Contact center solutions provider Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) recently announced that its Customer Interaction Center solution is fully compatible with Microsoft (News - Alert) Lync Server 2010 – formerly known as Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS).
By combining the two systems organizations can use the features they want from each in order to achieve new levels of real-time interaction and collaboration – not just between employees but also with customers and partners.
Interoperability of the two systems makes perfect sense considering that Interactive Intelligence is a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner and Microsoft Independent Software Vendor. The company launched the first version of CIC on the Microsoft Windows Server in 1997.
Customer Interaction Center is a full-featured, all-software, all-IP communications platform offering support for multichannel routing, interactive voice response, call and screen recording, reporting, outbound dialing, workforce management, Web self-service, knowledge and e-mail auto response management, and automated customer feedback surveys.
Microsoft Lync -- which was officially unveiled in September -- brings powerful unified communications features, such as presence and click-to-dial, to Microsoft Office applications including Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Word and Microsoft SharePoint. The system boosts employee productivity and improves customer service response time by uniting voice, instant messaging and conferencing and by making it easier for employees to see availability status of others connected to the network. What’s more it allows for each user to have a single identity on the network, which makes it easier and more efficient to find contacts.
Integration of these two systems enables users to find each other quickly and instantly communicate by phone, IM or video call. In addition, both sets of users receive synchronized presence, along with a common company-wide directory that can be viewed from within the CIC desktop client.
TMCnet recently interviewed Joe Staples (News - Alert), chief marketing officer, Interactive Intelligence, Roe Jones, product manager, Interactive Intelligence, and Matthew McClellan, associate software engineer, Interactive Intelligence, to learn more about what compatibility between CIC and Lync means for end users -- and perhaps more importantly what it means for Interactive Intelligence’s business model.
What follows are responses to our questions:
TMCnet: Microsoft has been promising for more than three years now that OCS, now Lync, signals the “death” of the traditional or standalone PBX (News - Alert) – at first they said it was a way of “enhancing” your PBX by endowing it with UC capabilities; then it became a “replacement” for your PBX (that still works with your PBX should you decide to keep it); and finally, “you don’t need your PBX anymore” – but so far it’s really just been an “add on.” In your opinion is Lync now poised to become the “PBX killer” that Microsoft claimed OCS would be? If so, what does that mean for (all-software) communications platform vendors such as Interactive Intelligence? How might this change the way PBX vendors approach the development of their platforms?
Joe Staples: This is a bit of a crystal ball question. Microsoft has made very bold statements about the “death of the PBX,” but to some degree that is the Microsoft marketing machine in action. At this point, Microsoft Lync Server 2010 isn’t as full-featured as current software-based IP PBXs. Telecom buyers are often a bit of a conservative bunch. They’ll watch and see. They’ll look for deployment results of 10,000-plus users. They’ll want to see proof of Lync Server’s scalability and reliability. That will take some time. For a vendor like Interactive Intelligence, it just means we need to continue to innovate in what we deliver. Microsoft has always been good at carving out a portion of the overall solution and looking to partners to deliver that segment. Working closely with them, we think we understand how to make our offering complementary to Lync Server, and together, to deliver the best solution available to customers.
TMCnet: In the past, part of the challenge in integrating OCS with other systems was that – well, Microsoft didn’t exactly make it easy, with its own flavor of SIP. In your view has Microsoft resolved some of these challenges to integration with this new version? What other improvements do you see as being notable with this new version? (Branch survivability? Support for E911?)
Matthew McClellan: The SIP interconnectivity basically works the same as we would expect from any other SIP end-point, which makes integration easy. Some of the best Lync Server improvements from our standpoint include the user interface on the administrator side. It is now easier for a Lync Server administrator to configure an external SIP end-point (like CIC) to include in its voice routing options. The topology builder helps bring together all the individual elements of the architecture that will ultimately be deployed, and this makes actual implementation simpler and more streamlined. Having the option with Lync Server to co-locate more services on one machine makes overall integration with CIC even more cost-effective.
TMCnet: What are the advantages that Lync can bring to organizations which have already deployed Interactive Intelligence’s CIC? Can you provide some examples of how organizations might mix and match the features and capabilities of the two products to their advantage? What are the ways that Lync can enhance CIC – and vice versa?
Roe Jones: For organizations that have already deployed the Interactive Intelligence Customer Interaction Center (CIC) software suite, integration with Microsoft Lync Server 2010 can add functionality such as video calling and Web collaboration, as well as instant messaging and presence throughout Microsoft Office applications. In the reverse case, CIC can add multichannel routing, interactive voice response, call and screen recording, reporting, outbound dialing, workforce management, Web self-service, knowledge and e-mail auto response management, and automated customer feedback surveys. Essentially, by integrating CIC and Lync Server, organizations can take advantage of the strengths of each, while enabling users to share presence and seamlessly communicate with one another regardless of which product they’re using.
TMCnet: How much is Lync a “threat” to Interactive’s PBX business and how much is it a complement and how do you reconcile between those two schools of thought?
Joe Staples: At this point we view Microsoft Lync Server 2010 as complementary to our overall offering. A customer who deploys Lync Server with CIC is really getting the best of both worlds – rich functionality for collaboration and UC across the enterprise, and the mature applications required by contact centers. Our approach with OCS, and now with Lync Server, is to allow customers to drive the decision as to which products they will use for which functions. We’ll just be sure to provide a really tight integration between the two.
Patrick Barnard is Group Managing Editor, TMCnet, focusing mainly on call and contact center technologies. He also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet e-Newsletters in the areas of robotics, IT and customer interaction solutions. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard