• August 11, 2010
  • By Koa Beck, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

Partly Cloudy

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Ever since the world slipped into one of the worst economic depressions in history, companies have tried to reduce upfront expenditures. 

The most popular within technology circles has involved software-as-a-service (SaaS) and, more recently, cloud computing. Analysts also say that virtualized resources have a lot to offer companies getting back on their feet after taking severe financial hits. 

With cloud computing, says Elizabeth Herrell, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, you’re only paying for what you use. “[You] don’t require the in-house expertise,” she says. “In many cases, in a downturn, it’s beneficial. In a growing economy, you can quickly add more functions.” Herrell uses a simple metaphor to suggest how enterprises should consider using cloud computing: “Take a retail store, for example,” she says. “They have to buy everything they need for a peak season. When you’re doing this, you manage so you can scale up for those peak seasons. [Cloud computing] will provide that ability.”

Contact centers may have lagged behind their sales and marketing brethren in the rush to the cloud, but Interactive Intelligence is a vendor hoping to change that. Playing off the buzzworthy “as-a-service” lexicon, the global provider of Internet Protocol–based unified communications has a new offering it’s calling “communications-as-a-service,” or CaaS, that the company claims can offer faster deployment, reduced maintenance costs, and on-demand access to many contact center applications. 

Thatcher Young, the contact center manager at New Era Tickets, says that he began considering cloud computing as a way to scale down costs, particularly given the “very large budget” that an on-premises contact center can require. “It was very important that we keep our costs in line with the company,” Young notes, “and put money back into growing and providing for our customers.” 

Of the many contending vendors that Young says were evaluated, Interactive Intelligence was the only one that offered to send reps out to New Era’s contact center at 10 a.m. on a Saturday to observe agents and call flow. Young says that Interactive Intelligence’s early dedication reflects the vendor’s commitment to its clients: “A mantra,” he says, “that their CEO has incorporated in the DNA of the company.”

Even though Young was won over by Interactive Intelligence’s flexible scalability and simplified provisioning, there was hesitation about moving to the cloud. “There was some resistance to the idea that as you get bigger you become a hosted solution,” he recalls. “Interactive Intelligence was able to identify that that was an issue for us. The CaaS option enabled us to have that day-to-day control.” 

In addition to his joy over being spared maintenance costs and upgrade headaches, Young beams about Interactive Intelligence’s servers and infrastructure, citing as an example a flood of requests for tickets to a particular Philadelphia concert. “Over the course of one minute,” Young recalls, “73,000 unique numbers dialed our toll-free number at 10 a.m. to purchase tickets. The amount of traffic that can be handled by the system is very good.” New Era, he adds, has seen a financial upside by being able to shave five to 15 seconds off the length of the average phone call.

Jerry Keely, customer service administrator for Pinal County Government in Arizona, was assigned the arduous task of putting together a completely functional contact center in six months. Keely’s intention was to start with cloud computing as a way of getting the contact center going at a low cost. Keely says he chose Interactive Intelligence with the intention of eventually moving to on-premises, and the vendor, he says, “was able to respond very quickly in getting cloud computing set up for us.” 

Despite initial concerns about connection quality and security, Keely maintains that using Interactive Intelligence was very helpful in the introductory phase of constructing Pinal County’s contact center. The absence of a “sales” angle may differentiate Pinal’s contact center from a commercial one, Keely says, but accuracy in provided information is essential in both. 

“We don’t have a product to sell. We don’t have to worry about losing a customer,” Keely admits. “But everybody that calls is, in effect, our employer. They’re taxpayers. We’re the face of Pinal County and the face of our elected officials…. We’re not selling anything, but we do provide a service for our employers. Our callers do not have alternate solutions…. The answers provided to the public from our call center must be accurate.” 

“In a very down economy, when most companies [that] provide these services saw a decline, Interactive Intelligence showed a robust growth,” Herrell observes. “Companies want that ease of implementation and solution—and they need to do that when times are tougher.”

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