Cloud-Based Contact Centers: The Sky’s the Limi

Cloud-Based Contact Centers: The Sky’s the Limi

The market is starting to soar thanks to flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and ever-increasing reliability

1/1/2016
By Donna Fluss
destinationCRM.com

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For contact centers, 2015 was the year of the cloud—last year the cloud-based contact center infrastructure market hit its stride on a worldwide basis. Acceptance and adoption continues to grow in North America. In Western Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, the number of cloud-based deployments is increasing rapidly and picking up momentum. Germany is showing strong interest, and the market in Australia features all types of cloud-based solutions. Users in Japan and China are slow to adopt but are starting to come on board. Elsewhere in Asia, the results are mixed; businesses in the Philippines are investing in cloud-based contact center solutions, but the economics in India, for example, continue to make this model a challenge.

Regardless of region, cloud-based contact center solutions are no longer just for small and midsize organizations. Given the flexibility inherent in cloud-based services, larger enterprises also find this model appealing, even if it is difficult for them to financially justify investments in these solutions if they are going to keep them for more than three years.

CARRIERS ARE ON BOARD

The carriers/network service providers (NSPs) are giving a boost to this market. These vendors have slowly caught on to the cloud’s potential for growing their revenue and expanding their services. Early on, NSPs viewed cloud-based contact center solutions as a way to retain their carrier minutes, and some still do, but others are realizing that this market can allow them to add new and “sticky” services for their customers. Some also see it as a way to expand their offerings on a worldwide basis, as a growing number of enterprises are asking their local NSPs to provide a fully interconnected set of cloud-based unified communications (UC)/private branch exchange (PBX) and contact center services for their employees.

Worldwide, the vast majority of NSPs use a third-party cloud-based contact center infrastructure solution, although a few carriers have purchased and offer their own technology platform. Some NSPs offer a variety of cloud-based contact center solutions in order to provide their customers with options suited to their size and functional requirements. A major challenge for the market, though, is that many of the NSPs still think like they are selling carrier services and do not understand what is expected of them when they deliver cloud-based contact center services to enterprises. In too many cases, the learning curve is long and painful for both enterprises and their NSPs, who are struggling to become more customer-centric. While it’s taking way too long for the carriers to get it right, DMG expects them to make the necessary long-term investments in resources, best practices, and technology.

GROWING DEMAND

Small and midsize organizations have been the earliest adopters of cloud-based PBX and contact center services, but certain trends are making the cloud attractive for larger enterprises as well. Globalization is forcing many companies to look for a cost-effective approach to establishing a regional presence in a variety of countries. In the recent past, companies had to rent offices abroad, acquire the necessary technology and platforms, find resources to install and maintain their solutions, etc. But this is no longer the case when it comes to dial-tone/PBX and contact center functionality, as it is available in the cloud from domestic and international providers. (There are legal issues surrounding the delivery of calls between countries, but this is a separate issue.) Even better, some local carriers have international reach through partnerships, which can simplify the process of establishing a worldwide telephony infrastructure. Therefore, a company that wants to set up a regional office can do so without buying anything, and it may not even need to rent office space, as companies are increasingly using at-home employees and agents.

A related trend is that companies are providing contact center functionality to employees who are not traditional agents sitting in a contact center. Recording, workforce management, quality assurance, and many other capabilities are being extended to employees in offices, at branches, and at home, and many of these services are being delivered by carriers offering cloud-based PBX and contact center functionality. DMG expects to see a great deal more of this activity in the next few years, expanding the opportunities for carriers.

THE CONFUSING COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE

DMG estimates that more than 150 vendors are competing in this market worldwide. The large number of competitors cannot be supported by current market activity. Additionally, though the market is growing at a rapid rate, only about 2 million cloud-based contact center infrastructure seats were in production as of August 2015. Confusing the landscape further is the lack of a clear market leader. (Market share should not be the only factor identifying a market leader; reliability, retention, satisfaction, flexibility, innovation, and vision should also come into play.)

DMG expects the growth rate of new market entrants to slow down and market consolidation to begin. This will present a new challenge for this sector. When cloud-based vendors merge, it often forces users to undertake a platform transition. This opens the door to customer attrition as enterprise customers are forced to consider a new solution—which is something they want to avoid.

The good news for prospects is that there’s no shortage of vendors and solutions, although the options for companies that need fewer than 25 seats are surprisingly small, which is another factor that drives them to carriers. And there remain substantial functional and service differences between the cloud-based solutions—even between a technology provider that sells its own solution and a carrier that offers that same solution. Prospects need to pay as close attention to service-level performance, system reliability, and professional services as they do to the functional capabilities and cost.

SYSTEM RELIABILITY IS KEY

DMG expects to see the vendors raise the bar on system performance and reliability during the next two years. Having a system reliability of 99.999 percent is no longer acceptable, particularly when a vendor does not include planned downtime in these numbers. (End users expect better service from cloud providers than they are getting from internal support teams.) Increasingly, companies expect 99.999 percent reliability, which is forcing vendors to use an active/active mode of delivery from geographically paired but dispersed data centers. This requirement will help shrink the playing field, as not every competitor will be able to make the necessary investment in multiple data center sites. It will also drive more vendors to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other similar data center infrastructure providers, which could increase the cost of delivering these services.

INTEGRATION IS A NECESSITY

While some environments will have contact center systems that are either completely on-premises or entirely in the cloud, this will be increasingly rare. Companies want to buy what is convenient for them, which varies based on many factors, including their financial situation and time frame. DMG expects to see a growing number of hybrid environments where some systems are on-premises and others in the cloud.

As a result, cloud-based vendors must be willing and able to perform all types of integrations. While vendors benefit from offering functionally broad solutions, it’s just as important for them to provide open application programming interfaces (APIs) and Web services to facilitate integrations, interoperability, and data sharing. It’s also essential that vendors provide resources for performing necessary integrations.

THE OUTLOOK

The cloud-based contact center infrastructure market is still relatively new, but it is well established. While on-premises contact center solutions are not going away—there are good reasons why many organizations will opt for them—the outlook for cloud-based contact center solutions is outstanding. Companies of all sizes need to be able to respond rapidly to changing market conditions and customer demands, so as innovation arises in the cloud-based contact center market, enterprises will increasingly look to acquire solutions from the most nimble of vendors.