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Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.26.28 PMCloud-based solutions and hosted services are changing the way contact centres operate around the world. Whereas several years ago, setting up a contact centre involved a significant investment in premises, phones, PCs and specialised hardware and software, the cloud and hosted service providers now make it possible for new contact centres to set up with little capex, and even have agents working remotely. Hosted models are proving exceptionally beneficial in this sector, where the number of agent seats may have to be doubled during peak periods and marketing campaigns. In a traditional contact centre, operators must provision for peak periods and absorb the losses when the seats are idle in quiet times. In a hosted model, they can scale up and down to meet demand, and only pay for what they use.

Bruce von Maltitz, MD of hosted contact centre specialists 1Stream, has worked in the contact centre arena for many years. “We’ve built 1Stream around purely hosted solutions because this is the way contact centres are moving. Offering scalability and cost savings in the region of 30-40%, running the contact centre entirely in the cloud is a no-brainer”, he says. Von Maltitz notes that hosted services provide companies with what they want – specialised technology on a pay per use basis, with this hitting the “sweet spot” of what people need.Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.27.09 PM

Into the cloud

Peter Flanagan, regional director of Southern and Eastern Africa at global contact centre solutions specialist Genesys, says cloud-based solutions are generating an ever-growing proportion of the company’s revenues. This as newcomers and smaller contact centres leapfrog directly to the cloud, and larger enterprises look to migrating some or all of their contact centre functions to it. Flanagan explains that the company has invested significantly in acquisitions and development to lift it to one of the top ten cloud players in the world.

While many of its contact centre solutions simply needed to be cloud enabled in line with a changing market, the growing demand from customers for a new licensing model did force an extensive revision of the company’s licensing structure. “Now we are able to charge per agent, per second, and charge per month in line with peak usage,” he says. “Many customers like the commercial model more than they like the technical aspects of the cloud. In some cases, large traditional contact centres can sit with up to between 30-40% unused capacity for eight months of the year. So business management and the financial director sees massive value in a model that allows you to pay for what you use and upscale as needed, with no capex overspend.”

The interest is there

Ermano Quartero, managing executive at Vodacom Business South Africa, says local businesses are showing huge interest in hosted and cloud solutions. Vodacom’s hosted cloud centre solution is used by 12 major contact centres and many small centres, with a total of around 5 000 seats in the cloud. “Virtually every RFP now is looking to hosted solutions,” says Quartero. He believes that cost is not the only consideration when it comes to cloud solutions for contact centres. “Companies also see the advantages of not having to make technical buying decisions, and not being locked down to specific premises. With a cloud-based contact centre, they can run a distributed operation with agents all over the country. We are even seeing an increase in companies setting agents up at home,” he says. Quartero also noted that with Fibre to the Business and Fibre to the Home becoming more prevalent and affordable, they expect to see agents working remotely a lot more in future.

On the question of whether contact centres will move to the cloud, Quartero believes it is more an issue of ‘when’ than ‘if’. “I’d be really surprised if in two years any new contact centre goes the physical route, unless they have very unique requirements,” he says.

Oversimplification not the answer

While cloud is indeed changing the face of contact centres, one should take care not to oversimplify the issue, believes Fokion Natsis, head of Sales: Africa at contact centre spe- cialists Interactive Intelligence. “There are many components involved in contact centre operations – from the hardware, to software and the customer data and other intellectual property that contact centre agents have access to. When we say contact centres are increasingly utilising cloud-based solutions, we don’t necessarily mean they are moving their operations entirely to a hosted service provider. Those needing to keep tight control over their customer data and call recordings, for example, might move only their hardware component to the cloud. Or a major enterprise might elect to build its own private cloud.” Quartero adds that major enterprises that have made significant investments in their contact centre infrastructure may also hold back on a move to the cloud, to see a return on their investments. “When they’ve invested five or six million [Rand] in their infrastruc-ture, it makes sense for them to wait,” he says.

According to vendors, there is a misconception within some enterprise IT departments that running a contact centre in the cloud presents risks to security and reduces the enterprise’s control. “In a hosted environment, the risk is on the vendor. Because their business depends on it, the environment is likely to be more secure than in a traditional contact centre,” Von Maltitz notes. He says it is important, however, to scrutinise the service level agreement and assess whether the service provider has a strong track record in the hosted contact centre space, and whether it can provide the blend of products and solutions to meet the individual business’s needs.