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5 Reasons Why Chromebooks Make Sense for Agents

Chrome_AdobeStock_387199751_Editorial_Use_Only_31721.jpeg

A close up on a Chromebook
Image: WDnet Studio - stock.adobe.com
Web browsers blur the distinctions between an application, platform, and operating system. When Google introduced ChromeOS, a browser-based operating system, it was a quirky concept, but it has matured into a reasonably robust solution. The Chromebook is a cloud-optimized device that is well suited for a variety of roles, including contact center agents.
 
Chromebooks have come a long way, and so have the cloud and the Internet. This past year was a break-out year for Chromebooks, particularly in education and contact centers. While there are some different opinions regarding where agents will work post-pandemic, I think Chromebooks for contact center agents deserve a fresh look.
 
Here are five reasons why Chromebooks make ideal agent desktops:
 
1. Simplicity
Chromebooks are easy to use, deploy, and support. Not to mention, they are relatively inexpensive both initially and over time. At the beginning of the pandemic, Synchrony Bank turned to Chromebooks to outfit its agents at home; it started with an initial purchase of over 6,000 Chromebooks. Within three weeks, the bank had every one of its U.S. agents productive on a Chromebook at home.
 
Chromebooks come in many different models and configurations. Most PC/laptop makers offer a range of Chromebook models, ranging in sizes, CPUs, and memory specifications. Most units have a full QWERTY keyboard, webcam, USB ports, and some also have Bluetooth and cellular options. Synchrony Bank standardized on the Acer 715, which comes in a few different configurations and retails around $500-$700.
 
2. Versatility
Chromebooks are arguably the most versatile desktop device available. That may seem counter-intuitive for a browser-based operating system, but they are able to run browser-native apps; most Android apps, some Linux apps, most Windows apps (see below), and the browser, unlike the Android and iOS versions of Chrome, also supports Chrome extensions.
 
I am unaware of any contact center application that won’t run on a Chromebook. The vast majority of the CCaaS providers support Chromebooks natively, such as Cisco, Five9, Genesys, RingCentral, and Vonage. If the client runs in the browser, including the softphone, then it likely runs on a Chromebook. If not, then perhaps the Android client will run it. For example, the Avaya Workplace Client for Android is supported on Chromebooks.
 
For contact center or WEM applications that use Windows clients, they can run on a Chromebook via a remote Citrix server or locally via Parallels. Citrix is a well-established and secure means of centralizing management and access for PC apps. Moving a Citrix deployment from PCs to Chromebooks is relatively simple. Though the softphone can be tricky, so it might be best to pair contact center apps with an IP phone. Citrix delivers a way to centrally manage apps on a thin client desktop, but Chromebooks offer that natively.
 
Most cloud-delivered CRMs and service apps also run natively in the browser, thus are also Chromebook compatible — as are most UCC solutions and office productivity apps. When Microsoft replaced IE with the Edge browser, it indirectly endorsed Chromebooks via compatibility. Both Edge and Chromebooks use the same underlying technology. Most Microsoft 365 apps are now compatible with Chromebooks.
 
Both browsers also support the recent WebRTC standard, which enables native telephony and video services. Of course, Chromebooks also work well with Google Workspace apps.
 
3. Supportability
The first challenge of getting remote employees productive is equipment and connectivity. The second and bigger challenge is ongoing support. Chromebooks have several architectural features that simplify support.
 
App sandboxing is a native Chromebook feature. Sandboxing is common on mobile operating systems, and it prevents one application from interfering with another. Chromebooks also have encrypted, read-only firmware, which reduces the threat of viruses and attacks. All files on a Chromebook are automatically encrypted and protected.
 
Those features may go unnoticed, but users will appreciate the Chromebook OS upgrade process, which rarely interferes with usage and is tolerant of mid-update power failures. The ChromeOS architecture utilizes two partitions and passively upgrades one while the other is in use. If an update fails or doesn’t work as intended, the device can be rolled back.
 
Despite Chromebooks being available from so many manufacturers, ChromeOS software is managed by Google and rolled out on a fairly consistent basis. That means Chromebooks don’t suffer from the version control issues that plague Android and other operating systems. As Chromebooks were designed and built for the cloud, they can be configured with very little local data. If a Chromebook does fail, recovery is fast and possible without the need for IT to configure a new or replacement device.
 
4. Enterprise Integration
The early Chromebooks were very limited devices and were easily dismissed as toys by IT. That’s all changed over the past few years. Modern Chromebooks offer 4K touchscreen displays, and the devices support stylus input, multiple virtual desktops, and a second monitor. The Enterprise Upgrade for Chromebooks adds advanced security, SAML SSO support, policy and fleet management capabilities, and 7x24 support.
 
At-home agents on Chromebooks will enjoy a simpler device to perform their primary tasks, but they can also interact with other enterprise applications. Chromebooks work well with Google Chat and Meet as well as most enterprise communications and collaboration apps. The Google Pixelbook Go (about $650) even has a 1080p front-facing webcam — a rare specification on enterprise laptops.
 
5. Chromebooks Keep Getting Better
Like most cloud services, the evergreen proposition of continuous improvement also applies to Chromebooks. To mark the Chromebook’s 10th anniversary this month, Google announced several new features. Chromebook users have access to a new screen capture tool, which will allow users to grab screenshots without keyboard shortcuts. Clipped images are now stored in a quick-access space for files and images, called Tote. The Chromebook’s clipboard also now supports up to five items, and all five can be pasted with a single command. A new quick answers feature provides definitions, translations, and conversions with a single click. Also, Desk enhancements allow a specific configuration of tabs and apps to be restored after a reboot.
 
Final Thoughts
Though the term Chromebooks is frequently applied to the general category of ChromeOS devices, there are two popular form factors: The Chromebook is a laptop (or tablet-keyboard) device complete with battery, screen, and keyboard. The Chromebox is more like a PC desktop device that requires separate peripherals. The Chromebox might be preferable if the agent requires two identical screens and/or a full-size keyboard.
 
Chromebooks are not ideal for all knowledge workers. Two primary considerations are the apps that are required and how frequently new apps are needed. Chromebooks are most attractive in well-defined roles where they can be properly configured for specific workflows. They are built-for-purpose cloud devices, so an ideal endpoint for cloud-delivered services. A single Chromebook can potentially replace a desktop PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, webcam, and IP phone. A single device with built-in security and manageability.
 
As contact centers migrate to cloud-delivered services that commonly run in a browser, the Chromebook offers a logical and compelling alternative for a workstation — at home or the office.
 
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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