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Perspectives on Unified Communications and the Contact Center

Welcome to the first installment of “UC Unplugged” — my personal take on unified communications (UC) and the contact center. Now you might ask, what does the contact center have to do with UC? (Translation: Why should I care?) I’ll get to that in a moment.

Instant messaging (IM) is quickly changing how companies do business today. Enterprise IM tools, such as Microsoft (News - Alert) Office Communicator, are now completely immersed within many enterprises and are a vital channel of communication for many workers. As a result, employees are freely offering up two key UC elements: their presence and identity. These are the DNA of UC, and their availability opens up truly transformational opportunities for savvy IT and business leaders alike.

In fact, IM usage is nearing a tipping point, given analysts’ estimates of 20 percent of businesses having now deployed enterprise IM across their employees’ desktops. Additionally, this proliferation of IM has resulted in an organizational culture that is primed for a UC strategy.

UC is the enterprise’s way of removing the silos from around its people, and organizations are increasingly evaluating the technology necessary for a successful UC strategy. Creating an enterprise-wide UC strategy forces companies to ask critical questions about business processes and workflows: What technologies are necessary for UC? Are these solutions IT-ready, standards-compliant and can they really interoperate with each other? What are the challenges that companies face in interoperating all these modes of communication channels, including IM, voicemail, presence engines, and unified messaging, and how are these challenges addressed?

So back to the earlier question, what does the contact center have to do with UC? Fact is, the contact center has a lot to teach the enterprise about UC. What the contact center has long called “agent state” and “skills”, are “presence” and “identity” in UC terminology.

It turns out that the contact center provides a well-established blueprint for making UC practical and beneficial. And, while the technology to manage presence and identity may have changed over the years, the contact center still has vast experience in connectivity, presence, measurement and its related best practices, setting the bar for deployment company-wide.

Furthermore, it looks like the contact center is converging with the enterprise thanks to UC. For example, the idea of tapping expertise found in knowledge workers throughout the enterprise has been a holy grail for many. The challenge has been identifying when a knowledge worker is available to assist and how best to communicate with them. After all, I know very few people who will agree to tell their employer when they will start and end the work day, when they are on a phone call, when they are in a meeting, when they want to go to the water cooler, and so on. Of course, by accepting their job, contact center agents agree to do all of the above and more. But, through their sharing of presence, knowledge workers are “telling” everyone else in the business both when and how they can be communicated. The trick then, is to integrate the contact center technologies to enterprise presence engines.

This integration suddenly allows organizations to bring together communication channels and technology to enrich the customer experience with the expertise that knowledge workers can offer. Contact center agents can now access the availability of experts within the enterprise according to a presence engine. When an available expert is found, the connection is established according to the preferred media type. Whether by phone or IM, the agent can discuss the inquiry with the knowledge worker and, if necessary, conference in the customer’s call. This whole process can improve first-call resolution and the ultimately enhance the customer experience.

In the end, the most critical part of this evolution is to manage it, so as not to create a higher tech version of the isolated individual worker — totally plugged in, yet working solo. There is clearly a growing interest in solutions that can improve communications-enabled business processes. But for the immediate future, there is definitely an education process ahead of us when it comes to UC, and it’s all a work in progress.

What do you think? Check out our blog, “Contact Center Unplugged,” ( and drop us a comment. I’ll address your interests in UC and contact center topics in future columns. IT

Mike Sheridan is Senior Vice President, Strategy and Marketing for Aspect (News - Alert) Software ( With more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications and high-tech industries, Mike serves as a key strategist for Aspect Software, Inc., with a critical eye for identifying emerging and evolving markets and a knack for defining solutions to serve them. Aspect Software founded the contact center industry and is now the world’s largest company solely focused on unified communications for the contact center.

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