Nortel's Single Appliance for Contact Centers
Nortel has announced the Nortel Applications Center platform for IP-based contact centers. The open standards-based, integrated environment in development for more than a year will be rolled out and shipped during the late second half of 2005, with three initial components and as many IP infrastructure enhancements. The product is intended to integrate previously stand-alone utilities like speech recognition, unified messaging, and multimedia collaboration, linking them with reporting modules and a host of tools common to all applications. This enables customers to adopt a full-featured IP call center in one shot, with the ability to deploy future Nortel software simply by turning it on when it becomes available. Nortel Application Center accomplishes this through use of the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) standard, developed by Nortel to serve as the industry standard for IP contact centers.
"The original premise for SIP was teleconferencing in an IP environment," says Roxann Swanson, vice president and general manager of multimedia applications. "From there we saw the potential to add different media touch points, tying four or five or six Nortel products together with common tools and common license management."
Three components were announced along with Nortel Application Center. Nortel Contact Center Suite 6.0 is a package of SIP-based self-service and contact center utilities designed for use with the Nortel MCS 5100 server and its built-in collaborative multimedia capabilities. CallPilot Unified Messaging 4.0 enables employees to access messages from PDAs and other email-enabled devices, allowing them to work from any location, and is integrated with Nortel Call Center Web Portal, a routing utility to deliver messages to the right agents quickly. Communication Control Toolkit 5.0 is a Microsoft .NET-based platform intended to enhance the usability of contact center and self-service functions.
Nortel also announced three enhancements to its IP communication infrastructure. Survivable Remote Gateway extends the headquarters desktop and user-interface features to remote users, with converged voice services, voice applications, and data networking. Communication Server 1000 Release 4.5 provides enhanced call routing, bandwidth management, active call failover, and data security to voice-data applications. The last enhancement, the Nortel IP Phone 2007, is a full-color screen phone that provides rich-multimedia and business-telephony features to customers.
Analysts are optimistic. "A single appliance with a single management interface opens a lot of doors for enterprises deploying new applications," says Elizabeth Ussher, independent analyst. Special attention will be required when integrating with existing applications like an IVR running on traditional hardware and software, she says, but "SIP and other standards will change that in the future."
Donna Fluss, principal of DMG Consulting, says it's "exciting to see a company actually innovating instead of talking about innovating." IP communications only became viable for contact centers at the end of 2004, when functionally rich call-center applications to match those available for PBX environments hit the market, according to Fluss. "We're at an inflection point in the world of contact centers now, with IP facilitating economies and efficiencies, which is what contact centers are all about," she says. "This enables home workers, multisite environments, live Web and video help from service kiosks, and a number of other possibilities."
According to the recent Nortel survey of its 300-member International Nortel Networks User Association (INNUA), 85 percent of respondents have started to converge their voice and data networks, or have plans to do so within five years. Steven Taylor, editor and publisher of Webtorials, the company Nortel used to analyze its data, users who intend to integrate within the next 12 months account for more than half of that figure. "This aggressive deployment is consistent with data we've collected for independent research," Taylor says. "Very few people in SMB, small enterprise, hospitals, and education are not planning to converge."
Taylor also notes that 64 percent of survey respondents cite mobility and flexibility as the greatest employee benefits of IP convergence. "The distributed contact center is part of that," Taylor says, "but it's also the flexibility of road warriors and working from home, the ability to be in contact through one number at all times." Ussher says her research shows a steady growth in IP applications, voice being the primary, over the past three years.
"The INNUA survey is an indication that convergence is really happening," Fluss says. "This is an efficiency play, which is very good for enterprises. It shows that the appetite for IP solutions will grow, and that Nortel is delivering products in line with the market's appetite."
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