The market for converging call-center voice and data channels is heating up. Nortel Networks Corp. and IBM revealed Wednesday that they have joined forces to offer a package of hardware, software, and services to help cut call-center costs. The companies believe they can make it easier to convert analog phone systems into voice-over-IP networks, making it possible to move voice traffic in packets, as is the case with other types of data.
The announcement comes a day after Nortel competitor Avaya Inc. revealed an almost identical relationship with Accenture. Avaya and Accenture are bridging the former's technology with the latter's systems integration expertise in order to help their clients combine voice, E-mail, Internet chat, faxes, and wireless data into one customer-interaction network. Similarly, Nortel will integrate its Symposium contact center technology with IBM's WebSphere E-business infrastructure and DB2 database software, backed by IBM's systems integration services. Both pairings promise that converging their voice and data networks will help cut call-center costs by up to 30%.
Alan Harris, Nortel's director of solutions integrator and consulting channel marketing, says joining forces with IBM will allow the struggling networking equipment supplier to offer consulting services that will help customers better define a path to a converged voice and data network. IBM, meanwhile, will provide its customers with a broader range of voice network products. "Nortel will now have the world's leading systems integrator endorsing and selling the full complement of Nortel's voice-over-IP solutions," says Harris.
Yankee Group analyst Brian Jones says the back-to-back announcements signal the growing interest among companies with major call-center operations to move to combined voice and data networks. Jones says those companies have recognized that converting call centers into multichannel IP contact centers not only reduces network management costs, but can also improve customer service. Nortel, IBM, Avaya, and Accenture, he says, are moving to capitalize on that trend. Says Jones, "The battle lines are being drawn here."