Does the concept of cloud technology overwhelm you?
You’re not alone. Cloud technology is a concept that can be difficult to pin down. But once you hear a good explanation, the clouds will part and it will become clear to you.
Organizations have been gradually transitioning enterprise applications to the cloud over the last decade ever since cloud computing became a viable, scalable option. Cloud technology allows businesses to access on-demand computing services, typically through the internet, for services they depend on such as applications, infrastructure, and development platforms.
Cloud offers several advantages over traditional, self-hosted arrangements. For example, it can be more cost-effective, agile, and scalable. These benefits have drawn organizations to cloud solutions, leading to a decline in on-premises technology and an uptick in the cloud market.
And there's plenty of growth ahead. According to Globe Newswire, “The global cloud computing market size is expected to grow from USD 371.4 billion in 2020 to USD 832.1 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 17.5% during the forecast period."
While transitioning to cloud-based software was on many contact centers' long-term technology roadmaps, many traditional contact centers moved to the cloud more rapidly in 2060 to enable a remote agent model and ensure higher business flexibility.
of contact centers that are not using cloud today are planning to accelerate their move to the cloud as a result of COVID-19.
Benefits of cloud solutions extend far beyond business continuity and enabling an at-home workforce. Cloud contact center software can also deliver agility, provide enhanced customer experience (CX), relieve IT burden, support innovation, deliver a solid ROI, and provide better cost predictability.
What is a cloud contact center?
A cloud contact center is a business application that enables brands to connect with their customers through channels such as voice, email, chat, social media, and SMS and various other digital channels. Cloud contact centers are distinguished from traditional (premise-based) contact centers by the nature of their technology, which is cloud-based.
Being in the cloud means employees can log in from anywhere effortlessly as long as they have a device (PC, laptop, etc.) and a good internet connection. This enables cloud contact centers to have a predominantly remote agent workforce and those agents can be located anywhere in the world, reducing the need to have physical facilities.
Additionally, a cloud platform is a significant core capability for digital transformation. It allows organizations to open up newer digital channels for their customers and architect their business model to be truly digital.
In addition to remote agents and smaller or eliminated facilities, you'll find other differences between cloud contact centers and traditional operations. For example, the nature of software as a service (SaaS) arrangements means that a good portion of technology costs will be accounted for as operating expenses rather than capital expenditures.
Other key differences may include smaller IT teams and a smaller hardware footprint, moving IT teams from keeping lights on to truly enabling the business to transform.
Foundational contact center applications can be hosted in the cloud, including:
Automatic call distributors (ACDs). The ACD is responsible for routing incoming voice and digital interactions according to complex, user-defined rules. ACDs can also queue calls, play recordings, and produce many key operational statistics, such as abandon rates and average speed of answer.
Interactive voice response (IVR) systems. IVRs often partner with ACDs to make interaction routing even smarter. They also allow customers to interact with menus, gather information about the nature of their inquiry, and provide self-service options.
Workforce management (WFM) software. WFM applications automate volume forecasting, agent scheduling, and intraday management. These are all complex tasks that are simplified and made more accurate by WFM software.
Call recording software. It would be difficult to find a contact center that doesn't use a call recording application. Call recordings are used for quality management, performance improvement, training, dispute resolution, compliance, and more.
This is just a sample of the more common applications that contact centers use, but you can see that the number quickly adds up. Modern contact centers rely heavily on technology to run efficient operations and deliver exceptional CX. These multiple applications work best and provide the most benefit when they are integrated. For example, IVRs need to pass information to ACDs and WFM software needs ready access to ACD data.
Cloud-native applications have open APIs and are ideally suited to meeting the integration needs of today's cloud contact centers.
3 reasons to move to the cloud
Every cloud contact center had its own reasons for moving to the cloud. Some sought agility. Others looked for predictability in cost. And as previously mentioned, many transitioned to cloud-based solutions for business continuity.
Cloud-based options offer solutions to many business problems and can position contact centers for future growth and customer support trends. There's something for everyone in the cloud. Here's a closer look at three common reasons for making the move.
1. It delivers agility and flexibility
Forward-thinking organizations are drawn to the cloud because it adds flexibility, which can positively impact CX, especially if the contact center is in a SaaS arrangement.
If you've ever been in a traditional on-premises environment, you'll know that adding new software is a significant undertaking. You might have to purchase and configure servers, load and manage software, and run the application through dozens of test scenarios. It can be a cumbersome, time-consuming process that prevents organizations from quickly reacting to changing business conditions and new consumer demands.
Let's compare this to SaaS. Let's say your cloud contact center wants to add SMS capabilities offered by your current software vendor. Your vendor is responsible for the hardware, and they probably already have server capacity, meaning there's no time delay associated with purchasing and setting it up. Additionally, there's no software to install since the vendor hosts it. Finally, the testing process can be shortened because you aren't dealing with newly installed hardware and software.
New capabilities, like an SMS channel, can be implemented in a matter of days rather than weeks or months when your software is cloud-based. This provides cloud contact centers with powerful agility.
Additionally, cloud solutions can easily and quickly scale in response to planned or even unexpected volume increases. On-premises solutions may exceed hardware or software license capacity when volume spikes. However, cloud software is typically in an environment that can absorb volume increases, and contracts are usually structured so contact centers can seamlessly increase and decrease seats.
Ultimately, agility and scalability lead to better customer experiences. The ability of adding new support channels can satisfy customers in normal times and provide a lifeline during crises. Plus, fast scaling provides the flexibility needed to ensure there is always someone there to assist customers.
2. It eases the burden on IT
Certain cloud-based services, especially SaaS, relieve your IT team of many of the tasks associated with hardware, software, database, and security administration. They no longer have to apply software updates, tune databases, troubleshoot server issues, or fight off hackers.
The cloud vendor is responsible for ensuring all these tasks are completed and more. Partnering with vendors instantly provides you with deep technical expertise and extra resources to perform some of the more mundane tasks associated with supporting enterprise software. And you benefit by always having the latest software releases installed and hosted in a secure, tuned environment.
This level of technical assistance allows your IT team to redirect their focus from support to innovation. If you choose a solution with an open, cloud-native platform that uses open APIs, this will allow your IT group to flex their creative muscles.
This type of platform enables the development of innovative, business impacting apps that can be easily integrated with the core contact center software. And if you don't have that expertise in-house, every seasoned cloud contact center software vendor has development partners that can assist.
If you work in a contact center, you're probably very familiar with budgetary constraints. Contact centers are typically tasked with delivering satisfying customer experiences while also adhering to very tight budgets. And in times of economic uncertainty, contact centers may be asked to do more with less.
Cloud solutions can help contact centers balance CX with financial efficiency because they typically provide an appealing ROI while also delivering the capabilities consumers value, especially with a pay-as-you-go model.
With cloud SaaS, you pay for what you actually use. That characteristic compares favorably to purchasing a static number of software licenses for on-premises applications, especially for businesses with large seasonal peaks that cause the number of employed agents to swell and then decrease.
Additionally, there aren't the large upfront capital costs that characterize on-premises installations and that also means there aren't years of depreciation that need to be carried on the books. You avoid costs on refresh, upgrades, and integration. These factors often lead to a more favorable ROI.
Cloud solutions can also provide more cost predictability, which helps cloud contact center leaders manage their budgets more effectively. The days of having to unexpectedly replace an expensive, defective server are over. With the right vendor agreement, there shouldn't be any significant surprise costs.
Options for a cloud contact center
Once you embark on your journey to the cloud, you'll find many different options available because there are many flavors of cloud-based solutions. The options enable organizations to choose the right platform for their business needs but so many choices can also be confusing. Let's look at some guidelines for selecting the best platform and vendor for your cloud contact center.
Cloud applications come in different forms and shapes
Some of the more prominent cloud solutions include the following:
Private cloud. A private cloud, sometimes called a corporate cloud, is a set of cloud computing services available on a private network and used by a single organization. Private cloud applications are hosted on-premises, behind the firewall, and essentially pool the organization's computing resources to better leverage existing, internal capabilities. Contact centers that choose a private cloud use traditional, licensed contact center software.
Hosted cloud. This option is basically a private cloud solution but hosted by a third-party vendor rather than being located on-premises. A contact center that uses hosted cloud runs its traditional, licensed software in a single tenant environment.
Public cloud. Unlike private clouds, public clouds are exclusively offered by third-party providers and available over the internet to the general public thanks to its multi-tenant architecture. With public clouds, the cloud vendor owns and is responsible for maintaining the computing resources, and end users pay for what they consume. Contact centers that choose public cloud solutions use contact center as a service (CCaaS), allowing them to leverage the true economies of scale.
Hybrid cloud. A hybrid cloud option uses a combination of private and public cloud solutions. Applications in a hybrid cloud are typically integrated, even though some of those applications may be in the private cloud and others in the public cloud.
Platform as a Service. An open cloud platform that uses plenty of open APIs allows organizations to develop their own contact center software. This might be done when business requirements are unusually unique.
Tip: Learn how multicloud factors into the options listed above.
Not all cloud options are created the same
These cloud solutions each have their own strengths and weaknesses that organizations should consider when selecting the best option for their contact center. Here is a high-level overview of pros and cons:
High IT bandwidth; hard to set up, change, expand, expensive
High cost, dependency on vendor to scale and expand
Best ROI and fast turn-up, scale, and change
Balance control, performance, and scale
Management and visibility
Heavy IT involvement and time to build
Evaluate your options before you choose one
As you can see, when it comes to cloud solutions, one size does not fit all. The cloud option you choose should be specific to your unique business requirements. Here are some things to consider for selecting the right cloud alternative.
The size of your business. If your organization is small or midsize, it's probable that you don't have enough collective software, hardware, and IT resources to make a private or hosted cloud a viable option.
Time frame. If time is of the essence, a public cloud solution is probably your best bet. If you have a long time frame, all of the cloud options are still in play.
Budget. When working with a tight budget, start by looking at public cloud options. If money is no object, even developing your own contact center software is within the realm of possibility.
Internal IT resources and skills. Your selection criteria need to consider the capabilities of current IT resources and whether your organization is willing to add headcount in order to expand bandwidth or skill sets. For example, establishing a private cloud requires additional IT support for implementation and ongoing management.
Data security requirements. Private clouds can be more secure or at least provide the perception of being more secure, but in truth, reputable public cloud providers dedicate plenty of resources to data security and can provide environments that meet most organizations' security requirements.
How to seamlessly migrate to the cloud
Moving to the cloud is no small undertaking. It takes significant effort and will fundamentally alter how your cloud contact center operates and provides customer support. Getting it right requires vision, planning, and due diligence.
It is a transformation, not just a migration
A move to the cloud represents a CX and operational transformation. Once you're in the cloud, it will be easier integrate software and turn on new capabilities like digital channels and other contact center applications. This new agility requires some strategic thinking about the future vision of the contact center.
For example, if improving omnichannel support is your top priority, migrating (or implementing) omnichannel routing applications might be in your first phase. Or if you need to get your key calling metrics under control, you might choose ACD and workforce management applications for the first wave. Develop your vision first and then a migration plan that supports the vision.
Build a business case for the move
Make sure your cloud migration makes financial sense compared to your current situation. A detailed business case will help you account for all projected costs and revenue as well as provide a project budget. Additionally, you will likely have to build a business case to get your cloud migration approved in the first place.
The five cloud options previously discussed have very different cost models. For example, a private cloud will have hardware, software, and development costs that will need to be depreciated or amortized over several years, whereas a public cloud mostly has operational costs associated with implementation and ongoing vendor fees.
Don't forget to quantify the benefits. What is your reason for going cloud? Do you think it will increase customer retention or share of wallet? Are you hoping to reduce IT or software licensing costs? Do you think your new solution will decrease agent churn? All of these benefits have a financial value and you will need to put a stake in the ground and estimate what that is.
Due diligence on vendors is critical to choose the right partner
Just like all cloud solutions are not created equal, you will find a lot of variation among cloud providers. Committing to the cloud is a big undertaking. You don't want to complete the move only to find out your vendor will never meet your expectations. Some thorough due diligence will help ensure your new cloud vendor is a good match with your organization now and into the future.
Here are some areas to research about a potential vendor:
Have they done similar work for other clients?
Do they have clients of a similar size as your organization and in the same industry?
Are they financially stable?
What is their implementation methodology? Will it work well with your own?
What does post-implementation support look like?
If they don't provide everything you need, do they have a good stable of partners that can fill the gaps?
Putting some research effort on the front end will save a lot of grief over time.
For most contact centers, moving to the cloud is inevitable. Cloud-based solutions offer agility, business continuity, the ability to innovate and an attractive ROI. Organizations without cloud contact centers will be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to delivering innovative and cost-effective customer experiences.
A cloud migration is a significant and transformative initiative. With the right approach, you can successfully identify the best cloud option and vendor to take your contact center into the future.
Gayathri (aka G3) is a Product Marketing Director at NICE inContact, a cloud contact center software company. She has led global product marketing and product management for several B2B SaaS companies and built customer experience products in CRM, service management, and contact center software.
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