Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Voicecon 2010 Orlando - Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya & SIP...

Most contact centre blogs don't start with Kierkegaard, but his famous quote, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards", is very applicable to VoiceCon. I find that it is only with sufficient distance from the event (VoiceCon 2010 ran Feb 28th to March 3rd this year) that you can actually get a perspective on what was said. In previous years I've blogged on the main events (see posts like "VoiceCon 2009 - Now that the dust has settled, and IBM and Microsoft" or "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect") but this year I want to stand back and take a longer view.

There's a very good summary of what happened on Blair Pleasant's No Jitter blog, and I don't intend to duplicate that here. Similarly, there is some very good ideas for the overall state of the voice industry on Dave Michels No Jitter blog. I'd slightly disagree with his order (I agree virtualisation is very real and very significant, but I wouldn't have put it at number one ahead of the change we're seeing from SIP and the vendor landscape) but I think his sentiments are spot on. Rather, my aim is to think about what was new for contact centres, and what wasn't from a strategic perspective.

This, for me was as important for what wasn't said as what was. There has been a lot of excitement following Voicecon about the release of OCS 14, and most of that is deserved. The capability to do 911, the transcription of voicemails and contextual calling are all nice features for the business user and strengthen Microsoft's case in for enterprise voice/ telephony systems.

What hasn't been commented on so much is the amount of time that Microsoft devoted to the call centre. In the 45mins of the video below, about 9 mins (from about 29mins in to 38mins) a decent proportion of Gurdeep Singh Pall's pitch:

Clarity Connect isn't a vendor I'm that familiar with, but they represent a very interesting Microsoft based approach to the contact centre and the customer service market. I've been previously quite dismissive of Microsoft in contact centre voice (see blog posts like: "Technology firms, Europe and speech recognition") while positive about their CRM Dynamics and CCF offerings (see posts like "The future of contact centre - Google, Salesforce, Skype & Microsoft").

I think my views have changed. Microsoft may not have announced that they are in the contact centre, but there is no doubt about the thrust of OCS 14. Microsoft are a serious voice player and have arrived in the contact centre even if much of the rest of the industry hasn't realised it yet.

I think Avaya have to get full marks for managing to make a joke about entropy! It's not a natural subject for comedy, so not mean feat to get a decent laugh at the start of the presentation. The message I got from Avaya was that SIP was the source of profound & fundamental change in the nature of contact centre architecture. I'm inclined to agree and I believe that while SIP may not bring immediate change tomorrow, I think it's likely to fundamentally change how the technology works. Whether or not Avaya will ride this change or be crushed by it (much as Aspect has struggled with IP), I'm less sure. The Avaya Aura architecture looks very powerful, but it is as yet relatively unproven and the Avaya Session Manager is something I need to understand better to have a clearer view on. There's a lot of potential advantages to the Avaya approach and SIP helps explains how they think they can get synergies from their Nortel acquisition. The downside risks, though, should not be underestimated and I feel Avaya still have to negotiate some very tricky changes to achieve their transformation.

The contact centre was only briefly covered in the Cisco pitch (from 14mins to 15:30mins in the key note address!) and was focused on the role of social media in contact centre. It was interesting and the role of Twitter, Facebook and so on in customer service is one that excites marketing departments greatly. This will be an area of future activity for contact centres, I have no doubt, but I'm not sure whether it will be a major one. Blog analysis (for instance) has been much hyped and can yield very interesting insights, but only about certain demographics and is still a niche part of analytics. Twitter is perhaps more widely used than blogs and so more revealing but I still think there is a debate to be had as to whether it is going to be a core part of customer service. My suspicion is that where industries are already using it (e.g. airlines) we will see it used by related industries (e.g. rail or toll roads) where customers are disconnected from the PC and reliant on mobile phones. Whether we will see it more widespread than that, I'm not sure.

In short VoiceCon revealed that there are some fundamental changes underway in the voice industry. The organisers have clearly recognised this with the decision to re-brand as 'Enterprise Connect' and I think they are right to. The future looks to me to be about software and communication, and anyone still pushing voice hardware will find it challenging.

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