A new breed of middleware systems consists of software that pulls together much of the new and old technology found in call centers, and adds new functionality for the changing legislative, regulatory, and security landscape.
Posted Mar 22, 2004
Over the past several years many of the technical solutions for contact centers have met either front-end, customer- or agent-facing requirements or back-end, mass-storage needs. CRM, customer interaction management (CIM), and other front-end software systems, as well as such tools as predictive dialers, automated call directors (ACDs), and interactive voice response systems (IVRs), have become a mainstay of telemarketing companies, service bureaus, and enterprise contact centers. And robust, relational databases and data warehouses have proven their worth as reliable back-end storage systems.
But while these technical advancements address those aspects of call center operations at either end of the equation, often these new technologies don't work well together. Many call centers have become veritable hodgepodges of technology, with multiple dialers, numerous software solutions, disparate data hosts, and costly legacy systems. Coordination between front- and back-end systems is often left to the manual efforts of administrators or managers. And human error, negligence, and haphazard procedures can wreak havoc on contact center operations.
What has been missing, and what new middleware systems provide, is a panoramic, all-encompassing view of call center operations so that all the disparate pieces that comprise a center's system can be melded into an effective and efficient solution.
This new breed of middleware systems consists of software that not only pulls together much of the new and old technology that is found in call centers--a considerable feat in its own right--but also adds new functionality for the changing legislative, regulatory, and security landscape (see Figure 1).
Pulling it all together
The right kind of middleware systems can solve the age-old question of centralized versus decentralized call center operations. In recent years the pendulum has swung toward decentralized call centers for several reasons. With communications costs dropping as a percentage of a contact center's operating budget, it matters little where individual centers are located. Many contact center operators now operate in lower-cost offshore or domestic regions. In addition, multiple contact centers executing the same marketing campaign can be more effective by capitalizing on language, cultural, and regional differences. And from the standpoint of business continuity, disaster recovery, and workload balancing, multiple contact centers make sense. The call load can be shifted among geographically separate call centers should a technical problem, such as a power outage, develop at one center. Data records, campaigns, and contact strategies can be mirrored among call centers in the event a disaster should strike the central call center.
Unfortunately, totally denaturalized call center operations are more difficult to manage and looser management and operational procedures often lead to higher costs, reduced productivity, or both. Far-flung call centers may miss out on many of the benefits of centralized operations, such as economies of scale, real-time management control, business intelligence gathering, strict security, and others.
Middleware systems deliver the benefits of decentralized operations and, simultaneously, centralized management. The resulting system, when taken as a whole, is more effective, it supports more productive agents and it has lower costs for a faster return on investment for all of the technology in the system. Even with call centers located half way around the globe or halfway around the block, middleware systems running on one secure server can provide the connectivity that's needed for making each center's disparate set of hardware and software technologies into one cohesive system.
Rules, regulations, and legislation
The newer middleware systems go beyond being simply glue software that holds the pieces of the overall system together. They provide functionality not found anywhere else in a call center's technology repertoire. This functionality can be critical to solving two of the more nettlesome problems facing the call center industry today. Do-not-call legislation and regulations that are just now emerging regarding data security pose severe risks of fines, sanctions, and public embarrassment for contact centers and their clients.
No matter where the lists and data is coming from or where it is going in a network of multiple call center branches, a middleware system with sophisticated functionality can check all state and federal DNC databases and drop the records that must be deleted to bring the call center into compliance with all of the many laws. Middleware systems can even be programmed to meet any idiosyncratic requirements of states and local governing bodies before any records are provided by the middleware system to automatic dialers and local agents.
About the Author
Rick Welding is executive vice president of sales and marketing for Positive Software Systems, a Dallas-based provider of software solutions proven to optimize sales and collection activities for telemarketing companies, service bureaus and enterprise contact centers. For more information, visit www.positivesoftware.com.
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