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The Role IT Will Play in the 2021 Contact Center

If there was ever a year for chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) to make their mark on an organization, it was 2020. In the far-off future, contact center leaders will look back on this period as the ultimate case study in digital employee workspace and digital customer interactions.
The onset of COVID-19 forced businesses large and small to understand and evaluate their IT infrastructure and quickly map a path to not only continuity amid disruption but sustainable long-term growth. Trends that had long been simmering, such as IT’s role as a growth-driver and the transition to large scale remote work, were shot to the forefront and have developed in ways no one could have conceived back in January.
With the initial disruption behind these organizations and with the wind at the backs of CIOs and CTOs, how can they keep up momentum leading into 2021? What will be at the top of the to-do list, and where will the biggest opportunity areas be as the industry navigates this next phase of the pandemic and this new chapter in their organizational history? Below are my four predictions for IT leaders in the 2021 contact center:
Remote Work Will Move Beyond Triage
When the lockdown orders began, it was out of necessity and safety that organizations and contact centers instituted remote work policies, many for the first time. One Nemertes study shows that 49 percent of contact center agents were remote full-time prior to the pandemic, but that number spiked to 75% as time went on. This massive shift put a tremendous strain on IT departments, as it required them to assess their network infrastructure and provide teams with the tools for success in as short a time as possible. This triaging was aimed to minimize disruption and maintain business continuity but originally never intended to be permanent.
That mindset has certainly changed, however. Employees are now just as effective and productive as they were in the office, readjusting the calculus for what a long-term strategy can and will resemble. In 2021, IT teams will look to not only maintain their support for remote work but upgrade it significantly so employees can drive new results. This mentality will take shape in many ways, from boosting video and collaboration apps to enhancing security features to proactively offering the latest scalable at-home solutions. A wholesale, sustainable remote work policy will replace patchwork solutions.
Cloud Adoption Will Spike
For years, the cloud vs. on-prem argument raged on. The pandemic, however, reframed that conversation in several major ways. Primarily, it spotlighted the need for digital elasticity and agility in the face of a crisis. Take continuity plans, for example. Businesses running on the cloud transitioned operations away from the office at a much faster clip than their counterparts. In some cases, a matter of hours or days. While the pandemic may not last forever, the value of rapid-fire movement isn’t lost on CIOs and CTOs.
As a result, 2021 will see a continued migration toward the cloud, particularly cloud solutions that meet or exceed industry security standards. A NICE inContact study of contact center leaders found that 66%of survey respondents not using the cloud today indicated that they are planning to accelerate their move as a result of the pandemic. Those organizations are going to gravitate toward the solutions that not only offer flexibility but best-of-breed data governance, open standards, and transparency to future-proof their business.
Be Ready for Digital Transformation 3.0
Digital transformation isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. The landscape is constantly changing, and it’s the mandate of IT professionals everywhere to help lay the foundation to activate opportunities as they arise. COVID-19 has accelerated these efforts in unprecedented ways, from the channels businesses use to engage with their customers to how to redefine customer experience in a digital world.
As businesses grow their understanding of customer needs and expectations, there will be a new surge of digital transformation efforts to ensure that the right channels get prioritized, the proper systems put in place. It will also confirm that contact centers can successfully pivot to a digital-first model. For example, IT leaders are going to put new efforts around not just adding but truly integrating digital channels such as chat and AI-driven bots with mainstream voice and provide better-integrated experiences to customers across channels. These leaders will be running the show in assessing not just how to deploy these tools but to work with their business counterparts to make them truly digital-first.
2021 Will Be IT’s Show
If 2020 was a year of lessons learned, 2021 should be one of activation and growth. IT departments stood out in their ability to manage change quickly, adapt to new scenarios, and help support organizations when they need it most. Armed with expertise and the confidence of their executive teams, the next few months for CIOs and CTOs will be the prime opportunity to cement themselves as the critical driver for the future of their business.