Unified Communications and Contact Centers: Perfect Partners


Contact centers often are mentioned as an entry point in the enterprise for unified communications. The two dovetail nicely: UC offers agents the ability to much more easily manage what generally is their best-case scenario, which is to find content experts while they are communicating with clients or prospects.

Unified Communications Strategies' President and principal analyst Blair Pleasant writes that she has been talking about the melding of contact centers and UC-as well as one of its progenitors, computer telephony integration (CTI)-for a decade. She says that the concept finally seems ready to make the impact that some thought it would long ago. The emergence of the underlying IP network technology and applications such as presence, instant messaging and collaboration suggest that technology is fully here. What remains, she says, are personnel and management barriers such as providing incentives for experts to participate and correctly dispersing management software throughout the enterprise-not just at the contact center itself.

Not surprisingly, the growth of UC- and IP-equipped contact centers struggled as the economy went south in recent months. Overall, however, progress seems reasonably good. Infonetics Research's report, Unified Communications and IP Contact Center Market Share and Forecasts, says that the IP contact center market finished last year 37 percent ahead of where it was at the end of 2007. The release says the sector will weather the bad economy better than many others. The suggestion is that the market is immature and highly competitive, which could shield it from fully following the downward trend of other sectors. The report says that more than 1 million IP contact center seats were sold during the first half of last year, with market share leader Avaya losing some ground to Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent. The unified messaging licensing race is tight, with Nortel taking the lead during the first half of last year. Avaya leads in revenue. Cisco is third in both categories.

There are few investments in this dire environment, but some are made. The best are those that both help the company in the present and set it up for the future. David H. Yedwab, the founding partner of Market Strategy and Analytics Partners, argues that introducing unified communications into the contact center is one such high upside endeavor. The bulk of the piece provides the familiar explanation that UC is a great tool for the contact center because it keeps customers and employees happy. Yedwab takes the argument a step further by saying that deploying a platform now creates a beach head for when the economy improves and may result in slightly less rigorous decision-making by the finance folks, since they already have seen the approach work in practice.

Bad economy or not, vendors are hard at work. This rather confusing story on the market plans of Genesys proves that activities are ongoing-and that the world of unified communications in the contact center is complex. The writer makes the point that enterprises and contact centers are structured differently, and a UC solution in one won't necessary be ideal for the other. Genesys, a conferencing specialist, therefore will customize solutions provided by the UC experts for use in the new environment. The new system, Enterprise Connect, will bridge the gap between the two business centers.

The Internet Protocol (IP) is an underlying element of unified communications and a tool that enables organizations to more easily link multiple locations. Cypress Communications, a firm that works to make it easier for small and medium-sized organizations to communicate, said this week that it is IP-enabling operations for Ascensus, a full-service financial organization that deals with retirement issues. The agreement with Ascensus, a long-term Cypress customer , will enable almost 1,000 employees in six locations, including a 300-person call center, to communicate more efficiently. The company will use the Cypress C4 IP solution which, the release says, will reduce costs while upgrading efficiency and system functionality.

Unified communications is, at best, under-performing in the enterprise. Part of the reason is that it is a complex set of applications and technology that decision-makers have trouble getting their arms around. Implementing it in call centers seems a good step both because of the benefits it immediately offers and the view it offers into the value a wider deployment could provide.