When thinking about communications in a business environment, it’s usually about how workers engage with each other in the organization. Given the focus of this column, it should not be surprising to hear this is just one way to look at communications. My last column looked at messaging platforms, and before that, CPaaS – communications platform as a service. Both fall along what I call the collaboration spectrum, which I believe helps decision-makers better match technology investments to the business problems at hand.
This is no easy task for two reasons. First, IT has traditionally focused more on the underlying technology and needs of their network than the business problems that these technologies can help solve. That’s no longer the case, and is a big reason why IT struggles to maintain strategic value for the business. The second reason is how quickly communications technology is evolving, and in many cases, IT is ill-equipped to stay current. Taken together, this creates new challenges for IT, especially as the boundaries for communications keep expanding.
How is the contact center related to collaboration?
If you’re asking this question, you are surely facing the above challenges, and perhaps we should talk to map out a strategy. The shifting boundaries in this space are largely driven by the cloud in that it allows everyone to be connected, and to use a common set of applications. This opens up new worlds for vendors and service providers, and to remain strategic, it’s incumbent on IT to explore these options. By moving beyond conventional definitions, communication now extends outside your four walls, not just for employees, but to interact with customers. In that light, the contact center starts to make more sense when thinking about collaboration.
To date, that hasn’t been possible, simply because contact centers were premises-based and closed systems in terms of connecting customers with agents. Much the way legacy telephony systems existed in a parallel universe alongside the data network, contact center platforms operate independently from enterprise-focused communications solutions.
As noted above, the cloud breaks down all barriers, and in the spirit of rethinking communications, decision-makers need to include both internal and external environments when mapping out collaboration solutions. It’s important to note here that this may well involve more than one deployment. There isn’t a single type of offering that addresses the complete collaboration spectrum. In other words, you may need a variation of UC for conventional needs, and perhaps a messaging-based platform to support intensive forms of internal team work.
Moving along that spectrum, many players in the market are supporting UC and contact center platforms in an integrated fashion. Traditionally separate, the cloud makes it possible for them to work together, and that has given rise to a new form of collaboration. The value proposition resonates strongest in customer-centric businesses, where the culture is built around serving the customer above all else. In these environments, everyone is considered customer-facing, either to engage directly with them, or indirectly via back channels when supporting agents in real time.
This brings us to CCaaS – contact center as a service – where hosted platforms open up the contact center market to businesses that could not justify having their own operation on site. On its own, this is an important development, but another opportunity comes from having a common provider being able to host both the UC and contact center platforms. Integrating both platforms with a merged directory provides seamless connectivity across the full organization, enabling new forms of collaboration.
Collaborating around customer needs is very different from having a cross-functional team work on a project. However, they both fall along the collaboration spectrum, providing another example of how rethinking communication gives rise to new forms of business value. This approach is self-evident among customer-centric companies, but you don’t have to look far in the research literature to see that most businesses still have a long way to go.
As such, the CCaaS concept is still early stage, and that’s why I’m writing about it here. The key to recognizing its value lies in looking beyond conventional parameters for communication, as well as seeing how cloud-based platforms create new possibilities. Contact center may not be in the normal realm for IT, but that’s the premise of my column.
The new normal is being driven by the cloud, and when the barriers you’ve known for so long fall away, you’d better be ready to look and see what’s on the other side. Of course, you could also choose to build new walls and keep out the new, but they’ll never be high enough, and when the customers start going elsewhere, your exit will soon be coming.Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal at J Arnold & Associates (www.jarnoldassociates.com).
Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.
Edited by Erik Linask