ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

Q: We've short-listed a few vendors to talk to about a communications system for our contact center, and integration is definitely a concern. Any insights you can share would be appreciated to help in our selection process.

A: Even without knowing which vendors you have on your list, let me offer an initial word of caution: If they don't mention back-office systems in their integration pitch, give them a low score. Typical proprietary vendor-speak often sounds like, "We can handle the entire project and integrate to your existing PBX, ACD, third-party systems, etc. to reduce implementation costs and protect your investment." The problem is, such vendor-speak focuses only on telephony-level integrations, and not on the back-end systems integration many contact centers rely on to manage information alongside customer interactions.

_______________________As common technical and business sense will tell you, the single-point integration approach of an application suite and all-in-one communications platform makes it easier to administer an overall system and reduce costs.

In fact, proprietary "multi-point" legacy vendors have telephony-level integrations down, since they typically require many different boxes (often from different vendors) to round out their offering. Business-level integrations, however, just aren't their strong suit. Consider this analogy for example. Say you're remodeling your house. Would you rather deal with one contractor who can drywall, paint and re-do ceilings and floors all extremely well for a fair price, or a contractor who brings in a bunch of subcontractors who raise costs, increase timelines and point fingers at one another when things don't go well?

You should take the same approach when selecting a business communications vendor. Make sure your list of vendors includes a couple whose solutions come from the new breed of all-in-one application suites that are far more centralized and adaptable. Here's why.

Many communications suites now on the market are supported by an underlying unified platform architecture which, unlike multi-point legacy systems, allows an organization to integrate an entire suite of applications through a single integration point. Moreover, that same central integration point is where business applications and back-office systems fit in, usually with little or no need for customization or expensive programming.

As common technical and business sense will tell you, the single-point integration approach of an application suite and all-in-one communications platform makes it easier to administer an overall system and reduce costs. By "overall" system, that means all the types of back-end systems a modern contact center relies on from day to day, which makes a single point of integration invaluable.

• Reporting and analytics;

• Workforce management;

• Knowledge bases and knowledge management, including e-mail and Web-based auto-response applications;

• Customer databases;

• CRM solutions, increasingly with screen-pop, screen automation and embedded call control;

• Unified messaging;

• Directories;

• Accounting;

• Web services, such as online forms and surveys; and

• Office services, such as those offered in Microsoft's Office Communications Server.
Given all the back-end apps your contact center might incorporate, ask the vendors you're considering to spell out exactly how their solutions will integrate to such business systems. Then ask them some other questions, too.

Security. If VoIP security is a concern, ask the vendor how they plan to keep your voice traffic secure, particularly if their solution will be routing VoIP traffic across systems for ACD, IVR, call recording, outbound predictive dialing and other functions. In a multi-point system configuration, integration complexity and costs related to VoIP security increase significantly.

Standards. Find out what standards each vendor's solutions support to see how complex back-office integrations are going to be. Any integrations requiring third-party gateways or middleware (APIs) instead of standard protocols end up increasing the implementation time frame and leave you to rely on third-parties for patches. Headaches usually increase as well.

Real-time business intelligence. Knowledge bases, e-mail and Web auto-response systems, post-call and online satisfaction surveys, etc. come in to play with this issue on the table. Again, make as sure as possible a new system can accommodate these and other types of intelligence-oriented applications.

Whereas a communications system's PBX, ACD, e-mail, chat and associated components drive the interaction process with customers, back-office applications are required to process and manage the business information interactions generate. A strong argument can therefore be made that business applications are as critical to a contact center as interaction applications, and if you can't integrate them to the system a vendor is offering, mark the vendor off your list.

Tim Passios is Director of Product Marketing for Interactive Intelligence Inc. and has more than 16 years experience in the contact center industry. Interactive Intelligence is a leading provider of IP business communications software and services for the contact center and the enterprise, with more than 2,500 installations in nearly 70 countries. For more information, contact Interactive Intelligence at [email protected] or (317) 872-3000.

› CIS Table of Contents
| More