Call center environments are comprised of a variety of systems including interactive voice response (IVRs), automatic call distributors (ACDs), outbound dialers and other components that have traditionally been provided by large technology vendors like Avaya, Cisco, Genesys and others. Traditional call center infrastructure tends to possess all the classic financial characteristics of legacy enterprise IT, e.g., significant upfront commitments, expensive customization and support, inflexibility etc.
As with nearly every enterprise IT category, a new set of vendors have emerged that deliver core contact center functionality via SaaS delivery models. Some of these vendors include LiveOps, InContact, EchoPass, Five9 and others. Some of these platforms are in fact being resold by the legacy players mentioned above (see Siemens and InContact). Subscriptions are typically based on the number of call center agents, and offer the classic cloud value proposition of usage-based pricing, flexibility and capex avoidance.
The cost value proposition for cloud contact centers ends up typically being a no-brainer for both small and large enterprises alike. Reduction in capex, maintenance and support costs all are major contributors to TCO reduction. In addition to pure IT cost efficiencies in some cases cloud service providers are also able to offer enterprises more attractive telco rates than they can get on their own. For those comfortable with performance and reliability, migration from voice to VOIP models can unlock yet another level of value for enterprises. Taken together, cloud contact centers can reduce TCO for many enterprise call center environments by 30-50%.
While compelling, cost isn’t actually the most interesting part of the story.
What’s intriguing from a transformation perspective is actually the operational flexibility that cloud contact centers provide. Now that agent desktop functionality can be provided via browser, it becomes far easier and cost effective to move agents from brick and mortar call centers to work-at-home environments or microcenters. Moving to data-enabled, work-at-home models has dramatic impact not just on infrastructure costs, but also on people-related costs like training and retention. The flexibility of many cloud platforms also makes it easier to modify and configure business rules and skill profiles, providing valuable additional flexibility.
Enterprises have been used to two options when it comes to call center operations. They could either operate the call centers themselves, or outsource call center operations to a third party service provider. The cloud offers an interesting third option in which an outsourced recruitment and management model, combined with a new cloud-based platform, creates a unique combination of flexibility, control and comparatively low variable costs. Think of a seasonal spike in call volume for a call center. Rather than hire an employee and provide them an agent desktop and supporting infrastructure, enterprises can now hire anyone anywhere who has access to a browser and reasonable data connection.
So if the story is so great, why aren’t more enterprise doing it? Three big reasons:
- Adoption has been slower due to the longer upgrade and refresh cycles associated with call center infrastructure. Product cycles for call center hardware can in some cases be 10 years or more. Many enterprises will choose to defer migration until they face an on-prem upgrade decision point. As discussed in another recent post here, this dynamic has in some enterprises been seen to slow the migration to IaaS models.
- No major cloud contact center provider yet provides a truly end-to-end solution required to manage a contact center. While the cloud vendors mentioned above all provide core IVR, ACD and call handling capabilities, areas like workforce management and scheduling still need to be provided by other third party cloud provider partners. While integrating multiple cloud services may not deter early adopters, many enterprises will likely prefer a more turnkey solution.
- Cloud contact centers face the same data security and compliance questions that other cloud services do. In some cases these concerns are heightened by the fact that agents are operating in work-at-home environments where managers have less control. While in most cases cloud vendors can address customer compliance issues, the perceptions still exist.
Too often the topic of cloud and enterprise transformation gets stuck in the realm of the esoteric and theoretical. Cloud call center platforms are refreshing because they provide a clear, tangible path to real transformation.