And other issues to address before hosting your software.
Hosted contact center software solutions (also often referred to as on-demand or software-as-a-service solutions) can provide many things: lower costs, increased flexibility and faster deployments, to name a few. But like every large technology purchase, there are a few challenges you must face to ensure success. Here are four key issues that are often overlooked until you’re well into the process. Address these issues earlier on and you’ll have better success at fully leveraging your hosted solution.
1. Know How Your Software Will Be Hosted
One of the key attributes to investigate when looking into hosted contact center software is to find out how your provider will actually host the software. Service providers have two approaches to the way they host contact center solutions. End users should be aware of which approach would best suit their needs.
Approach #1: Traditional application hosting
The traditional approach to designing and implementing a hosted contact center for a group of clients involves several procedures that are repeated for every client. The activities include:
1. Procure and install hardware into a data center.
2. Configure hardware to meet new client data and communications needs.
3. Procure needed software applications for such functions as sales, service, contact management, knowledge management and CTI.
4. Configure software applications based on each client’s individual needs.
5. Integrate software applications with existing infrastructure.
6. Maintain client-specific infrastructure.
These activities are necessary because each client has different software requirements and varied hardware needs. The service provider has to master multiple hardware technologies and establish a new server cluster for every client. Configuring software to meet specific client needs requires installing multiple application instances and often involves intensive programming (see Figure 1).
In Figure 1, Companies A, B, and C are clients of a service provider that provides inbound and outbound services, and hosted and application management. Each client requires industry-specific services. Application requirements also vary. Customization, data security, and data integrity are critical requirements for all of them. The service provider is required to implement and manage dedicated hardware and software for each client, and in many cases, for individual client programs.
Having to “recreate the wheel” for every new implementation or program reduces the service provider’s efficiencies; these inefficiencies are passed on to the customer in the form of higher costs. While this approach is less flexible and more costly than multitenant hosting, it may be the only option when using older software not designed for modern software-as-a-service deployments.
Approach #2: Multi-tenant hosting
A newer multi-tenant approach to designing and implementing the architectural infrastructure follows a simplified process:
Install hardware and multi-tenant software in a data center.
Configure a dedicated client program for the customer by leveraging the single application and database instance.
Maintain a simplified infrastructure across client accounts without compromising client data or application security.
In contrast to traditional solutions, a hosted internet application framework functions as an interaction management overlay for legacy applications and business-process integration. Telephony, hardware and software are pre-integrated. The service provider’s only task is to apply template-driven configuration components such as CTI (News - Alert), knowledge management, queuing and routing/workflows, e-mail, chat, analog and digital phone, and fax communication tools (see Figure 2).
The multitenant approach is a more efficient hosting model that reduces costs, speeds implementation, brings economies of scale, and higher levels of flexibility.
The example shown in Figure 2 depicts the inherent strength of a multi-tenant solution in a hosted environment. From a central office, the service provider handles contact center business operations and communications for Companies A, B, and C. With the multi-tenant architecture, the service provider is able to operate and manage a single database and application server instance for many clients.
This leads to a variety of business benefits affecting the service provider’s technical operations and client solution performance.
The service provider can scale operations by adding new clients without incurring traditional labor-intensive infrastructure, configurations and implementation costs.
The service provider can effectively utilize technical personnel by leveraging existing systems and code when setting up and managing client operations.
Using the internet and traditional call center functions, software updates, script changes, routing definitions, workflow rules, and content management for client programs, can be managed via a single, Web-based interface.
Multi-tenancy enables unified business intelligence to create an integrated view of client activity across campaigns for measuring ROI and optimizing resource allocation.
Perhaps most importantly, multitenancy enables the service provider to offer integrated services to their clients so they can obtain an integrated view of all company activity.
However, it does require that the software be designed for multi-tenant use. Another consideration is that certain industries may be prohibited from entering into this type of shared-environment agreement. Many financial services companies, for instance, must physically store and access their data separately from other clients’ data. Federal regulations sometimes permit data from different companies on the same server but not stored in the same database. Other requirements are more stringent such as a separate database or even a dedicated network connection.
No matter how you choose to store your data, a good hosted solution provider offers levels of data differentiation, including:
Your IT staff can offer insight into what level of isolation your data requires. Some companies also use the opportunity of implementing a hosted solution to add additional levels of security to customer data.
2. Evaluating Data Security
The second challenge that needs to be addressed is data security. Security is one of the primary concerns that companies encounter when evaluating a hosted solution. In reality, the average service provider has more than sufficient security processes in place. But it’s the client’s responsibility to double check that the service provider has extensive policies, procedures, and technology in place to ensure around-the-clock, optimal performance of the solution. Utilizing a combination of security measures that provide robust, system-wide protection and reliability allows clients to focus on the application and its uses rather than the security infrastructure.
Hosted solutions represent some of the most reliable and scalable applications on the market. To achieve expected client results, a service provider must maintain a robust network environment with extensive data redundancy, application monitoring, and pre- and post-production quality assurance procedures. Moreover, the service provider should have a multi-tiered operations team available to employ industry best practices for disaster recovery and operations support, ensuring quick resolution of client issues including:
* Risk-sensitive disaster recovery systems and processes;
* Co-location and redundancy;
* Fault-tolerant system components;
* A tiered software quality assurance process;
* 24x7 application monitoring and technical support;
Hosted solutions enable end-users to adopt sophisticated contact center functionality without all of the complexities and investments that would be required to implement the solution on-site. The service provider's expertise as well as their investments in security, networking, monitoring, and reliability are not easily replicated, and the costs are spread across numerous clients, resulting in lower costs and faster implementations.
3. Leveraging Existing IT Investments For Seamless Integration
A core architectural philosophy of many hosted solutions is to facilitate non-intrusive integration with current legacy/enterprise systems and data. This allows organizations to leverage existing application and system investments. The focus of the integration framework is to enable an organization to span multiple systems in order to see a single view of a customer across the enterprise with all of the information necessary to effectively handle, manage, and report against any interaction or transaction exception. Often marketed under terms such as “unified agent desktop” or “composite agent desktop,” the integration framework should also meet the following goals:
* Enable customers and partners to integrate the hosted solution with the existing IT infrastructure without expensive and time-consuming systems integration work.
* Facilitate secure and seamless integration across firewalls.
* Provide minimal impact on customer and partner systems.
* Leverage market-leading integration tools.
The Web-based framework leverages data that resides in existing front-end and back-end systems versus replacement or complex integration. This framework and system collaboration process eliminates the integration challenges of data replication and associated data currency and accuracy issues. By doing this, the creation of a relevant and accurate transactional and interaction view is completed in days, not months or years.
4. Streamlining Implementation and Maintenance
Finally, investigate the details of maintaining the hosted solution. A true, Net-Native Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) solution eliminates the need for client/server applications on user desktops, saving in initial installation and ongoing maintenance costs. Plus, this solution utilizes the internet as a global delivery system for maximum uptime and flexibility while ensuring full security.
Moreover, some hosted solutions can provide an environment that can be customized and extended with additional fields and tabs from the configuration console, without development work. Not only does this result in quick implementations, it also eliminates additional work when upgrading or moving customizations or data schemas during version upgrades, migrations or standard certification to production processes.
Figure 1: Traditional technical architecture depicts the outcome of deploying a traditional solution for several clients in a contact center provider’s technical infrastructure. This approach tends to be inefficient and more expensive.
Figure 2: Multi-tenant architecture depicts an approach that uses efficiencies to lower implementation and maintenance costs.
Randy Saunders is the marketing director for Cincom’s Customer Experience Management products. He can be contacted at [email protected].