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Hosted IP Telephony Applications Support Both Internal Users and Customers

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March 17, 2010

Hosted IP Telephony Applications Support Both Internal Users and Customers

By Art Rosenberg

A recent enterprise market study confirmed that customer-related business processes have the most important priorities for UC capabilities. This means that any communications involving either customer-facing staff or customers directly (self-services) will benefit the enterprise the most from UC flexibility.

By now, everyone understands that traditional business telephone voice applications are slowly but surely becoming an integrated part of multi-modal “unified communications” (UC) for both enterprise users and customer interactions. This means shifting legacy TDM network connections to SIP-based VoIP networks, software-based call management (IP Telephony), and exploiting multimodal endpoint devices on the desktop (e.g., PC “softphones”) and mobile “smart-phones.”
Initiating and receiving phone calls through UC will not only exploit more efficient and contextual visual user interfaces, e.g., presence-based “click-to-call”, but will also enable business process automated applications to initiate real-time notifications to people and support self-service transactions in the recipient’s interface of choice. This flexibility will be particularly important as consumers and business users increasingly adopt personalized, mobile “smart-phones” for faster, flexible modes of contact accessibility. All of this software-based flexibility, however, means greater technology complexity, which is increasingly difficult and expensive to support with traditional in-house IT resources, especially when software products will be constantly changing and evolving.
The biggest challenge for enterprise organizations migrating to such a UC environment, will be to change their existing telephony systems and voice applications to integrate seamlessly and device-independently with other UC components such as email, unified messaging (UM), Instant Messaging, presence management, communications enabled business processes (CEBP), social networking, and mobile network services.
How to Get Going Fast with Minimal Cost? Hosted Services!
As everyone will tell you, migrating the enterprise to UC is a “journey.” That means you have to selectively prioritize which business processes and which end users (staff, customers) should be implemented first with UC capabilities. Since we are talking about changing existing business processes through new communication facilities, it will be important to “pilot” such redesigned applications first, before going operationally across the enterprise.
Fortunately, because IP Telephony is now software-based and accessible over the Internet, it has joined other business process applications in becoming easily available as a hosted or managed service that can be used to replace or supplement legacy TDM telephone systems and call center technologies.
The proven benefits of any hosted telephony service usually include:
--No capital expense, controllable operational expenses based on actual usage/need, operational management controls over usage
--Selective use of UC applications features, including IP Telephony, for internal users, partners, or customers
--Centralizes management and support for multiple site locations -- does not require adding in-house IT expertise to maintain new applications -- this will be especially useful where there are different communication technologies being used at different site locations.
--Enables new contact center applications to be developed and activated within only a few weeks or months, depending on the level of integration and customization required, compared to traditional, location-based implementations
--Integrates with and supplements existing enterprise communication technologies (e.g., PBXs, Microsoft (News - Alert) OCS, Email, IM, mobile and wireless services, etc.)
--Integration with on-site business process applications
--Exploits efficient SIP networking architecture overlay
--Provides centralized backup survivability for individual locations
--Supports all necessary user interfaces required by different end users
--Applications can be easily and dynamically implemented and changed as needed
--Flexible payment plans for on-demand usage
--Option to move hosted technology on-premise for either managed support service or for full internal support
Because of the obvious benefits of hosted and managed software applications, all large technology and service providers are starting to offer such services instead of traditional software and system sales. The question now becomes one of who should be your hosted service provider?
Who Can Best Support Your Hosted Applications?
Because the IP network has now become critical for multi-modal access to all centralized, “cloud-based” applications, it is easy to fall into the trap of expecting network providers to also support your business process applications as if they were simple phone connections. Network service providers who offer hosted or managed applications are really “resellers,” who themselves can’t directly provide the necessary application support that the original application developers can offer.
When it comes to application developers who might now be directly offering hosted application services, even there you have to look at the level of integration they provide for interoperability between the different applications and the different end users involved. In particular, UC for internal business users doesn’t really do much for customer needs, or what I have labeled as “Customer UC.” The latter will provide special UC facilities for customer-facing personnel, including agents (in-house, home), subject matter “experts,” mobile sales and field support staff, and customer contact operational management. This will also include all flavors of inbound and outbound contacts for customer self-service applications, automated notifications, and multimodal access to live assistance.
The developers of a hosted application are the best source for the hosted service because of the following considerations:
--The developer already owns the solution and can more rapidly provide/add applications when needed
--The developer owns the code and can fix bugs more rapidly
--The developer can provide superior support since they know the products inside and out
--A telecom service provider relies upon its relationship to the original developer (Avaya, Nortel (News - Alert), etc.) for updates, bug fixes, troubleshooting, etc.
--A telecom service provider can usually only provide a subset of a product’s feature set, since it typically only wants to support the most common set of features that applies to the broadest possible audience
The challenge for enterprise organizations is to find a specialized IP Telephony and Contact Center technology developer that can also provide maximum flexibility in its hosted services offerings.
Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) Has “All-in-One” Integration Head-start on Hosted UC
Back in 1997 Interactive Intelligence introduced the first open, “all-in-one” communications software platform that integrated all telephony applications. They supplement or replace traditional PBXs with their value-add telephony applications for both business users and for customer interactions. More recently, they moved up the food chain to provide software tools for creating business process work flow applications that integrate tightly with their communication applications.
Interactive Intelligence now offers their open “all-in-one” software applications as a hosted service, which will enable enterprise organizations that are looking for a hosted solution to benefit from the tight integration between communication applications that has already been implemented. By virtue of its open architecture, and their basic SIP-based Interaction Center Platform, Interactive Intelligence is well prepared to quickly support any and all business communication application needs of their hosted service customers.

Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to TMCnet. To read more of Art’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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