Virtual contact centre update signals IP's ascendancy

Oracle's release of an upgrade of its virtual contact centre signals application vendors' rush to use IP as a tool to enable new customer service models.

Oracle has released an updated version of its Contact Centre Anywhere application, the spoils of its [email protected] acquisition.

The hosted contact centre now runs entirely on the Oracle technology stack and provides prepackaged integration with Siebel CRM.

"When Oracle first bought it, my thought was there's got to be a gap in their product line," said Michael DeSalles, strategic analyst at San Antonio-based Frost & Sullivan "But it's a very strong product. More than anything else, for service providers it provides real multi-tenancy."

Advances in computer telephony integration (CTI) and hosting multiple instances of an application on one server (multi-tenancy) are helping to transform call centre operations. Where once an organization would build a large, centrally located call centre, it can now let agents work at home or in smaller, distributed locations, creating virtual call centres.

Oracle and its rival in the application business, SAP, have both targeted the emerging market with acquisitions. SAP in May acquired Wicom Communications, a hosted call centre vendor that integrates with its Interaction Centre.

Oracle's new application runs on Oracle Database 10g and Oracle Fusion Middleware. It features new management tools and new functionality for higher agent productivity, and it provides more operational flexibility to contact centre outsourcing organizations, according to Oracle.

According to Mike Betzer, Oracle's vice president of CRM strategy, [email protected] essentially sold different versions of its product to meet the individual needs of its major customers. Oracle has created a superset of those customized features and combined them with best practices and methodologies in Contact Centre Anywhere 8.1. For example, one major outsourcing customer that uses work-at-home agents needed to be able to partition reports. An agent may work for a couple of hours for one client, switch over to another for an hour, and then work for a third for the rest of the day. The outsourcer needs to measure all of that.

While virtual contact centres are quickly evolving as viable options for outsourcers and some start-up businesses, companies with existing call centre infrastructures are not rushing to rip out their existing switching hardware, though Betzer said he has seen a few examples of that.

"More than that, they're saying, 'Why don't I take this division or product or company or vector and move them forward on a new platform?' " he said. "Within the next 10 years, this is the way people will buy solutions for their call centre that used to be hardware based. The place where we think there is opportunity is the shift that's happening [as companies move] away from big monolithic call centres."

Companies once built their call centres as big as could be supported by their switches, but that era is over, according to Betzer, and organizations are moving to a distributed environment.

DeSalles agreed that over the long term companies will move departments to hosted call centres, but it's a bit early to sound the death knell of the 500-seat contact centre. It's a start, however.

"This is a great greenfield opportunity," he said. "Some companies are starting to use remote and work-at-home agents. As there's more confidence around that model, hosted and remote is a perfect match. In the longer term, this is the way we're going to do work in the contact centre."

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