“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all”
—Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now)
The hosted cloud, with solutions and also data on third-party networked servers, has arguably dominated the contact center technology conversation for the past decade.
But do we truly know the cloud environment, including the forces moving customer contacts and the information to it?
For insights I turned to contact center operations and technology authority Laura Sikorski. Here is our conversation.
Brendan Read: Are contact centers truly ascending their core solutions to the cloud? Or are they keeping them on the ground, i.e., on-premise?
Laura Sikorski: First, let us look at what contact center infrastructure (CCI) is.
Gartner “defines CCI as the products (equipment, software, and services) needed to operate call centers for telephony support and contact centers for multichannel support.”
“A third deployment option for CCI is as a core component for customer engagement centers. One in which functionality is tightly integrated with CRM system(s) and social media channels to give a ‘single view of the customer’ across all touchpoints.”
According to Gartner, technologies and features include Voice Routing, Digital Channel Routing, and Workforce Engagement Management.
- Telephony Infrastructure
- IVR and voice portals for self-service applications, including speech-enabled self-service
- Outbound dialing/proactive contact
- Virtual routing applications for multisite and work-from-home (WFH) scenarios
Digital Channel Routing
- Multiple contact center routing and prioritization engines with real-time and historical reporting
- Computer-Telephony-Integration (CTI)/web service interfaces – including tools for integration with CRM software
- Presence tools
- Email response management
- Web chat
- Collaborative browsing
- Social media
- Live and prerecorded video
- Workflow routing and management
- Mobile customer service applications
- Knowledge-based self-service
- Sentiment analysis
Workforce Engagement Management
- Workforce management scheduling tools
- Session recording and quality monitoring, including speech analysis and screen scrapes
- Data warehouse and analytics systems
Second, you can choose to implement these technologies and features on-premise, cloud, or a combination of both. Cloud solutions in the contact center context are also known as contact center as a service or CCaaS.
The solution is dependent on how and what your customers will use to provide them with outstanding customer experiences and memorable interactions, the vendors selected, the IT infrastructure, and your company’s pocketbook.
The expenditure can be CAPEX (pay up front, then amortize the expense for a specific time-period) or OPEX (pay annually or monthly for user connectivity – subscription model).
The decision to ascend to the cloud is dependent on the contact center’s needs…
Your company’s current and future digital transformation strategies are critical and will help you determine how much money to invest in a true customer engagement solution.
Finally, to fully answer your question, I don’t believe there is a wholesale shift to the cloud from on-premise but instead it is being made on a case-by-case basis.
The decision to ascend to the cloud is dependent on the contact center’s needs and what future customers are looking for.
Brendan Read: Is the move to the cloud being pushed by contact center needs? Or is it being pulled by vendors finally realizing they can make more money with the cloud’s recurring revenue model?
Laura Sikorski: I believe contact centers are going to the cloud for the update flexibility and cost reduction in IT personnel.
Selecting the OPEX Contact Center as a Solution (CCaaS) cloud solution is usually a joint IT and contact center management decision. Again, you can have a combination of on-premise and cloud if cost effective.
Keep in mind that a Service Level Agreement (SLA) must include five-nine reliability through redundancy and QoS (Quality of Service).
Contact center management should have provided IT their requirements on customer touchpoints and expectations, agent requirements, self-service options, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Their input must be included in the Request for Proposal document and attendance at all provider presentation and pre-selection meetings.
Keep in mind that a digital transformation strategy for the next three to five years should be the core of the selection process.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s WFH requirement has certainly expedited cloud adoption. Ramp up was quick, and some vendors gave it away for free for a short period of time.
Do vendors want to sell the cloud model? Of course, as it is a profitable business decision.
It makes sense for a contact center operation as more features are native to the software, can be implemented in a more timely manner if an implementation schedule is clearly defined in all contracts, and software feature updates are included in the subscription pricings.
Be careful, though. Make sure your future implementation dates and costs for native features are detailed in the initial contract.
Brendan Read: What is the actual business case that you’ve seen for bringing solutions to the cloud?
Laura Sikorski: The business case is financial and operational.
CCaaS is a no brainer especially for small help desk and collections departments whose operations and technology differ from larger customer service operations.
Rapid deployment enables a company to start a new contact center on short notice for a new business venture OR if a legacy telephone system is no longer supported.
Brendan Read: Conversely what is the business case for sourcing these solutions on-premise?
Laura Sikorski: The business case is local data security for highly regulated industries. Again, a combination of on-premise and cloud is an option.
Brendan Read: Discuss migrating applications from on-premise to the cloud. Is it relatively straightforward or is it fraught with challenges?
Laura Sikorski: I think migration to the cloud is straightforward; however, if WFH is a required feature, operational processes are the issue. I suggest your readers review the “Should Agents Work from Home?” article in the June Contact Center Pipeline issue.
Data in the Cloud?
Customer data, including from call recordings, digital interactions, and files are increasingly being stored and accessed from the cloud.
Here are Laura Sikorski’s observations on the benefits, challenges, and recommendations about having data hosted in the cloud versus having it housed on-premise.
Laura says “Let’s look at the data access and storage options.
1. On-Premise or ‘On-Prem’
“This is when software is downloaded and self-managed to a server device the company owns and located in the data center(s) that provide your enterprise connectivity networks (private or public, such as AWS, Azure, Google Cloud).
“Data protection is the biggest advantage as it is stored locally and assures compliance. Employees still have access to data with this solution should the network have problems or loss of internet connectivity.
“But resource availability and storage costs are the challenges with on-prem.”
“This is when software is provided as software-as-a-service (SaaS) entirely by an external provider, does not run on the company’s servers, and is dependent on an internet connection,” says Laura.
“All maintenance, hardware, and software are managed by the provider and software updates are installed automatically with advance notice.
“Cloud software is usually a license model and is easily scalable up or down. The subscription can be a flat fee per organization or user for a year or monthly usage. It is critical that the company manage costs efficiently to avoid overspending.
“Data protection is passed on to the cloud provider and the company must consider/review all risks involved.”
Laura outlines the key variations of the cloud:
- Public Cloud is where often multiple companies share resources, and the third-party providers keep the data separate.
- Private Hosted Cloud is when a third-party supplier provides a company with isolated control over their server resources.
- Hybrid Cloud is when a company maintains a data center and dedicated servers. This option provides the most security and control but can be cost-prohibitive.
“My vote is for a Private Hosted Cloud solution,” says Laura. “And here’s why. The greatest challenges for any cloud model are maintaining SLAs, QoS, internet connectivity, and making sure you are managing the number of users due to subscription pricing.
“With the Private Hosted Cloud, you have the flexibility and also the benefits of a third party handling infrastructure, upgrades, and maintenance with all the comforts of home: namely control over the server handling your applications and data, and strong security.”