Hosted Solution – Isn’t It Time?

A Commentary by Dale Schafer

Technology has come a long way since the days of Judy Holiday and Dean Martin in the legendary film, Bells Are Ringing. Holiday’s character illustrates how our answering services used to operate, with big bulky equipment, and the film makes a comedic twist on the “plug-and-play” way people used to be connected. Although there is a certain sense of nostalgia with the old switchboard, I for one wouldn’t want to support or maintain that thing today.

In many ways, the development of modern call center equipment technology has mirrored that of the personal computer. Our society is mobile in every sense of the word, and the industry is coming around to that sense of instantaneous responsiveness, flexibility, and agility with the adoption of hosted solutions.

Hosted solutions are relatively new to the call center industry and offer an interesting alternative. The concept is not new, however. Instead of purchasing equipment, call centers direct calls to a centralized switch owned by the hosting company (similar to the way a website hosting firm owns and maintains the Web servers). Agents log in from a remote location, using a VoIP equipped phone and an Internet connection.

The advent of this new technology isn’t without its criticisms, but who thought we’d have personal computers, not to mention the tiny ones we call cell phones that are able to take pictures, make phone calls, and browse the Internet?

Reliability: There is an interesting assumption that a hosted solution that utilizes an Internet connection isn’t as reliable as a traditional telephone service. Who says? Don’t ISPs have the same sort of support and infrastructure as a traditional phone company? If the Internet is so unreliable, why are Fortune 500 companies across the nation so reliant on Web-based solutions? Surely we must have made some improvements in that arena in the past fifteen years. Plus, the guaranteed uptime from the service provider probably doesn’t hurt either.

Flexibility: Many worry that if they don’t control the equipment, they lose the flexibility to do what they want when they want. Consider this: If you don’t control the equipment, you’re relying on someone who has a multi-tenant structure to do so for you. Because they manage the needs of so many, wouldn’t they not only be able to offer the flexibility that you require, but also be able to do it in a more efficient manner than you could? They make modifications every day that fit call centers’ needs, so chances are they know how to get you there better than you could on your own. Additionally, you still have direct access and control of your data. Isn’t it better that you spend your time elsewhere and let someone else make the modifications you need?

Plus, since you don’t control the equipment, you don’t have to deal with the headaches of maintaining it either. I’m sure you’ll miss that huge equipment room! I bet it was the one place in the building that you knew was cool in the summertime. I’m sure you can’t think of any better use for that space, right?

And consider the upgrades. I just know you’re going to miss those late-night upgrades. No excuses for 3:00 a.m. calls with the switch servicer. Everyone will be wondering why you look so well rested. You’ll have to find another excuse to check on the third shift agents. That’s not to say that there won’t be any upgrades at all – just that you don’t have to worry about them anymore. The only thing you have to worry about is your beauty rest.

There are other side benefits to a hosted solution like built-in disaster recovery, office mobility, and cost savings. Sort of like when the flat screen monitor came out (will we ever go back to those huge boxes we had on our desks?)  – these benefits all help you get back to business, and isn’t that what you got into this for in the first place?

Built-In Disaster Recovery: Who doesn’t worry about this? Are you in a geographic location with a high risk for natural disasters? Not to worry, at-home agents with an Internet connection are ready to process calls – your managers can still monitor performance the same way they could if they were sitting in the same office, so productivity isn’t impacted. Oh, and your agents just might like the flexibility of working from home.

Office Mobility: Moving to a larger office? Smaller office? No problem. Just go – don’t worry; there’s no heavy equipment to transport with you anymore.

Single Point of Contact: When you move to a hosted solution, everything gets easier. If you do encounter problems or need support that is related to the switch or telephony needs, you call one place – they do the work for you, so you can get back to business.

Cost Savings: With a significantly lower capital investment, and the ability to add or subtract users with ease, you pay for what you need – nothing more. Plus, your utility expenses go down, too.

Scalability: As technology improves, you get the benefit of the enhancements instantaneously. That means that you can be nimble in your business.

Drawbacks: There are a few. The main one is that the data connection has to work. No connection, no calls. Change is never easy, either. Changing your infrastructure means that you have to change internal procedures as well, and that means training and communication.

So how do you know if a hosted solution is for you? Weigh the benefits against the cost of change. Look at your utility, equipment, and maintenance bills. Is it worth it?

Moving Forward: The call center industry is at a crossroads once again. The last thirty years have seen an evolution in the industry from cumbersome switchboards to flexible, agile IT-based solutions. But just imagine offices without the beast in that “special room.” Truth be told, aren’t we as an industry ready to join the rest of the world with a hosted solution?

Dale Schafer is a veteran of the TAS industry and has developed numerous telephony-related devices and voicemail systems. As vice president of Professional Teledata, headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire, Schafer is a resident expert in telephony equipment and is on the cutting edge of the development of the industry’s hosted solutions. Schafer resides in Florida where he connects to the world through his VoIP office setup.

[From Connection Magazine June 2009]