For some progressive contact center managers, Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) has been the latest solution in the search to cut costs. But today contact centers that use VoIP are beginning to see other outcomes, especially increased flexibility.
"They're doing it now because they want a lot of freedom and that's what IP really gives them," says Betsy Wood, marketing manager for customer contact solutions, Nortel Networks. "It gives them the flexibility to have people anywhere...who have secure, high-speed Internet access."
Mitel Networks' Todd Simons, director of applications, says that the compelling reason for moving to VoIP has less to due with cost savings and more to do with the ability to deploy applications. "Such things as an IVR application would be a lot cheaper to deploy in a VoIP setting than it is in a TDM setting--as much as 25 percent cheaper," he says. "Your VoIP telephone switch and your servers are all working on the same network and talking the same language."
The ability to have a centralized call center may also lead to an increase in the use of VoIP. Brian Hayashi, engineering director of the all-IP Vegas.com, says moving into a new building spurred the firm to find ways to conserve costs. "Having IP support on our phone switch, even if our main office was or was not on IP, allows us to support remote offices easily over our data network," he says.
This "true virtual center," says Don Van Doren, president of consultancy Vanguard Communications, will be one of the Big Ideas: "Every company will need to make a decision to move to IP within the next four or five years."
Although VoIP is growing in popularity, its adoption has been anything but rapid. Jon Arnold, Frost Sullivan's program leader, VoIP equipment, characterizes the call center market's adoption of IP as an incremental transition. Contact centers "haven't been the leading adopters of [VoIP], mainly because they're so well served by the legacy PBX vendors," he says. "But certainly the contact center operators who understand the value proposition of IP and how it can make your business better are going to jump to it as soon as they can."
Stream International, a call center outsourcer that uses a hybrid IP/PBX deployment, is one firm that has made the decision to switch, but gradually, by adding VoIP functionality to its existing infrastructure. "I would consider it a migration path, utilizing the existing platforms and adding VoIP into those platforms, and then as time goes on, go into a pure IP backbone," says Robert Sullivan, director of voice engineering and IT client relations.
"It's a drawn conclusion that IP is now the preferred [transport] mechanism," says Andrew White, director of European business development for FrontRange Solutions. "The players that are really going to succeed are the players that can provide VoIP in a hosted environment in conjunction with a business application."
VoIP is growing, but is it living up to all the hype? No, says Art Schoeller, senior analyst, customer relationship management strategies, at The Yankee Group, citing issues like increased security requirements, the need to eliminate and reduce long distance charges as irrelevant in contact centers, and the home agent as not issues at all. "We've had home-agent technology for a long time and VoIP gives us some reduction in charges," he says. But many organizations have yet to adopt it, because "if it's just over the regular Internet, voice quality is not good," he says.
So what's next? Some say session initiated protocol (SIP), which Roxann Swanson, vice president and general manager, enterprise multimedia applications, for Nortel, says is more flexible: "It's VoIP on steroids."