The 2009 CRM Service Awards: Service Leaders -- Contact Center Infrastructure

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The Market
As we hoped, the contact center infrastructure (CCI) category we introduced last year has been a welcome replacement for computer-telephony integration. Though the major players largely remain the same, one contender has slipped away: Nortel Networks, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, understandably took a pounding in the scores for company direction; this, combined with a general failure to impress on other fronts, led to its disappearance from contention. Nortel’s road back may be through on-demand contact center systems, an emerging trend. “Moving contact centers [to] on-demand can dramatically reduce ongoing costs while supporting multichannel communication,” says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research for analyst firm Nucleus Research. Existing on-premises investments could slow adoption, but Wettemann notes that “properly deployed, on-demand contact centers can deliver payback within a few months.”

The Leaders
Aspect Software is no newcomer to these awards, but is a recent arrival in the CCI category. Its scores here show room for the kind of growth that some analysts think is possible. “Aspect has had its ups and downs, but its customer base has been very loyal and supportive,” says Ian Jacobs, senior analyst with Datamonitor, noting the company has seen growth outside the CCI space as well. One analyst with lingering concern about Aspect’s 2005 merger with Concerto Software now believes the situation “has been rectified, and recent announcements have put them back on the right track.” That track included the acquisition of unified communications (UC) and infrastructure vendor BlueNote Networks in July 2008, supporting the notion of maturity. “Aspect is demonstrating its understanding of the importance of integrating UC with business processes, and the ability to deliver software and services tailored to a company’s requirements,” said Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at consulting firm COMMfusion, in a February 2009 statement.

Last year’s winner in this category, Alcatel-Lucent’s Genesys Telecommunications Labs, failed to repeat, despite a solid showing. The economy may be to blame. “Genesys has been a consistent contender,” one analyst says, “with the only significant customer satisfaction issue/concern being its reputation as a high-priced vendor.” Still, analysts cited a broad product line and open development environment as factors that will sustain the vendor’s appeal. “The company's approaches to breaking customer interactions out of the contact center ghetto—such as the Intelligent Customer Front Door—also point to a forward-thinking company,” Jacobs says. Research firm Gartner rated Genesys well in a December Magic Quadrant for CCI, saying the company’s offerings “support a broad suite of highly scalable and fully featured contact center applications,” and crediting Genesys with “a strong vision for decoupling contact center applications from a telephony infrastructure.”

The Winner
Forward momentum carried Avaya to the pinnacle this year, with scores for functionality and company direction that outshined others’. “There’s a renewed vigor amongst the staff and executives at Avaya,” Jacobs says. “There’s [also] a new respect for, and understanding of, the importance of the channel.” Those qualities could help the company through the difficult times ahead, and provide access to the oft-overlooked realm of small and midsized contact centers. “Avaya has wanted access to the midmarket, and commitment to the channel may open the door,” another analyst says. Wettemann cites the flexibility of third-party integration as one of Avaya’s strengths, and a November announcement of vertical solutions for financial services and healthcare revealed another. “[Avaya] is sending a signal to the market that it has the vertical expertise now to make businesses more efficient and profitable,” said Michael DeSalles, strategic analyst for information and communication with Frost & Sullivan, at the time. And the future looks bright, Jacobs says: “Despite being a market leader, this ‘new’ Avaya might almost be termed ‘one to watch.’” 

One to Watch
Cisco Systems
still merits attention, despite having been knocked from its position as a leader due to some scoring setbacks. One problem appears to be customer satisfaction: “[Cisco’s] sales, service, and support have not been consistent based on feedback from end users,” one analyst says. “Cisco seems to have had its attention pulled away from the core infrastructure space by sexier areas like video, telepresence, and advanced functionality like ‘find an expert,’” Datamonitor’s Jacobs suggests. However, he notes, “the base technology still makes an appealing starting point for smaller companies already fully committed to an IP approach.” —Marshall Lager

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