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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[March 11, 2004]


By Art Rosenberg

Is Everything In The Contact Center Going To Be VoIP?

I sat in on an interesting road show seminar sponsored by Nuasis, a provider of IP-based distributed call center technology. It featured a well-known call center expert, Vanguards Lori Bocklund, co-author of Call Center Technology Demystified, who made the case for enterprise contact centers to move to IP networks and application servers.

What was particularly interesting is that Nuasis is reaching out beyond the traditional telecom staff to include IT data network managers, who will start sharing responsibility for supporting contact center operations that are based on converged, IP networks for telephone services. About half of the audience indicated that they were IT data network managers, rather than telecom or contact center managers.

As Nuasis stressed in their presentation, VoIP is not the same as Voice over the Internet. The latter involves using undedicated and uncontrolled resources of the public Internet data network, while enterprise IP telephony applications will require the bandwidth management of enterprise-controlled VoIP networks (or Intranets) to support the Quality of Service (QoS) that voice communications require.  

Bocklund echoed the observations of many industry analysts that the maturation of the VoIP network infrastructure, coupled with IP telephony application servers, has now reached the point where all enterprise market segments have started making serious plans to replace legacy TDM voice technology with IP infrastructure. The operational functions affected by the use of VoIP infrastructure for the contact center application include:

  • Inbound call queuing and routing;
  • Inbound text message analysis, queuing, routing and automated response;
  •  Click to talk and click to chat for Web callers;
  • Speech and multimodal self-service applications (IVR);
  •  Screen pops contextual information display about the customer;
  •  Unified customer contact activity, data collection and reporting;
  • Call transfer and conferencing;
  • Outbound contact management and outdialing;
  • Customer chat, internal instant messaging and presence/availability management;
  • Quality call and message monitoring, recording and coaching playback; and
  • Performance management feedback for contact center and supervisory personnel.

IP infrastructure enables these functions to be centralized and consolidated for any size of distributed enterprise. In addition to making these functions easier and less costly to integrate, implement, and manage, a big argument for VoIP remains the reduction of costs for voice transport and intra-enterprise toll bypass.

In addition, the fact that the leading traditional telecommunications vendors are no longer developing traditional and more costly TDM-based products, the cold, hard facts of life will eventual push both existing and greenfield enterprise customers into the VoIP fold.

Bocklund presented Vanguards perspective of the need to begin implementation planning for the IP Contact Center. Even though there are significant payoffs and ROI to the enterprise from contact center activities, Vanguard doesn't believe that an enterprise  formal contact center operation can remain a standalone operation and may only be a starting point for planning enterprise VoIP and IP telephony convergence. In their view of the virtual enterprise contact center, the implementation planning considerations must be enterprise-wide and should now include the following elements:

  • Formal call center operations (centralized, distributed, and home agents);
  • The informal contact center for all customer-facing personnel, including mobile field sales and service staff; and
  • Contact center of one facilities for all enterprise personnel, which support personalized (desktop and wireless mobile) unified, multi-modal contact management for individual users. This has been the domain of traditional PBXs, voice mail systems, and wired station telephones, but is changing with the migration to VoIP, IP telephony, and SIP standards. In the world of converged communications, it must now include presence and availability management, along with new modalities of person-to-person contact, such as instant voice (push-to-talk) and text messaging and multi-party conferencing.

Just as the modern, scalable digital PBX/ACDs cost effectively competed against standalone ACDs, so too will scalable and reliable enterprise communications servers (e.g., IP-PBXs) become an important element for integrating IP contact center applications. Contact center staff, whether dedicated agents, supervisors, or informal customer-facing personnel, must all be considered as part of the enterprise-wide virtual contact center operation, since all customer contact activities must be collected and centralized for effective CRM purposes. This capability will be particularly important for future versions of the legacy desktop screen pop. In addition, however, all enterprise personnel must also be treated as individual end users who also communicate individually with non-customers.

Many of the IP-based contact center providers entered the market without trying to displace the heavy investments in enterprise PBXs and key systems.

The Nuasis presentations highlighted the many benefits of building the next generation of contact center operations on a VoIP infrastructure. The question for every enterprise now remains one of choosing the next step. Clearly, it has to be the operational analysis and design of the VoIP network infrastructure upon which the component communication applications will rest, including those that are unique to contact center activities. Bocklund highlighted the fact that most organizations dont have the experience or the expertise to properly plan their migration to VoIP-based contact center operations, especially when the technology is still evolving. So they need to invest in learning, use of outside resources and take the time to do it right.

Although the pioneers of the data IP networking have moved into voice communication applications, notably Cisco, experienced voice technology providers like Avaya, Nortel and Siemens have also moved aggressively into VoIP infrastructure technology. Then there are the newer communication servers for customer interaction management that combine pre-integrated communication applications, which are particularly appropriate for new greenfield installations, and will integrate with legacy PBXs and other contact center platforms (e.g., CosmoCom, Interactive Intelligence, Nuasis, Telephony@Work). However, given that cost-effective migration to VoIP and IP telephony depends on very selective and graceful implementation planning, a practical enterprise consideration will realistically start with protecting existing technology investments that still work and looking at product migrations offered by current providers.

Another practical alternative is to think about service providers who can offer a pilot operation that gives the enterprise some hands-on experience with new responsibilities and capabilities of IP-based centralized/distributed converged communications. It is only then that price comes into the picture for finalizing implementation decisions.

What do you think should be the first implementation step for enterprise contact center migration to VoIP infrastructure? What new functional benefits will VoIP-based voice mail bring to both formal and informal contact center operations? Will SIP presence and availability management simplify call and message assignment and routing for both formal and informal contact center activities? How will SIP work for enterprise applications that need to make contact with a customer? How will IVR applications benefit from multimodal interfaces? Who in the enterprise will be responsible for making technology decisions for contact center functions?      

Let us know your thoughts by sending them to [email protected]. You can also participate in our forums.

Art Rosenberg and David Zimmer are veterans of the computer and communications industry and formed The Unified-View to provide strategic consulting to technology and service providers, as well as to enterprise organizations, in migrating towards converged wired and wireless unified communications. They focus on practical user requirements, implementation issues, and new benefits of multi-modal communication technologies for individual end users, both as consumers and as members of enterprise working groups. The latter includes identifying new responsibilities for enterprise communications management to support changing operational usage needs most cost-effectively.

Considered to be objective industry thought leaders, Art Rosenberg and David Zimmer have been publishing their highly-acclaimed syndicated column on unified messaging and unified communications for over four years to a worldwide audience of consultancies, technology providers, service providers, and enterprise technology managers. Both principals are popular speakers at leading technology conferences and organized the first programs in the industry focused on the subject of unified messaging/communications. The Unified-View's website (www.unified-view.com) is also considered to be a leading source for information on the evolution of unified communications.

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