May 31, 2012
Cloud Business Models for Value-Added Services and IVR
By TMCnet Special Guest
Reinier Meuwissen, Vice President, ECT
Carriers that want to increase their revenue with voice telephony have to offer their customers added value. This goes beyond merely offering service numbers. Especially in the business customer segment, value-added services enable attractive offers at a high margin. Examples are virtual PBX (News - Alert), network-based contact centers or interactive voice response from the cloud. It is the cloud that enables operators and service providers to offer attractive value-added services and fully leverage their networks’ potential.
So far, these types of service were realized with premise-based equipment. These are expensive in terms of acquisition and maintenance. Cloud-based solutions offer real added value to companies providing customer contact via IVR and contact centers because they are more flexible and help reduce costs. They are a lucrative business model for carriers and service providers.
Attractive Business Models
Despite the current hype on cloud-based applications, value-added services hosted in a carrier’s network are no ground-breaking news. They are based on NGIN-technology (next-generation intelligent networks) and enable services in legacy (TDM) networks as well as in modern IMS networks, ideally simultaneously. Yet carriers can do a lot more to offer their corporate customers cloud-based value-added services.
To be able to provide attractive offers, operators need intelligent services, which are easy to handle for the customer and which customers can adapt themselves. Especially services that are used for direct customer contact, like IVR, ease of use are crucial factors. When callflows have to be changed fast, usability is of top priority. For the commercial success of an IVR an easy to use service creation environment over which users can create and manage callflows quickly and easily is most important.
Operators can offer the full advantages of the network-based solution. Local installation of hardware or software is obsolete, only internet access is required. The service creation environment of a cloud-based IVR should be accessible over the browser. This enables staff working from home or from the road to create and change callflows with any PC. Employees that are responsible for internet security in a company, like to see solutions that require neither Flash nor other browser plug-ins.
Graphical Service Creation Environment in the Browser
To make sure the IVR service creation environment is easy and intuitively to use, a graphical user interface makes sense. In the browser the GUI should have the look and feel of a desktop application to ensure it is as user-friendly as possible. A tree structure is the easiest way to represent routing plans. Such a tree consists of several icons and each icon represents a logic like “prompt”, “database request” or “web service request”. An icon is a high-level building block and combined, the icons make the complete callflow. The graphical representation is comparable to what is known as WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and as simple as it gets because it enables users to work with the IVR that do not have any programming knowledge.
Additionally, the intuitive user interface enables users to change callflows quickly and easily. With a comprehensible solution, it is easy to replace employees that are on vacation or on sick leave.
That way, carriers can offer their corporate customers added value out of the cloud. They can achieve high margins and save their customers good money because the network-based solution is much more cost-efficient than premise-based IVR. With a web-based service creation environment and a GUI that is just like a desktop application, carriers enable their customers to manage the IVR completely by themselves.
Harmonizing Vertical Solutions
Interactive Voice Response systems are not only suited for reselling them to other companies. Operators are using IVR for customer service, for requesting and charging pre-paid balances, or for billing-related questions. Very often they are using various vertical solutions, which were acquired separately, maintained separately and operated differently. There are historical reasons for this because operators have grown over time, acquired other companies that have been using different IVR systems or they merged.
With a horizontal IVR solution all vertical systems with all their functionalities can be unified on one platform. This is known as IVR harmonization and saves resources. At the same time operators spare the effort to familiarize themselves with various systems and service creation environments. They need fewer staff for their IVR and there are lower costs for acquisition and maintenance. That way they can also make use of the advantages they are offering their corporate customers.
Business Models Should Be Based on Openness and Flexibility
When migrating to a cloud-based IVR with a graphical user interface many companies wonder what to do with their tried-and-true VoiceXML (News - Alert) scripts. There are two options: either the functionality is represented by an icon which has been acquired together with the IVR or the VoiceXML code is attached to a blank icon, a designated VoiceXML icon. That way, users without programming knowledge can create plug-ins for the IVR.
It’s not just the cloud-based service that offers carriers a lucrative business model with IVR. A service creation environment based on icons refines the business model because it is adaptable to each customer’s individual requirements. Depending on which functionalities the end-customer needs, operators and service providers can offer various tariff models and provide a certain amount of icons at a fixed price. Customers can decide themselves which icons they want and could also be able to exchange icons. For that, operators need customer profiles so icons can be replaced with just one click. Additionally, the choice of available icons has to be big enough so customers can find and choose the icons they need.
If they need a functionality for which an icon does not exist, carriers should enable their customers to develop their own icons. This requires a special toolkit that operators can sell to their business customers. Here a cloud solution also makes sense so developers in the companies using the toolkit can develop via the browser. Additionally, the toolkit should support standard programming languages like CCXML 1.0 and VoiceXML 2.1
At the same time carriers and service providers can create their own icons and ad them to their portfolio. Companies that have their own development departments and use highly specialized callflows with complex routing logics should be able to develop their own plug-ins which they can use in addition to the standard icons.
A graphical service creation environment should not only help to create callflows without programming knowledge it has to be so good that users can easily create callflows that are highly efficient. A simple routing increases customer satisfaction because a calling customer can retrieve the desired information faster. Customers that have to dial through long IVR trees and have to enter information like PIN numbers and IDs several times are dissatisfied with the service.
Cloud-based IVR systems, like all other IVR systems, access third-party applications such as databases and CRM systems but also text-to-speech applications. These are also available as cloud applications. Yet regardless of being cloud- or premise-based, an IVR or a CRM have to be so open that the IVR can access customer data and information that is stored elsewhere. Hence open interfaces and protocols are required, like SOAP/ XML or http. The service creation environment should have icons that support functionalities like database request or SOAP request. For the commercial success of a cloud-based IVR open standards and interfaces are crucial and operators have to make sure that an IVR which they offer over their network are open enough.
Operators and service providers offering cloud-based IVR can offer their corporate customers added value with their network. They have to provide a solution that is easy to use and intuitive and has the highest possible flexibility. This is even more important than the price even though network-based IVR is much more cost-efficient than premise-based solutions. A graphical service creation environment over which callflows are created and managed by arranging icons enable users without programming knowledge to work with the IVR. If this solution is fully browser-based, operators can offer true added value out of the cloud.
Edited by Brooke Neuman