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Unified Communications (UC) and its Role in the Contact Center

At the risk of alienating those drinking or selling the UC Kool-Aid, here’s a rose-colored glasses-off summary of what I think, have heard and have read about Unified Communications: you can’t define it; it’s not new (hard to define in the early 90s too); the vendor landscape is confusing; it’s hard to prove ROI and customers are not sure about the value; proof points in actual deployments are limited; most organizations have yet to develop best practices and vendors, analysts, consultants and press have jumped on the bandwagon like lemmings promoting and professing expertise.

What I do love about these jello-like monikers/acronyms – think CTI, CRM, VOIP, UC – and market focus shifts around voice and data, is that the contact center is never far away, given its dominant position as the core interaction touch point with customers. Thus the apt question in an industry panel discussion of representatives from Avaya, Nortel, Genesys, Siemens and Cisco at VoiceCon San Francisco 2008: What role will unified communications tools, systems, architectures play in the contact center?

Before I get into a summary of their answers to that question, what do we mean by Unified Communications? The best attempt I can muster is to echo what two stalwart analysts had to say about UC in various tutorials and market overview sessions earlier in the week. Collectively, these analysts, Gary Audin and Allan Sulkin, have over 50 years experience with voice and data, and you can count on them to call a spade such.

“There is no uniform definition of UC, and what is included depends on who wrote the definition,” notes Audin. The many functions include PBX functions and features, IP Telephony, presence and presence management, unified messaging, voice and multimedia conferencing and collaboration. Sulkin, in some random thoughts about UC, points out that UC is a concept, not a technology or single product. He thinks of UC as CTI grown up, meaning telephony systems plus client/servers. And he also skeptically points out that while “the demand for fully-featured UC solutions is moderate, the media continues to hype UC in overdrive mode as if everyone is buying.”

So back to the question of UC as it relates to contact centers. The panelists agree the primary role of UC is to have the contact center more hooked into the rest of the organization and vice versa, by making it easier to collaborate back and forth between agents and non-call center experts. Al Baker, of Siemens Enterprise Communications, says it’s about bringing collaboration into the contact center and the enterprise online. Contact center agents need assistance, but not from just anyone. He says UC brings expertise, brain ware if you will, into the front line contact center. Jim Hickey of Avaya echoed this sentiment saying access to experts anywhere is the fundamental breakthrough that UC offers the contact center. Nicolas de Kouchkovsky of Genesys sees three things enabled by UC in the Contact Center: collaboration, presence to locate the expertise within the organization and the ability to pass interactions back and forth from the contact center to other experts or groups within the organization.

What didn’t get answered for me in this contact-center focused session was a sense of actual penetration of IP in the contact center, which I think is the real precursor to any real traction of UC solutions in the contact center. I’m still on that moniker. What do you think the penetration rate is of IP-enabled formal contact centers?

Monique Bozeman is a contact center industry expert/analyst, marketing consultant, writer and speaker.  She can be reached at  info@moniquebozeman.com

Published on FierceVoIP (http://www.fiercevoip.com)

Thursday November 13,2008 17:00:22

By Monique Bozeman