Roadmap to a Contact Center of Excellence

Contact centers seek right fit for the cloud

Is the cloud a good solution for contact centers? Without a doubt, the answer often is yes. But agencies still need to think carefully about when and how to proceed.

The business case for the cloud in the contact center is fairly obvious, including cost savings and operational flexibilities. All in all, it’s a great time for contact centers to embrace the cloud, said MaryAnn Monroe, director of GSA’s contact center services.

“There are benefits,” she said. “But agencies and their contact centers need to step back and see if cloud meets their particular business needs, and that will depend on user requirements.”

Many industry organizations are moving at least some contact functionality to the cloud, said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director for Nemertes Research. But they typically start small, focusing on such functionality as interactive voice response and call routing services. But the bigger the center, the more likely they are to migrate applications to the cloud.

“For those contact centers with only 10 agents or so, the costs are much less to run those kinds of things in the cloud,” he said. “But the larger contact centers tend to be more economical when run in-house, where they can choose to put the applications in private clouds that are hosted on the agency data center, or they can have a third party come in and run them.”

Government contact centers tend to be more complex than their commercial counters, in part because they often deal with sensitive and personal information.  
Additionally, government runs multiple kinds of contact centers –public safety, emergency, departments of motor vehicles and taxation, etc. – and each has different access, data and privacy requirements, Lazar said.

There are several key business drivers for government contact centers to consider in deciding if and when to go to the cloud, Monroe said. First is the need to decrease contact center costs, which is an ongoing concern.

One advantage of the cloud is that it enables agencies to pay for services as they are used, versus having to commit a lot of capital upfront to build system capacity that might never be needed.

Second is the need to manage an increasingly distributed workforce, with a move away from brick-and-mortar contact center employees to more at-home agents, and the hiring of seasonal and part-time to work with the full-time employees.

Finally, there’s a need to take some of the burdens of the running of contact center from the agency IT staff, though that still requires an outside provider with in-depth knowledge of the problems that can arise.

“You can get security controls in the cloud that are better than provided in the agency contact center, because we don’t have the budget for dedicated security staff,” said Monroe. Cloud providers do, she said, “so that’s very compelling for us.”

The cloud also can make it easier for different components in a agency to share information, which leads to more streamlined support, “which you hope leads directly to better customer service,” Monroe said.

However, there are potential drawbacks, experts say. Some people are still concerned about possible security and privacy risks associated with the cloud; and in some cases, center managers are not even sure they know enough to raise these issues with potential services providers. And other people simply find it difficult to give up control of their systems.

None of this is to say that the cloud is not a good idea. But it’s not a simple one, either.

“It’s important to say that agencies should consider the cloud, but also to realize there are still barriers out there,” Monroe said.