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How Strong is Cisco’s Commitment to the Contact Center Market?

How Strong is Cisco’s Commitment to the Contact Center Market?

How Strong is Cisco’s Commitment to the Contact Center Market?

3/13/2003

By Donna Fluss

ICCM Weekly

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Few in the market question the importance of Internet Protocol (IP) telephony or its prominent position in the future of telecommunications. And, after years of talking about IP Automatic Call Distributors (ACDs), they now exist, even if they are not yet completely up to the standards of functionality and/or scalability of the classic Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) based switches.

The lingering issues are the immaturity of IP contact center products and the market’s hesitancy to fully migrate from proven TDM-based switches to the new IP switch.

For several years, Cisco has confused and disappointed the evolving contact center market. Through its marketing messages and acquisitions, Cisco made it known that it wanted to be a leader in the area of voice communications and claimed to want to be a player in the contact center market, yet it didn’t deliver a viable contact center product for either the mid market or larger enterprises.

Although the leader in data network management, Cisco doesn’t have a TDM-based ACD and, until it released Internet Protocol (IPCC) Version 5.0 at the end of February 2003, didn’t really have a functionally rich, multi-channel IP contact center.

Prospects looking for an IP contact center, particularly those who did not yet have an ACD (“Greenfield” sites), looked to Cisco as a leader in the area of IP-based communications, but often turned to other vendors because of the functional weaknesses of Cisco’s contact centers. (For many companies interested in moving into IP, it has been often viewed as a positive that Cisco does not have large investments or a heritage to maintain in legacy TDM-based switches.) Cisco absolutely has a scaleable, fault-tolerant IP switch that handles multiple sites, but it lacked some core ACD capabilities that call and contact center managers depend upon. The lack of product coupled with the fact that for more than three years Cisco had not invested in integrating its contact center assets, forced the market to question Cisco’s commitment.

IPCC Enterprise Edition 5.0 is hopefully a departure from Cisco’s past. According to Cisco, Release 5.0 seamlessly integrates the advanced routing capabilities of its Intelligent Contact Manager (ICM, acquired from GeoTel), switching capabilities (Cisco Call Manager, acquired from Celsius), web collaboration and email (acquired from WebLine) and its in-house developed IP Interactive Voice Response (IVR) capabilities with other internally developed contact center features. While IPCC Enterprise 5.0 represents great progress, there is still work to be done in many areas, including providing a single administration module.

With the February 28th release of IPCC Enterprise 5.0 and ICM Enterprise 5.0, Cisco did something it hasn’t done in years – it met its time commitments. (Yes, Cisco did reset expectations for its 5.0 releases in March 2002.) However, it remains to be seen if these changes can shift the company from one perceived to be “arrogant” to one that is viewed as open and that listens to its customers, as is essential for any great enterprise.

Actions speak louder than words and Cisco’s recent changes are an indication of their new direction and commitment. During the past twelve months, Cisco has changed and expanded the leadership team of its Customer Contact Business Unit (CCBU), bringing in two external managers, a General Manager who joined from Nortel and a Director of Marketing who came on board from Genesys. The unit now boasts two new Engineering Directors, transferred from within Cisco, and is expecting to hire a new Engineering Manager from the outside. The CCBU added over 100 engineers, increasing the unit staffing level to more than 300 employees, at the same time as most of Cisco’s competitors have been “right-sizing.”

As the first generally available customer shipment was on February 28, 2003, it is still too early to verify if IPCC 5.0 addresses the functional weaknesses of Cisco’s earlier IP contact center offerings for the mid market and large enterprises. Cisco states that IPCC Enterprise 5.0 includes a universal queue that integrates its own products for voice, email, chat, collaboration and call backs into one queue and has added and IP-based outbound dialer (that doesn’t require Dialogic cards). If the universal queue functions as described, it’s an important step in the right direction, as this is a requirement for any contact center solution. It’s great that Cisco has finally introduced a universal queue for its own products but it now needs to take the next step and allow easy integration with customers’ existing products for email, chat, collaboration and voice.

Release 5.0 also features new reporting functionality that is essential to making its Contact Center product a viable enterprise solution. Cisco added core ACD functionality including call recording, silent monitoring and call barge-in capabilities in Release 4.6.2 in June 2002. Cisco also states that is has seamlessly incorporated many of the advanced ACD capabilities that existed in ICM into IPCC Release 5.0. Cisco believes that in doing so, it has resolved the routing and queuing problems that weakened previous IPCC releases. While ICM was never intended to be a stand-alone ACD, its mature queuing and routing functionality would be beneficial in any contact center solution.

If Cisco’s new release, IPCC Enterprise 5.0 is a feature-rich contact center solution that meets the demanding functional requirements of managers, is fault tolerant and able to scale to over 1000 agents, Cisco can finally be considered a serious contender. Given Cisco’s market dominance, size and reach, the established contact center leadership has to ready itself for a new and serious competitive challenge.

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