Is Your Head in the Clouds?

If you listen to the vendor and much of the analyst communities today, it seems that all you hear about is the cloud: “We want to be a cloud company.” “The cloud is where you need to be.” “You need to move to the cloud.” But what if your organization already has an operational on-premises contact center solution and is about to make a replacement decision? You may be scratching your head, wondering if you are archaic to even be considering non-cloud, premises-based solutions.
 
Over the course of the next two articles, I’d like to explore the cloud decision and migration journey. Today’s post provides some summary background information on the decision-making criteria for moving to the cloud, specifically addressing whether a move to the cloud is the right direction for your organization. I’ll also provide some insight into how to select the right cloud solution provider, should you decide cloud is the proper model for your organization. Part two will continue with addressing the pitfalls to avoid and best practices to adopt as your enterprise migrates to your selected cloud solution.
 
If you think about technology over the past several years, when have you known a “one size fits all” solution? Cloud may very well be the “way to go” for your organization, but you should be entering this decision with concrete evidence that you are heading in the right direction.
 
In an older, but still relevant discussion on MyCustomer.com about the pros and cons of cloud-based contact centers, David Paulding, who was with Interactive Intelligence at the time but has since moved on to roles at Genesys and now Capgemini, commented that the most important thing is to ensure that a move to the cloud meets the organization’s specific objectives and requirements. Also, it’s critical for decision makers to understand the full implications of the move. “It may not be the best possible solution, so it’s critical to understand the reasons for moving, the benefits and the challenges,” he said.
 
Paulding also cites several factors that should be considered when determining if cloud makes sense in your business model, including reliability, accessibility, and security. With regard to reliability and accessibility, Paulding indicates that “an important aspect to consider is that agents need full-time and real-time access to customer data and if, for example, all of the IT infrastructure has been moved to the Cloud, including telephony, and the VoIP connection is lost, so too is contact with customers.”
 
If you do make the decision to utilize a cloud contact center architecture, you should carefully evaluate many factors when choosing the right solution partner.
Criteria for Selecting a Cloud Solution Provider
Having just completed three separate cloud engagements, involving three separate solution providers, it’s clearer to me than ever that choosing the right cloud provider partner is critically important. During these engagements, we identified nine specific criteria that should be evaluated when making the choice. You should ask the questions posed in this section before making a final decision.
 
Architecture and Resiliency – If you have decided to move to the cloud and are evaluating potential solution providers, you need to carefully consider the provider’s record on uptime, and how its architecture enables this level of uptime.
  • What assurances can it give you about resiliency?
  • What is it willing to put into a contract?
  • Does the provider offer different environments/instances (e.g., training, development, production), so that you can test an application or feature before putting it directly into production?
It doesn’t matter how feature-rich the solution is if it’s not accessible.
 
Data Security and Integrity – You need to understand how secure your data is, particularly in the public cloud arena.
  • How does the provider segregate your information from other customers?
  • Is it willing to guarantee the segregation?
  • What is it willing to put into a contract?
  • If you need to change solution providers, how do you migrate your data to the new provider?
  • Does the original provider release all data (and any copies) to the new provider? How can you verify that?
 
Deployment Options – As you research potential solution providers, you need to determine whether the deployment options they offer are in line with your architectural requirements -- i.e., public cloud, private cloud, hybrid, as well as how many deployments they have with your desired architecture.
 
Implementation Methodology – Cloud providers are notorious for performing many of the standard implementation activities on a remote basis. Depending on the complexity of your environment, this may not be an appropriate methodology.
  • How does the provider design the solution?
  • Who fills out the design documentation?
  • Is there onsite support for design, cutover, training, etc.?
  • Is it willing to customize the implementation based on your requirements?
Resources – It’s important to understand the solution providers’ depth of resources. Are they “heavy” on sales and “feet on the street,” but shallow on engineers, application developers, implementation staff, and support staff? Find out.
 
APIs and Integration – Particularly if you are coming from an architecture that is dependent on a significant number of integrations, this is an important consideration. It’s important to document your current integrations and application programming interfaces (APIs), and include that information in your discussions with the potential solution providers to ensure your needs can be supported by the new solution.
Customization – Public cloud providers must address this consideration. Their platforms are built for general use. How much the platform can be customized for your particular environment is a consideration if you have some specific unique requirements. In addition, when new features and functions are released, they are generally released to all subscribers.
  • Can you turn off certain features that may create a problem in your environment?
  • Can the vendor provide a test bed or lab environment to evaluate and “stress test” new features before allowing them into your production environment?
 
Features and Functions – You need to have a clear understanding of how your contact center is using features and functions today. A gap analysis should be performed to ensure that the prospective providers can accommodate critical features, existing custom reports, etc. In addition, you need to think about what additional feature capabilities you are going to introduce in the near-term to ensure that the solution providers can accommodate those functions as well -- or at least have them on the roadmap. Vendors’ sales teams often will not want to dwell on weaknesses of their product for your environment, so it is very important for customers to drive this conversation and uncover potential gaps.
 
Cost Model – Once you have done your homework on the other criteria, you need to make sure that the cost model accommodates your business requirements.
  • How is the licensing done?
  • Which features are included in each type of license?
  • Can you increase/decrease use based on seasonal requirements without penalty?
  • How are licenses managed, and by whom?
Going to the cloud does not mean that the solution decision is easy. While the solution provider might be handling the technological aspects of the solution, you will not be totally relieved of responsibility. You must still manage the contract, ensure the provider meets your requirements, monitor performance, and track costs and license utilization. The same level of scrutiny that is afforded to on-premises solutions must be applied to the cloud as well.
 
Part two will deal with the implementation and migration from your current environment to the cloud architecture, and the best practices to minimize issues.
 

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.