Oracle has ramped up its efforts to fuse its CRM functionality with its IP telephony components. The business software conglomerate unveiled today Oracle Contact Center Anywhere 8.1, the first major release of the IP contact center product it picked up through its June 2006 acquisition of hosted contact center apps specialist Telephony@Work. The rebranded upgrade features tighter integration to CRM, a tweaked user interface, improved management tools, and controls for outsourcers and service providers.
With this release, Oracle maintains that it is aligning contact center technologies more closely with CRM and business intelligence, helping to lower the cost and complexity associated with integrating disparate applications. For example, the product supports out-of-the-box integration for voice calls with Siebel CRM, and the company says its newly introduced integrated client design improves screen pop and data presentation.
"Managing the complete end-to-end interaction all the way through the relationship with your customer has historically been done by [several] vendors--companies had to go out and buy different [pieces] from all these different vendors," says Mike Betzer, Oracle's vice president of CRM strategy. "We are taking a holistic approach to solving all the requirements they have around customer interactions, regardless of where the customer is and where the employee is that's taking care of the customer." Moving between communications--touch points such as phone, email, Web callback, and IVR--and logging the activity in the CRM system becomes fluid, according to Betzer. "You can't really tell where one starts and one stops," he says. "It works like one application, which is a huge step forward."
The CRM-contact center integration piece is critical in today's contact center environment, in large part because companies need their agents to be able to interact across the customer's preferred touch point, according to Michael DeSalles, strategic analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "What they're trying to do is give companies an opportunity to consolidate all of their communications-related resources across locations on a common, shared infrastructure," he says. This is especially important as a growing number of organizations turn to at-home agents. "So many companies are working in a distributed environment where their workforces are no longer in a single building," DeSalles says. "There is the virtualization of the workforce, and enterprises are looking for ways to reduce costs."
Other features of Version 8.1 are designed to bolster agent productivity. For starters, the upgraded release includes a new Interaction Manager graphical interface intended to shrink clutter, help agents by displaying content relevant to the agent's current situation, and make it easier to handle several contacts and channels simultaneously. On the management side, the app features a Supervisor Manager interface with enhanced tools for real-time monitoring, whisper coaching, and traffic monitoring.
Version 8.1 is also equipped with functionality aimed at enhancing operational flexibility for contact center outsourcers and service providers. According to the company, new controls provide the ability to securely partition the data and processes of each customer, a particularly useful function for outsourcers with several clients. Oracle is also touting the fact that supervisors can now manage varying service levels across multiple clients.
Another core component of the release is what Betzer refers to as the "Oracle-ization" of the offering. In fact, Version 8.1 is not the first release since the Telephony@Work deal. "What was done with this product in the past was they did custom implementations for every kind of customer," Betzer says. "So what we have done is we have taken all of those independent releases...and put all the power of those individual releases into an 8.1 release so that now all of our customers will be running on a standard foundation."
Despite that new standard platform, an Oracle spokesperson confirms that the new release still "allows for customizations and in many cases facilitates this with minimal or no need for the writing of custom code." Meanwhile, the spokesperson adds, for those companies that may have modified their Version 8.0 implementations, "most [client-side] customizations will be maintained through the upgrade."
In addition, Version 8.1 is built to run on the Oracle technology stack including Oracle Database 10g and Oracle Fusion Middleware. The release marks the first time Oracle has "really put this software completely through the Oracle engineering and release procedures so it's now really part of the Oracle family," Betzer says.
In general, DeSalles contends that the upgrade strengthens Oracle's functional footprint: "This product really closed the gap they had in the overall contact management suite."
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