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VoIP Technology Shows Significant Promise For Call Center Operations
Before plunging into VoIP head first, it's important that businesses understand just what they are "talking" about when they begin looking at VoIP technology for their call center operations. Understanding these subtleties will ensure proper planning and appropriate decisons. The first key is to realize that "VoIP" is the basic term where cost alone seems to be the driving incentive. But IP Telephony is so much more. Unlike VoIP lite, IP telephony is not simply about cost savings. The benefits of IP Telephony to call center operations include rich applications, enabling mobility, increased productivity, and enhanced business continuity.
VoIP is the basic transport of voice in a packet form on an IP-based data network. It is the transmission of telephony over a data network and offers little in the way of features and functionality. IP Telephony uses VoIP but is a software application suite offering rich feature applications. These often-modular applications lend themselves to cost-effective integration with other applications that share the IP network. Voice and Data Convergence may be defined as the integration of voice and data applications in a common environment. Of particular significance is the integration of communications applications with key business applications. The latter are usually tied to business processes, which are central to an organizationís operations.
IP telephony lends itself to contact centres for the ease of integration with sophisticated multimedia applications as well as computer telephony integration, intelligent call routing and distributed or virtual contact centre applications. The merging of voice and data applications, such as Unified Messaging, is perhaps indicative of where IP telephony as a voice-based application leaves off and convergence starts.
Voice and data convergence may be construed as the coming together of voice and data in a common environment. This simplistic definition belies the significance of convergence. The reality is that converging voice and data enables the integration of voice communications applications (such as teleconferencing and speech access) with key business applications (such as sales force automation and supply chain management). These business applications are predicated on business processes that are the lifeblood of most organizations. By marrying these applications on any network and on any device, the door is opened to deriving new levels of business value.
THE PROMISE OF VoIP
In recent years the number of companies looking to up grade their call center infrastructure via implementation of VoIP technology has grown dramatically. Merging voice and data on a single network and deploying an IP-based contact center platform allows companies to route calls to home and satellite offices more efficiently. This approach is delivering on the promise of helping companies grow their business, apply productivity enhancing applications, and expand call center operations easily and cost effectively. Scaling for growth to new remote service centers is a smooth transition as each is treated as an add-on node to the existing IP network.
Companies can add remote staff to call center queues when needed and can retain key employees by letting them work from home. The entire process can utilize one application to manage all media for routing and reporting across agent locations. An additional benefit is the ability to deliver business applications over this new network when necessary.
Potential hurdles to implementing pure VoIP include preparing the network with switch and router upgrades, replacing all the desktop phones, and upgrading adjunct systems such as voice mail. These are not insurmountable issues and can either be accomplished all at oce (shotgun) or in a phased in approach. However it is accomplished the business benefits far outweigh any initial challenges.
It's safe to say that the great migration to the IP contact center is well underway. While there are many approaches, vendors and users agree that the decision is not driven by the technology, but rather by business applications that the technology enables. While companies may appear to take very different paths to VoIP, each is able to make the right decision for their current and future business needs from a myriad of solution options.
THE MIGRATION TO VoIP
In general, however, the migration is happening very slowly. Art Schoeller, an analyst at The Yankee Group, says, "The move to IP in the contact center is inevitable but not imminent. The transition from TDM to IP, catalyzed by Cisco, is much like the transition from analog to digital systems, which was catalyzed by Rolm. Like that transition over 20 years ago, this transition will take time. And this one is more complex."
Where this transition seems to have found it's lead is among smaller business entities. Most IP contact center installations have occurred in small to midsize businesses (SMB). Many of these SMBs use home agents and remote offices. SMBs tend to be more willing than larger companies to take risks, many are growing, and they are reaping the benefits of flexibility and agility. Seeing this untapped potential larger businesses are begining to follow suite albeit at a somewhat slower pace.....so far.
As of now there are fewer large installations in place, and they are generally multisite, often with overseas positions (including outsourcers). The major system vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel all say they have pure IP installations of 2,000 seats or more. That's impressive...and it works. It won't be long before the pace and numbers of installations among larger companies grows significantly. They won't long be able to deny the benefits offered and the potential positive impact on process and cost efficiencies.
"The industries making radical changes are the ones who are suffering the most pain from economic and market forces, such as teleservices [outsourcers], airlines, telecom and high-tech companies," says Lawrence Byrd, a convergence strategist at Avaya. "These companies are seeking substantial cost savings from infrastructure consolidation, for example reducing 30 separate [automatic call distributors] to one or two, moving away from the complex and expensive network routing architectures of the 1990s, and intelligently routing the right customer to the right agent, wherever they are."
"These companies understand that they must make more significant investments in network optimization, as well as changes to their business processes and how they manage their people. But they are willing to do so for the payback offered. IP telephony in the contact center is the technology enabler for such transformation," he says.
THE TRENDS FOR VoIP
Today, many of the large call center installations - those exceeding 200 seats - are hybrid solutions, some sites are TDM, some are IP. Companies use IP trunking between sites and IP to some desktops, for example, at new sites or sites where the switch has been upgraded. The traditional PBX can serve as a gateway, converting between TDM and IP.
Businesses with multiple locations are turning autonomous sites into satellite sites, significantly reducing the numbers of servers, applications and licenses required for functions such as routing, reporting, Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), quality monitoring and workforce management.
Another trend is higher adoption rates in Europe/Middle East/Africa and Asia Pacific. North America is generally slower to adopt IP contact center technologies because of more conservative and risk-averse decision-makers, and more large installed systems. However, of Cisco's 1,500 installations worldwide for example, approximately half are in North America.
Yet another trend is for companies to adopt VoIP in the enterprise first and then in the contact center. Gartner analyst Bern Elliot says IP system sales already have overtaken TDM system sales for corporations, but "IP adoption in the call center will lag." Elliot predicts that traditional TDM-based call centers will remain the dominant architecture for new system sales in North American until mid-2006. IP-based call center systems comprise approximately 10% of new system sales today.
Businesses leery of IP contact centers typically express concerns about security, quality, reliability and scalability. Early implementers say they faced challenges, primarily with quality of service, but they used assessment, configuration, testing and monitoring to successfully address those issues. However, the rule of thumb is that if you've done what you need to do for your network for other applications, running phones on IP is not a leap of faith.
Many early implementers say voice is more secure and more reliable over IP than it was in a TDM world, and the enhancements to their networks for voice also have benefited their data applications. For example, many clearly saw the potential benefits for growth, flexibility and disaster recovery.
When a significant disaster occurs and a business must trigger its disaster-recovery plan, it is a relief to easily be able to add seats at other sites and reroute calls quickly, with no effect on service. It is also reassuring when system continuity enables the following of the rigorous security processes applied to all other applications for your voice and call center applications.
Many companies have found that TDM is just too expensive for what they want to do. Often they'll discover that a pure IP solution offers their company lower total cost of ownership than TDM, with additional savings over time by avoiding proprietary hardware. Frequently they'll also see benefits from virtual operations across sites and CTI in hours instead of months. Also seen have been savings on wiring, moves, adds and changes, and networking of remote locations, while buying flexibility for the future including multimedia enhancements.
The breakthrough in adoption of IP in the contact center will occur as more companies share evidence that it is low risk, it works, and there are quantifiable business benefits. Any initial trepidation will soon disappear as companies recognize that VoIP is a technology that's right for them.....and whose time has come for the call center industry.
Tip....for assistance in finding just the right fit in a VoIP solution for your call center operation take advantage of the FREE consulatative services at Business-VoIP-Solution.com.
About the Author: Michael is the owner of FreedomFire Communications....including DS3-Bandwidth.com. Michael also authors Broadband Nation where you're always welcome to drop in and catch up on the latest BroadBand news, tips, insights, and ramblings for the masses.