand their roles and responsibilities, and how they map to the overall business goal. A transition plan is very beneficial in addressing these organizational needs. For instance, employees who have maintained a company’s data infrastructure may now be required to share responsibility with contact center application specialists. This cooperation is essential. To adequately capture multiple company perspectives and needs, the team should include such individuals as the executive sponsor, the business unit sponsors, the data network manager, the telecom manager, the voice network engineer and, representing the vendor side, the network consulting engineer and the applications consultant.

Planning And Design
Once assembled, the team should proceed through a methodology that begins with planning and design. During this process, members will identify the detailed requirements of the call center and then map the future network to those requirements. They will address such issues as call center routing logic, self-service applications and legacy private branch exchange (PBX) configuration.

In identifying requirements, teams should pay special attention to areas that are sometimes overlooked. For instance, they may not take into account the need for custom reporting. With large contact center applications, custom reporting is practically inevitable, but sometimes is not identified at the discovery stage. As a result, a custom reporting capability needs to be added later. It is advisable to account for this functionality from the start.

The discovery process should take note of every component of the system, including those that may seem peripheral. Will a third-party application, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) application, be integrated into the environment? Are there legacy and home-built applications that will require interfaces? Team members also will have to clearly understand such matters as availability, redundancy and security requirements. Scalability is another critical consideration. What are the growth expectations for the company, both in terms of workers and locations?

In exploring operational issues, the discovery process must assess not only the organization’s current support infrastructure, but also its planned support requirements. An IPCC is quite different from a TDM-based call center. Previously, an organization’s data and voice networks were distinct and, as a result, were managed separately. IP telephony, however, changed that. When the system is operational, the IT professionals supporting it must know how to manage a converged network. They must have a broader set of skills that includes knowledge of data, voice and applications operating on an IP infrastructure. This presents a tremendous personal growth opportunity for the staff involved.

Staff Development And Opportunities
The issue of personnel training is another area sometimes overlooked by organizations deploying their IP-based contact centers. As part of the discovery process, team members should determine their staff development requirements. They should assess current in-house skill sets for each functional group and then perform a gap analysis. In this way, they will know from the start where they are strong, where they are not, and what training will be necessary for successful management of the solution. They will also better understand if they require new personnel and thus can begin the recruitment process as quickly as possible.

An early personnel assessment has another advantage. It will help spur support for the new solution among existing IT professionals. As mentioned previously, an IP-based contact center can be a vehicle for business and process transformation as well as career development. An assessment enables existing workers to understand if there is any change in operations. They will have time to get comfortable with their new positions and even get a head start on additional training. In fact, it is a good idea to begin training early for all people affected by the IP-based contact center, including agents and supervisors.

After Deployment
With the launch date in mind, team members may find it difficult to focus beyond the day of deployment. However, if an IP-based contact center is to operate successfully, day-after-deployment considerations should be taken into account well before implementation begins. The rest of the project team members must start thinking about the “day after” during the planning and design stages.

For instance, who will maintain and manage the environment? If managed in-house, have the administrators completed all the necessary training? If third-party vendors are used, have they been qualified or certified by the hardware vendor to perform remote management?

Remember, a converged environment is significantly more powerful than legacy technology, so there must be personnel in place with the skills to identify opportunities and ensure the organization is fully benefiting from the new system. Bandwidth and quality of service (QoS) settings may affect performance and should consequently be well understood and planned. Expertise, in-house or supported by professional services teams, has to be available on a proactive rather than reactive basis.

Ongoing Optimization
Finally, an IP-based contact center offers the best operational efficiencies and service improvements with proactive monitoring and optimization. Is the call flow efficient? Are the self-service applications running optimally? Can the call flow be redesigned or fine-tuned to enhance performance? Unlike in TDM environments, continual network optimization is a strength of IP telephony, since agent efficiency and the customer experience are constantly analyzed and improved. Moreover, IP telephony allows organizations to better adapt to the ever-changing needs of their industries. Converged voice/data personnel must be adept at performing this monitoring and fine-tuning.

IP technology can dramatically boost customer service and employee productivity within the contact center. But proactive planning and preparation are essential in order to reap the maximum benefits of the technology. Heeding the above advice can go a long way toward a smooth implementation and enhancing system reliability and performance while reducing the contact center’s total cost of ownership. CIS

Laurent Philonenko is Vice President and General Manager of Cisco (news - alerts) Systems’ Customer Contact Business Unit, which provides contact center and interactive voice applications to enterprises and service providers.

Since March 2000, Parvesh Sethi has been a member of Cisco’s Customer Advocacy team and is currently serving in the capacity of VP, Advanced Services. In this role, he has worked with the various lines of businesses, Sales, Strategic Alliances and Customer Advocacy to help develop and drive the Professional Services competency in key technology areas for both service provider and enterprise market segments.

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