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February 2009 | Volume 12/ Number 2
Feature Story

IP in the Contact Center

By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis

Programming in an IP (Internet Protocol) network environment has enabled developers to build scalable, stable, and centralized applications that can both visualize and manage vast multi-site, multimedia contact centers. The use of IP has also yielded cost savings for U.S. contact centers, according to The U.S. Contact Center Operational Review (2nd edition), a study of over 200 contact center operations conducted by the analyst firm ContactBabel (News - Alert). Most contact centers that have implemented IP report benefits: 60 percent of respondents report significant network and IT cost reduction, and 64 percent report improved ability to adjust agent configurations.

“Many contact center investment decisions emphasize short term operational cost savings”, commented Steve Morrell, author of the ContactBabel report. “Our research confirms that savings opportunities with IP are significant. But our results also suggest that when considering IP contact centers, companies should think of them as enablers whose value will be realized over time in new applications and a better customer experience,” Morrell continued. “In addition to flexibility in deploying agents, many respondents cited easier integration among different contact center applications, a benefit that strongly supports both agent efficiency and the customer experience.”

Many players are jumping into revitalizing the contact center, such as Calabrio (News - Alert), a spin-off of Spanlink Communications, which has developed a unified suite of customer interaction and workforce optimization software for next-gen, IP-based contact centers. The Calabrio Unified Desktop, for example, makes it easier for agents and supervisors to interact with tools and customers and with each other. Automated workflows minimize transaction steps, errors and handle time, and Calabrio’s Workforce Optimization software can help contact centers measure quality and performance, and make continuous improvements in the effectiveness of people and processes.

At a higher level, the Calabrio Unified Supervisor Desktop integrates team coaching and collaboration tools with the Calabrio Quality Management, Calabrio Workforce Management, and performance reporting solutions. Finally, Calabrio One provides layered reporting, including historical reports that uncover requirements for agent training and process improvements. Targeted alerts can be set up so supervisors and managers can take immediate action to adjust agent or team activities in real time.

That Old Familiar Face

Since contact centers rely on phone system equipment and automatic call distribution (ACD) functionality, it would make sense that vendors of such equipment would add contact center capabilities to their offerings. Mitel Networks, for example, for many years known for its SX-2000 PBX (News - Alert) and now for the SX-200 IP Communications platform (serving up to 600 users) and 3300 IP Communications Platform (serving 10 to 65,000 users), has become a force to reckon with in the contact center market. Mitel (News - Alert) Contact Center Solutions are offered in two packages: Mitel Contact Center Business Edition for individual/single site contact centers having 25 or fewer agents and focused application needs; and the Mitel Contact Center Enterprise Edition, a scalable, resilient, and virtual solution for highly sophisticated contact centers of all sizes across one or more locations. (Customers can easily upgrade from the Business Edition to the Enterprise Edition.)

The Mitel Contact Center Enterprise Edition is remarkably scalable, since it can meet the advanced requirements of small, single-site contact centers, and yet it can seamlessly scale to handle the needs of distributed, multi-site, virtual contact centers. It offers extensive custom reporting, sophisticated routing and highly customized Interactive Voice Response (IVR), customized integrations for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and WorkForce Management (WFM), resiliency and high availability, and support for distributed, multi-site, virtual deployments. The system is based on the Mitel 3300 IP Communications Platform and its ACD software, and a modular suite of extensive, web-based applications residing on the enterprise server, such as Mitel Contact Center Management (Management tools for small to multi-site contact centers), Mitel Interactive Contact Center and Visual Queue (Dynamic telephone system control in real-time), Mitel Call Accounting, and the Mitel Contact Center Scheduling and Schedule Adherence (workforce management, forecasting and monitoring).

You’ll also see these traditional vendors accelerating the innovation process by teaming with software developers and companies working in the IP contact center field, such as the way Zeacom (News - Alert) has made its Zeacom Communications Center (ZCC) 5.1 software compliant with Avaya’s IP Office 4.2, Communication Manager 5.0 and AES 4.2. The Avaya/Zeacom combination delivers rich presence, unified messaging, contact center functions, IVR, SIP-based audioconferencing, mobility, a centralized operator console, and Microsoft (News - Alert) integration in one server using a single administrative interface.

Familiar vendors have adjusted their strategy in different ways. CyberTech International, which is a leader in the voice logging and communications recording industry, recently announced an interesting remote-installation service offering for advanced recording solutions, capable of providing considerable cost savings and zero network downtime. CyberTech remote installation is now available to all customers following its now proven track record in some the world's most security-sensitive networks, chief among them a globally branded, Western Europe-based commercial bank. The service was rolled out in less than a month after the initial banking installation that was performed securely and inexpensively via secure VPN access. The entire solution was activated from the organization's headquarters in a matter of hours flawlessly and for a fraction of the cost of conventional solutions for the bank's mission-critical operations.

The full CyberTech remote-installation solution is just part of various remote service features developed by the company. These include automated system checks and alarms from CyberTech's central global support desk. The support desk conducts daily performance assessments of installed recording systems at contact centers (and elsewhere), sending reports on status. In the event of issues, dial-in capability on the system enables CyberTech to perform checks, adjust configuration settings and install updates remotely.

Unified Communications (News - Alert) in the Call Center

Interactive Intelligence has over the years perfected a single all-in-one platform to meet the needs of any contact center. Incorporating what is now called unified communications, their Customer Interaction Center (CIC) is suited for contact centers of from 25 to 5,000 agents and it can be deployed as a premised-based or as a hosted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS (News - Alert)) communications solution. (An all-software IP version of CIC can be run on standard off-the-shelf servers to keep costs low.) CIC has been run as a UC solution for multi-site deployments, it’s based on the world standard SIP (Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert)) call control protocol and Voice over IP. It can deliver multimedia ACD routing, outbound dialing, call and screen recording, speech-driven Interactive Voice Response (IVR), etc. Applications running on the CIC support agents, supervisors, and IT managers alike, whether they’re office bound or working remotely.

The Customer Interaction Center platform is truly a centralized all-in-one platform, encompassing as it does IP PBX/PBX functionality, an ACD with built-in multi-channel queuing; speech-enabled IVR; recording, scoring and quality monitoring; outbound campaign management; customer self-service and eService automation; workforce management (WFM); supervision and system monitoring; remote agent capabilities; UC messaging and voicemail.

Obviously different contact centers have their own, unique needs. Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) provides skills-based routing, real time dashboards and alerting to enhance your customer service in various ways.

Another company that has imbued UC into their offerings is one of the oldest names in the contact center business, Aspect (News - Alert) Software. For 35 years their software and consulting services have assisted two-thirds of the FORTUNE Global 100, as well as small and medium enterprises.

Aspect released Aspect Unified IP 6.6, on December 12, 2008, which includes a some significant new features, including an ask-an-expert capability using the instant messaging and presence technology available in Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. This ask-an-expert feature enables Aspect Unified IP to seamlessly integrate to Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 to specifically request real-time presence information on experts located across the enterprise to assist with customer interactions and improve first-call resolution. Aspect Unified IP 6.6 unites inbound, outbound and blended multichannel contact (including voice, email, web, workflow and fax) in a single, scalable session initiation protocol (SIP)-based voice over IP (VoIP) software platform.

“One call resolution” has been a holy grail for contact center vendors, and locating and quickly contacting during a customer call an appropriate expert who has proper knowledge is considered the an indispensible tool to achieve customer satisfaction.

In support of the ask-an-expert feature, Aspect Unified IP 6.6 has added a new user classification, Knowledge Worker (expert), so that companies can add data on experts, such as names and phone numbers, to the Aspect Unified IP database, and assign a skill or set of skills, to define their profile as an expert. This enables agents to search for experts with unique skills who can assist with specific types of customer inquiries and then engage them via instant message (IM) or phone.

Aspect customer and partner, Datapoint, a systems integrator for enterprise and call center communications based in the United Kingdom, is already using Aspect Unified IP 6.6 to successfully identify the availability of knowledge workers, route calls to them, and record and monitor the interactions.

Contact Centers as a Service

Most smaller businesses don’t relish the thought of having to spend money on IT staff and contact center equipment and software. But they can enjoy full-featured contact centers just like major enterprises, thanks to network-based services made possible by such innovators as CosmoCom (News - Alert). Their concept of Contact Center On-Demand (CCOD, also known as hosted contact center or network-based contact center) is a premier example. Instead of just supplying basic transport services to contact centers, Network Service Providers (NSPs) provide basic transport services to contact centers, leaving the high-margin revenue of advanced contact center features to vendors of premise-based equipment. With CCOD, network operators can garner new higher margin revenue, and can protect existing sources of revenue from price-driven churn. Indeed, many of the world’s leading telcos, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange Business Services, KT (News - Alert), PLDT, NTT, Tata and KPN are now offering CCOD and related services.

CosmoCom provides their Contact Center On-Demand technology worldwide in the form of CosmoCall Universe, which realizes CCOD as a complete, unified, multi-tenant contact center suite that includes ACD, IVR, IVVR, CTI (News - Alert), predictive dialing, multimedia recording and a portfolio of management applications, all running on a single consolidated platform.

This leads us to CosmoCom’s other concept, Contact Center Consolidation 2.0, for IP contact center platforms found in enterprises having the largest and most complex requirements. This involves consolidating multiple locations, onshore, offshore, and home-shore agents, formal and informal agents, captive and outsourced operations, multiple communication channels, and multiple applications. Organizations can experience the benefits of Consolidation 2.0 by deploying CosmoCom technology themselves or by working with a service provider that hosts CosmoCom platforms on a dedicated or shared basis, such as BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange Business Services, Telefonica, NTT, Tata, PLDT, Verizon (News - Alert), and many others. IT

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.


The following companies were mentioned in this article:

Aspect Software – (

Calabrio – (

CosmoCom – (

CyberTech International – (

Interactive Intelligence – (

Mitel Networks – (

Zeacom – (

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