Chris Vitek
Chris Vitek is a senior consultant at Cognizant and a member of the board of directors for WebRTC Strategies. In...
Read Full Bio >>

Chris Vitek | January 10, 2017 |


How Context Sits at Intersection of CRM, ACD

How Context Sits at Intersection of CRM, ACD As real-time engagement solutions evolve, they tend to look a lot like CRM -- and vice versa.

As real-time engagement solutions evolve, they tend to look a lot like CRM -- and vice versa.

I have recently been helping one of the world's largest healthcare providers replace its contact center telephony infrastructure, a system that, once completed, will be deployed to 3,000 employees. The project team keeps asking if the new real-time engagement system is a customer relationship management (CRM) solution -- a question I commonly get from clients once they've seen a demonstration of how context can be stored and utilized to create rich information for contact center agents. To me such a consideration is a non sequitur, but many of the context-dependent and metadata-based functions offered by modern real-time engagement platforms do tend to mimic CRM functions. Or, is that vice versa?

Context Is Key
CRM creates value by retaining context and using this information to trigger events or processes. On the other hand, modern engagement systems have been trying to incorporate context for decades, but with limited success. Traditionally, context in the telephony world came in the form of automatic number identification and Dialed Number Identification Service -- and many traditional telecom carriers are still clinging to this antiquated infrastructure. Modern real-time solutions have the ability to tap into a session and attach vast amounts of information and metadata to it. Given the opportunity to create REST APIs in hours or days, this information and data can be bonded to communications sessions in ways that telecom engineers had never contemplated.

In the case of my healthcare client, the CRM vs. real-time engagement question comes from its use of an electronic medical records (EMR) solution from Epic -- it does not have a CRM platform. Epic historically has not offered many CRM-like features, but this year finally took a step beyond HL7 information exchange standards with new Web services interfaces. In essence, outside vendors are augmenting Epic's EMR solutions with real-time systems to create CRM-like features. But in this information systems architecture the metadata, routing rules, and patient records are all stored in different locations and in different formats, making the sustainability of this approach highly dependent on upgrades or new software releases that do not break anything. This is not a strategy for long-term success.

Continuity of Experience
Real-time access to stored metadata was what put Genesys in the contact center business in the early 1990s. At that time, we were storing information about the last agent to whom a customer spoke so we could route him back to that agent should he call again within 48 hours of the first interaction. CRM systems tend to have longer memories these days, but the goal is the same -- continuity of experience.

When Tom Siebel founded his CRM company, Siebel Systems (now Oracle) in 1993, he was focused on the same types of issues surrounding customer engagement. Since his canvas was not limited by the telephony oligopoly, he was free to develop solutions to real-world issues surrounding customer engagement. What has evolved is a $26 billion CRM industry, according to 2015 data from Gartner (the latest published), that grew 12.3% from 2014.

WebRTC and gateway technologies have enabled CRM and telephony solution providers to create automated customer engagement solutions for functions such as setting and canceling appointments, receiving appointment reminders, follow-up communications, shipping notifications, address updates, agent-specific routing, skills-based routing, debt collection, payments, payment plans, and so on.

The limitations of the legacy telecom infrastructure are fading, and telephony solutions providers are embracing this opportunity to expand their portfolios. In competition, the CRM folks are building API-based solutions that use gateways and WebRTC to add real-time engagement tools to their solutions without the need to partner with telephony vendors. My customers are seeing this trend, too, as indicative in their "Is that CRM?" question. The next question is: If you own both a CRM and real-time engagement system, then which should you use to support your future customer engagement strategies?

The telephony side of the contact center industry is in disarray. Avaya is reportedly seeking to sell off its contact center business and declare bankruptcy. Interactive Intelligence is now a Genesys property. NICE Systems purchased InContact, and Aspect was forced into a court-ordered reorganization.

The CRM industry is the polar opposite. Salesforce is rolling out WebRTC engagement solutions, SAP Cloud For Customers has partnered with Genband for real-time engagement, Microsoft Dynamics has partnered with CafeX for its collaboration solutions, and Oracle owns Acme Packet (and, by the way, all their stocks are trading at or near 10-year highs).

The traditional barriers that the telecom carrier oligopoly imposed on the software industry are crumbling. This is what is blurring the lines between CRM and real-time customer engagement. "Legacy" may soon be the way we describe contact center solutions that cannot support rich context and real-time engagement at the same time. My opinion, both industries will provide rich engagement solutions in the short run. Long run, my money is on the CRM industry.


April 19, 2017

Now more than ever, enterprise contact centers have a unique opportunity to lead the way towards complete, digital transformation. Moving your contact center to the cloud is a starting point, quick

April 5, 2017

Its no secret that the cloud offers significant benefits to enterprises - including cost reduction, scalability, higher efficiency, and more flexibility. If your phone system and contact center are

March 22, 2017

As today's competitive business environments push workforces into overdrive, many enterprises are seeking ways of streamlining workflows while optimizing productivity, business agility, and speed.

April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.