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6/22/2011
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Call Center In The Cloud: Cheaper And Simpler

Car warranty business' move to a cloud-based contact center platform eased IT maintenance demands and slashed computing hardware capital expenses.

Chris Scholl runs the call center for a company called CarSafe, which sells and services extended warranties for car owners, and earlier this week they had a problem: The DS 3 line to the sales team's call center in St. Louis went out, leaving them with no way to receive calls. About a dozen of the sales reps got in their cars and drove 10 minutes to a separate CarSafe call center for customer service reps who were invited to log off and take an early lunch. The sales reps sat at the customer services reps' desks, logged in and went back to work.

They were able to do this because CarSafe uses a cloud-based contact center platform delivered by inContact, which this month began partnering with Siemens Enterprise Communications to resell its cloud solution to Siemens customers.

"Because of the flexibility of inContact there was no modification [needed]," said Scholl. "They literally just sat down, logged in with their profile at a different location and they were getting their calls instantly."

Contact centers are just one example of the fertile field of opportunities to convert on-premise IT systems to cloud-based systems for flexibility, scalability, ease-of-use and substantially lower cost. As big as Siemens is in the contact center business, it didn't have a cloud offering and so the partnership with inContact gets it instantly into the cloud contact center business.

The cloud-delivered contact center market is an active, fragmented space, which the market research firm Frost & Sullivan reports pulled in $1.3 billion in revenue in 2010, with more to come going forward, said analyst Ashwin Iyer. Players include carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and Qwest, and dedicated contact center operators--also known as business process outsourcers--with names like Convergys and TeleTech. Niche cloud-only providers include inContact and EchoPass, while legacy on-premise contact center operators like Siemens are now adding a cloud option.

"The cloud model is taking off in a big way," said Iyer.

The reasons are obvious, said Mariann McDonagh, the chief marketing officer of inContact.

"Contact center organizations struggle with adding more changes, software updates, and different call routing. They need to scale up and down and want to unify service across multiple sites," McDonagh.

Siemens' OpenScape Cloud Contact Center offering will be based on inContact's platform, added Mark C. Straton, senior vice president, global solution marketing for Siemens Enterprise Communications, which will also take an equity position in the publicly held inContact.

Besides relieving contact center operators of IT maintenance, they also avoid the capital expense of IT hardware, which CarSafe's Scholl said can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each location. When having to manage an on-premise environment, "We're basically a computer lab and not a call center," he said.

Scholl is the owner of Rubi Professional, which operates contact centers for about 20 businesses, including CarSafe. "It would be my dream," he said, for all of them to move to inContact and said some of them are, by overlaying the inContact solution onto their on-premise system.

The cloud option also delivers cost savings and improved service for CSA Medical, a Baltimore-based medical device company. It has a small staff of only 20, 12 of whom are either sales people or customer support reps who take contact center calls.

"Having something in the cloud is a huge advantage for us," said Ron Burr, chief technology officer for the firm.

CSA has already converted its IT systems to the cloud and is in the process of converting its call center, working with another Siemens partner, not inContact, Burr said.

About half the contact center workers are at CSA's home office while the other half work from field offices or their homes across the U.S. Converting to the cloud combines the office phones with home phones and mobile phones into one network, enabling calls from CSA customers to be routed to the next available representative, he said.

Cloud-based call centers can save large enterprises as much as 50% compared to on-premise systems, said Frost & Sullivan's Iyer. While the advantages are similar to other cloud implementations--low or no capital costs, no maintenance, easily scalable--there are advantages of particular interest to contact centers.

First, the cloud makes it easier for employees to work from home, which can save center operators the cost of real estate, and deliver all the advantages of telecommuting. Second, the cloud gives centers the opportunity to scale up and down with the seasons, such as for a shopping site around the holidays. Third, cloud centers can scale up on short notice if a client decides to roll out a promotion that will generate more calls.

"It really reduces your time to market so you can go after a market opportunity before your competitors do," said Iyer.

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