Contact Center Update from the Lync Conference
Customer call for increased integrated contact center functionality within Lync may lead Microsoft to become more aggressive in this area.
Partners were a big part of the Lync Conference in San Diego this week; 300 attendees of the 900 or so total. They fell into a number of categories; many are resellers large and small who are working to sell and implement Lync. Others are adjacent technology providers, hoping to be one of the boats that rises when and if Lync becomes a major voice player: Carriers like AT&T and Verizon, systems integrators like HP and Dimension Data, complementary hardware providers like Plantronics and AudioCodes, and the one closest to my heart--contact center solution providers.
Contact center is an area where Microsoft (so far) has been content to let partners do the heavy lifting. As early as March 2008, Microsoft announced a multiyear strategic alliance with Aspect Software to "help deliver unified communications to contact centers around the world." The alliance included an equity investment by Microsoft in Aspect.
Aspect was one of the contact center vendors participating as a sponsor at the Lync Conference. Interestingly, the one full session Aspect delivered highlighted the company as a Lync user, not a contact center partner. Aspect has become a key reference for Microsoft, deploying it globally in 2009 with 2,000+ employees in 25 countries.
One way to tell the story of the success of the various contact center solution partners is through the lens of a cross-section of reference customers who told their stories at the conference:
* Helly Hensen is a European sports apparel company that has embraced Lync whole-heartedly. CIO Sandy Abramson was at Enterprise Connect in 2012 telling the company's Lync deployment story, and updated that during a General Session at the Lync Conference. The company has deployed the Zeacom contact center solution. Zeacom's VP of North America, Steve Carter, described the company as being in various stages of deployment with tens of Lync customers and pilots.
Today Helly Hensen runs a hybrid deployment, using Office 365 in the cloud for the capabilities it supports and an on-premises deployment to support voice and the contact center. On Sandy's wish list? She wants the ability to run her entire Lync operation seamlessly in the cloud.
* The Obama for America campaign used Lync for an 1,800-user deployment that ran the campaign's Chicago headquarters. Given tight budgets, the integrated call distribution capability of Lync--Response Groups--was used. Asked by analysts what one capability they would like to see in the Lync roadmap, Rajeev Chopra (who is a consultant who works on enterprise accounts when he's not helping Obama get re-elected) replied he'd like to see increased scalability for Response Groups.
* Marquette University has a 30,000-user Lync deployment, 2,500 of which are Enterprise Voice users. They too would like to see more Microsoft investment in Response Groups, commenting that, "we don't need to have a full-fledged ACD, but there are things that could be added so we wouldn't have to buy a contact center (solution)". Due to the current lack of functionality, Marquette is in the process of deploying the Lync-compatible contact center solution from Altigen to replace a Cisco solution.
In summary, existing contact center partners are seeing success deploying their solutions into organizations that have chosen Enterprise Voice. But customer call for increased integrated contact center functionality within Lync may lead Microsoft to become more aggressive in this area, not unlike what happened at Cisco in 1999 (purchasing Geotel and Webline) as they set their sights on the enterprise voice market.