The Cloud is a disruptive force, a tidal wave of change sweeping throughout Enterprise, including the Contact Center. Cloud technology is not just a new and different infrastructure, it is a highly targeted solution designed to meet the needs of the Line of Business (LoB) influence and deliver continuous upgrades and enhancements that keep them with the latest technology. Not all Cloud solutions are the same though.
Historically, the IT department was responsible for supporting all business technology. Goals included ensuring up-time, making sure diverse systems worked together, as well as meeting the needs of the business. The latter usually meant working with the business units, but the details and in-depth understanding of business requirements were typically left up to the business.
The stage for change was set with organizations "right sizing" their IT staffs during the recession. IT staffs were able to support existing systems, but were shorthanded when it came to introducing innovation.
First Generation Cloud
First generation Cloud offerings, particularly CRM, offered targeted single applications that were easy to use and deploy, making them highly attractive to the Line-of business (Lob) and less dependent on IT. The Cloud benefits the LoB without placing additional financial and staffing burdens on the Enterprise, it provides:
- Faster innovation and achieves results more quickly
- The latest software releases and is able to take advantage of the latest innovations
- Increased access to built-in best business practices resulting in streamline processes
Organizations were attracted to the benefits of the Cloud too. They hope to achieve cost reductions through lower Total Cost of Ownership, reduced capital costs of technology infrastructure (hardware, software and licenses), and the hope of achieving economies of scale with software integration – with the costs shifted to the software company. It is the latter, though not widely discussed, that holds perhaps the greatest promise for the future.
Meanwhile, the Cloud is becoming a very crowded place. Amazon and Google seem to be in a race with one another in providing continuous rounds of price reductions as they grab consumer Cloud market share. In the commercial world, the race is also intense. The growing importance of the Cloud can be seen in the selection of Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella. Prior, he was responsible for Microsoft's move into the Cloud with Xbox, Bing, and the MS Office Suite. These rapid changes led Industry Analyst, Blair Pleasant to predict that this year is "the year of the cloud shakeout".
Second Generation Cloud
The next generation of Cloud is emerging. Once a customer looks to the Cloud for services, if they have a good experience, they won’t just stop with one application, they will want more. That has certainly been my personal experience in my company. I initially used Cloud HR (payroll and benefits), then Cloud Microsoft Exchange, and now I’m in the process of moving storage, communications, and ERP to the Cloud. The more applications you move to the Cloud, the more it is natural to want integrated solutions. As Customers’ needs evolve, they seek more functionality. These are the same dynamics that once drove earlier ERP software consolidation in the data center.
First generation Cloud companies are scrambling to build an ecosystem with API's to allow integration with other applications. There are numerous challenges including making the LoB manage the multiple databases associated with multiple software products and integrating them is burdensome and complex. Oracle categorizes these first generation deployments as incomplete, isolated, and inflexible. Sour grapes? Perhaps, but the limitations of single, stand-alone applications are significant, especially in the Contact Centers where numerous applications are running.
Next Generation Customer Engagement Platforms like SAP’s include Contact Center are CRM as part of a much bigger story. In SAP’s case, it is an Omni-channel experience. It is not so much a Contact Center and CRM as it is a completed Customer Service solution that communications enabling applications like CRM and ERP and ties tightly to mobility, social media, and predictive analytics. By having a fully integrated system, time can be spent with the LoB delivering business improvements instead of spending time getting disparate Cloud and/or Enterprise applications working together.