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Industry Research : The US Contact Center Operational Review Finds Use of VoIP to Triple in 2 Years

Traditional contact centers operate their telephony functions in a circuit-switched telephony environment, where a fixed, dedicated line is left open between caller and agent. Running alongside this, a packet-switched data network breaks up any data (e.g. a customer record to go along with the phone call), sends it in packets along many routes, and reassembles it at the destination in the right order.

IP contact centers differ from traditional PBX-centric operations in that voice traffic is converted into packets of data and carried around the contact center (or between contact centers) on a data network, rather than a voice network. There are two types of IP contact centers: those running on an IP-only architecture, and those running a hybrid environment, where both IP and traditional circuit-switched infrastructures are used.

However, all IP-enabled contact centers are not the same. A distinction should be made between the type of IP systems where there is still some need for proprietary equipment and software to communicate, and “Open IP”, which is entirely open standards-based and will allow any standard-based application or piece of infrastructure to communicate with another.

There are many reasons to consider changing from a traditional to an IP contact center, including:

  • The use of common protocol (IP) and the growth of key standards such as SIP allow rapid development of new application functionality 
  • IP enables virtual contact centers, homeworking and the remote office model 
  • IP promotes the successful take-up and management of multimedia customer interactions
  • More affordable functionality is made available to smaller contact centers
  • IP reduces the cost of maintaining two networks
  • There is more flexibility to add and change agents in an IP environment
  • There is a reduction in call charges between sites via IP trunking
  • IP supports reduced staff attrition through allowing flexible working
  • The boundaries between contact center and the wider business are breaking down, and IP is a common theme across all parts of the enterprise
  • IP infrastructure may be cheaper to upgrade than a circuit-switched platform.

The figures from this year’s survey point to the use of IP within the contact center as being very much a thing of the here-and-now, rather than another possibility for the future. Despite the relatively slow start to IP implementation, these statistics point towards IP being an integral, definite and strategic part of the contact center industry’s future.

Moving contact center operations to an open IP environment should be seen as a strategic enabler, rather than just an obvious cost-cutting exercise. It is very difficult to put a number on the really important pieces, which are the business functionality improvements, but over time these will be far more important than short-term costs or savings that are associated with IP. 

A likely return on investment scenario for an IP contact center suggests that the initial capital outlay can be considerable, and far outweighs the immediate savings made from reduced telecom costs. However, over time, the business benefits from IP’s greater openness and flexibility, allowing it to be more responsive. Costs are reduced as the system beds in, allowing maintenance of a single network. Over time, the benefits keep accruing, making the quantitative return on investment take longer than in most IT projects, but deliver greater benefits for longer.

The key to understanding the real value of IP is through how it enables functionality to be deployed quickly and effectively regardless of physical location. Put simply, completely and genuinely adopting open standards means that contact centers release themselves from high maintenance costs associated with proprietary systems, and can choose the applications that exactly suit their needs at the time. Standards-based IP solutions are the closest the industry has come to being truly able to future-proof their contact centers.

IP - current use and future plans
The mantra “evolution, not revolution” has been pushed by telephony vendors, encouraging contact centers to consider the option of moving at their own pace towards IP, and this is what has happened in recent years. However, there is a significant proportion of respondents (14%) using pure IP within their contact centers.

However, TDM is still the most important transport mechanism for respondents in every vertical market, although healthcare, outsourcing and TMT contact centers are more likely to be using pure IP infrastructure.

Current use of IP within the contact center
Pure IP infrastructure 14%
Hybrid IP and TDM infrastructure 23%
No VoIP 48%
Don't know 15%

It has usually been left to smaller contact centers to use a pure IP solution, as to upgrade or replace equipment and networks is much cheaper for them. Large contact centers are more likely to use a mixture of IP and TDM.

Of those 48% of contact center respondents which are not using any form of IP at the moment, 35% expect to be using IP in some form within 2 years. These figures show that IP is making its way further into the mainstream and is figuring in the thinking of many businesses’ contact center strategies.

Future use of pure IP infrastructure within the contact center: most likely implementation time
Have it today - 14%
Within 1 year - 16%
Within 2 years - 14%
Within 5 years - 5%
No plans - 16%
Don’t know - 35%


About Steve Morrell:
Steve has written over 200 reports on the future of technology, people and business processes surrounding the contact centre industry, and is widely-quoted in industry journals and the international media as the author of key studies of the UK, US, Irish, South African and Indian contact centre markets.

About Contact Babel:
Company LogoContactBabel, a contact center and CRM analyst firm, was set up in 2000 by Steve Morrell, a leading expert on the contact center industry.
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Today's Tip of the Day - Don’t Allow Scapegoats

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Monday, October 8, 2007

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