VoIP: So What?
by Ken Landoline
While new technologies come and go, seasoned IT professionals know little gets implemented without strong economic and/or tactical reasons to justify a major shift in corporate planning and investment. Although the VoIP driven convergence of enterprise voice and data systems, for many IT professionals, has crossed the chasm from “Should I do it?” to “When will I do it?” it may take more than a decade for this enterprise-wide transition to really occur because of equipment lifecycle timing and some very pragmatic depreciation and accounting issues. However, within the enterprise multi-channel contact center space, the sense of economic and tactical urgency for this VoIP killer application is upon us.
VoIP In The ContactCenter – Is It For Me?
Perhaps the most appealing benefit for IT professionals is that VoIP enables us to move away from the notion of a call center as a proprietary telephony-based system to that of a standards-based, software application that deploys easily on existing IT infrastructure. It is this possibility that holds the most promise for IT professionals as they look for tactical and economic returns on investments for the deployment of VoIP technology in the contact center.
What Does The Business Manager Need to Know About VoIP?
In a traditional call center, a major difficulty is the maintenance of a functional link and relationship between the incoming call and the information about the call throughout the business transaction. This often leads to problems that make quality customer service incomplete or difficult, at best. With the use of IP technology, however, the telephone call and the call information are permanently linked. This linkage makes call handling and customer service a simpler task and is one of the underlying technical reasons for the advantage of packet switching in the contact center marketplace.
In general, the potential benefits of the VoIP multi-channel contact center fall across several major areas that can be grouped into the following categories:
1) VoIP will reduce IT deployment costs and call center operating costs. With general business applications such as the IP PBX, system deployments are justified on savings from reduced telephony service charges between sites and reduced administration costs. Likewise, with the IP contact center system additional cost savings apply that can help payback the cost of a system within a relatively brief period.
2) Calls can be easily routed to the best available agent anywhere on the network. An IP-based contact center can be deployed in a distributed fashion on a distributed data network. This configuration supports the routing of contacts to the best agent wherever the agent may be located – at a contact center facility, a branch office, or at home. The networked approach reduces the number of agents required to handle the same volume of contacts and improves first call resolution by matching the best agent to handle the call from a larger pool of available agents.
3) Multi-channel customer contacts can be routed using a common set of business rules. Phone calls, e-mail, chat and web sessions can all be routed, handled, and tracked using a single platform. That platform can include a single consistent workflow design tool for IT professionals, a single unified desktop for customer service agents, and a single administrative tool for reporting on all types of customer contacts and all agents regardless of physical location.
4) CTI-like applications can be more widely and more simply deployed. With an IP contact center on a unified network architecture, the need for costly and complex CTI projects is eliminated. There are no costs for separate CTI middleware and hardware. The time for deployment can also be reduced from months or weeks to hours. This shift in deployment paradigms is having a major impact on the number of CTI implementations, which in turn, improves service agent productivity.
5) Integration between call center application and other enterprise applications is simplified. As vendors move to standards-based software architectures versus proprietary telephony platforms, standards such as SIP, VXML, SOAP, and others will improve the IT organization’s ability to support the call center application and quickly deploy capabilities. Extending the call center application further into the enterprise by integrating with other core enterprise applications beyond CRM will become easier and less costly.
While we believe that each contact center should see the conversion to VoIP as an ultimate goal to be accomplished as rapidly as feasible because of the technology’s inherent advantages, we certainly realize that in all cases it may not be practical to make this conversation to a “Pure IP” environment immediately. Therefore, each organization must consider its contact center’s readiness to transition, as well as the practicality of doing so immediately.
What Are My Transition Path Options?
The selection of the most appropriate method will depend on several company-specific factors. The first is the existence of a legacy system and its potential technical and financial readiness for upgrade. However, the IP telephony benefits are so compelling for the contact center, in terms of efficiency, economics, customer service improvements, ease of deployment and integration, and simplicity of workforce deployment, that an immediate switch to a pure IP contact center platform can often be justified. In any event, the goal should be for every enterprise to get to a Pure IP environment as quickly as possible in order to reap the full benefits of IP telephony.
Ultimately, with a single and unified IP contact center platform purchase, the IT executive can implement a leading-edge center and eliminate the need to install a wide variety of expensive, proprietary, and difficult-to-implement systems. The IP-enabled contact center can act as the automatic call distributor (ACD), PBX, interactive voice response (IVR) system, voice and fax servers, and computer-telephony integration (CTI) and Internet gateways. In addition, the IPcontact center will easily interface with digital call recording and logging, predictive dialing, supervisory applications, and report generation systems.
Any of these transitions can be the impetus for the changeover. However, the inherent benefits of an IP solution can add a good deal to the business case that ultimately drives the changeover. IT executives considering a major contact center transition should begin building the business case for an IP contact center environment based on the improvements in the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an IP telephony environment, the delivery of a consistent customer experience across sites, the ease of enterprise application integration, and the simplification of the system interface for agents and administrators.
The business and technical issues are complex and non-trivial. You'll need to evaluate the potential impact of introducing VoIP not only to your existing corporate data networks, but also to your operations. You can learn more about what's required for this essential step by from Intervox Group's data sheet, downloadable at VoIP Readiness Assessment.
Ken Landoline is Principal Analyst at Saddletree Research and an Intervox Group Affiliate.
(c) Intervox Group 2006