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Cisco Contact Center and the Story of the Three Bears

Remember when Cisco's contact center portfolio was a little like the story of the three bears?

There was one solution, Unified Contact Center Express (UCCX) that was too small. Though ostensibly scaling to 400 agents, it was not large or feature-rich enough for a lot of contact centers looking for sophisticated features.

Then there was Unified Contact Center Enterprise (UCCE). And it was too big. Designed initially using core elements of the Geotel multi-site routing solution Cisco acquired in 1999, it is great at managing the distribution of calls to multiple sites all over the country, even the world. For the 200-1,000-agent contact center, however, it typically requires more professional services expertise and expense than competitor solutions. As a result, UCCE penetration into this mid-portion of the market has been low.

There has long been a debate in the industry, and often within Cisco as well, about how to address the issue, how to find the Goldilocks solution of "just right." For several years, the approach seemed to be to "beef-up" the Express solution. Over the last few releases, capabilities like email routing and outbound dialing have been added. And as mentioned above, the capacity was increased over time to the current 400-agent level. While there was some success with larger contact centers, the dream of replacing 200-300 agent TDM call centers was unrealized.

Over the past 18 months, Cisco has been working both internally and with partners to come at the problem from the other direction, i.e., simplifying the UCCE offer to make it more palatable to the mid-market. The result is Packaged Contact Center Enterprise (PCCE) designed to address the needs of the 200-1,000 agent contact center.

The aforementioned 18 months has been spent in a series of stages. The first addressed combining existing product elements (e.g., UCCE and CVP) into the PCCE package to simplify ordering. The next step was virtualizing all of the required elements for up to 1,000 agents onto a single Cisco UCS server. The third step comes with the upcoming release 9.0 of the Cisco Communications Manger portfolio, scheduled for early summer. It adds elements to the supervisory application that simplifies setting-up and administering the solution. Additional stages have been articulated to partners that involve simplifying the way they sell PCCE to customers as well as addiitonal software enhancements to simplify scripting.

Vendors often try these kinds of packaging exercises, and over the years I've seen successes and failures. One proof-point that Cisco may have a winner on its hands is the reaction of a UK channel partner, Cable & Wireless (in the process of being acquired by Vodaphone). Dominic Jones, responsible for product development and marketing activities in the UK, EMEA and the US, came to the Cisco Contact Center Analyst meeting this week in Boston and talked about how the company plans to roll-out PCCE. He spoke in such excited and glowing terms that one tweet said he was practically gushing. C&W is re-branding PCCE as Clear Contact for their market.

In the story of the three bears, when the bear family had no chairs to sit on, they decided they would go upstairs to rest. They would take a short nap. Cisco contact center competitors beware--there's no time for a nap. Cisco may have created a mid-market contact center solution that is just right.