Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SOA - bringing CRM, telephony and business together? part 2, voice portals

It was a big subject that I tried to cover last Friday ("SOA - bringing CRM, telephony and business together? part 1") and of necessity I only covered it a high level, despite the length of post!

The main point to take away was that SOA can (in theory) be done at a number of levels in the contact centre. In theory, starting at the back end with SOA process choreography or data model rationalisation is as valid as starting at the front. In practice, though, starting at the front with either the agent desktop or the voice portal is much easier.

There's a number of reasons for this, but the main ones are risk (the voice portal technology is relatively proven compared to some other SOA approaches in call centre), scope (self-service can start with a relatively finite number of services) and benefits (even small increases in automation can lead to big cost savings).

The portal works for the voice channel in the same way as a traditional browser based portal provides a view for the internet channel. Obviously information has to be presented differently (sequentially for voice compared to concurrently for web) but the concepts are the same. In this environment it makes a great deal of sense to componentise services (such as identity and verification) and then make the same service available to web and voice channel. The benefits of a common ID&V service are not just efficiency from the re-use of code, but also a consistent customer experience, a consistent process regardless of channel and a better security system with easier management.

In my view Cisco Voice Portal (CVP) is the leader here with Genesys and Avaya not too far behind. It's not a view Gartner share but I feel they didn't fully appreciate the value of some of the deployment options CVP provides. A real strength of CVP is that it offers both centralised and distributed deployment options, allowing a business to provide self-service locally (in a branch or retail outlet) and thus queue calls at the edge of network before routing them anywhere in the enterprise that they want. Alternatively, there is option to deploy CVP in the datacentre or at the call centre. Video is another area of CVP strength. While video calls may be some way off for the mass market, a CVP based video call centre called Significan't is up and running here in the UK so that deaf and other sign-language users can access government services via a video based call centre.

I also find the Cisco tooling (which was Audium) very good for service creation and suited to SOA development as it is based on the Eclipse platform. This is not unique to Cisco (Avaya Voice Portal also uses Eclipse as its development environment) but the combination of CVP deployment options and open standards works well for the clients I've worked with.

In short, if you are going to bring SOA into the contact centre environment it makes a lot of sense to start in area of discrete functionality that can be re-used in other channels and to do so with a product which gives you the most deployment options.

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