Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

The Case for Interactive Intelligence's Enhanced CaaS Solution

May 19, 2010

There is an up-and-coming way of connecting customers with contact centers, and contact center functionality, and that is Communications-as-a-Service (CaaS). Interactive Intelligence defines CaaS as where the communications systems and applications are hosted and managed by providers in off-premises data centers with the applications being provided to customers as a service. Payment is typically made based on per user/per month charges.

Yet there have been issues with "as a service" contact center solutions. Among them are a limited range of features and increased data security risks, in particular with sensitive and heavily regulated call recordings that can contain customer identifiers and other key information. There is an increasingly and understandably strict array of rules and standards governing financial and healthcare information, among them PCI (Payment Card Industry) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

Interactive Intelligence has been offering and refining CaaS as a formal solution for both contact center and unified communications (UC) functions since 2001. The CaaS model it has developed and is building on contains robust, expansive features, a best-of-all-worlds server architecture and a well-hardened and multilayered security apparatus written to tough standards.

Interactive Intelligence will be adding more critical key features to its CaaS solution by the end of summer 2010. These include:

--A new CaaS Portal aimed at improving administrative efficiency by providing customers with a centralized Web portal for administration, configuration and billing

--Hosted workforce management, which includes workforce forecasting, scheduling, and real-time adherence

--Hosted agentless dialing, which allows campaigns to play dynamic messages to answering machines or a live speaker. The messages can be notifications (e.g. appointment reminders, service updates, etc.) and can provide the option for a live party to interact, often called "outbound IVR." Outbound IVR campaigns can combine automated dynamic messaging with text-to-speech to read contact-specific information back. Live speakers on the other end can choose to speak to an agent or do anything else enabled in the IVR menu.

The new features in Interactive Intelligence's CaaS solution bolster considerable existing capabilities. These include ACD, chat/IM, IVR, predictive dialing, supervisor applications, recording, post-call surveys and knowledge management. It also has CTI, screen-pop, administration, reporting and analytics.

Organizations can also deploy Interactive Intelligence UC applications via its CaaS model. It features enterprise telephony (IP PBX), auto-attendant, presence, conferencing and desktop call control.

The Interactive Intelligence CaaS offering gives customers virtually the same functionality, it says, of its premises-based offering with the key exception of a high degree of customization. The firm is seeing more of its customers wanting the CaaS alternative; it has been going into sales meetings with both delivery options: premise and CaaS and helps customers decide which is best for their needs. The firm has a website with information and case histories that can help organizations make that decision.

The CaaS drivers are many and growing, explains Roe Jones, Group Manager of Product Management for Interactive Intelligence. They include little or no up-front capital equipment expense, faster deployment, reduced IT staff, an add-as-you-grow purchasing model and quicker access to new features/functionality. CaaS is also a viable option for disaster recovery/business continuity as the applications reside offsite in highly redundant SAS 70-compliant datacenters. Moreover there is a growing comfort level with CaaS as many other IT applications are migrating to the cloud.

"Communications is following the more general trend of cloud computing," said Interactive Intelligence CEO, Dr. Donald. E. Brown. "As proof of this, over the last four quarters alone our CaaS revenue grew 55 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Driving this growth has been our customers' needs for lower up-front capital expenditures, faster deployment, and a more flexible 'pay-as-you-go' purchasing model."

Interactive Intelligence's CaaS applications and software reside on a unique and hybrid virtual and appliance-based architecture intended to ensure affordable, flexible administration and high security levels. The firm hosts customers' applications on separate virtualized servers. This layout offers the robustness, customizability and security of dedicated physical servers, it says, with the efficiencies and lower costs of multitenancy i.e. a single instance of the software serving multiple customers.

The Interactive Intelligence virtual server architecture alleviates several concerns customers often have with a shared environment. These concerns include: (1) security and inappropriate access; (2) impact of other customers on system reliability and performance; (3) being forced into an upgrade; and (4) the ability to move their applications to a premise based system should the need arise.

"Our virtual approach gives customers the security of dedicated physical machines, while enabling us to keep costs down and manage our infrastructure very efficiently," says Jones. "As a result, we're able to keep our pricing in line with vendors using a traditional multitenant approach."

Bolstering the security of the Interactive Intelligence CaaS offering is a unique deployment model the firm calls "local control VoIP."  This deployment model enables customers to keep their current telco lines, maintain voice on their network, store call recordings and data at their site, and utilize a SIP proxy to still take calls should the WAN go down. This local control over data is especially beneficial for highly regulated firms, such as financial services that have their own archival and access policies, says Jones.

Only user data, i.e. who is in what workgroups, are housed on the CaaS servers. The CaaS servers are located in hardened 24/7-monitored data centers.

"We do have some customers who say 'I'd rather have you do that call recording storage in your data center' and we can offer that option as well," says Jones.

Interactive Intelligence says its CaaS delivery method is superior to similar offerings from other supplier types. Communications service providers have not, by and large and with few exceptions, been successful with hosting sophisticated applications. Value-added resellers and third-party firms that have entered the hosting market do not own and therefore cannot as effectively influence the introduction of new features based on customer needs.

"Interactive Intelligence is the service provider and software manufacturer; we're not purchasing third-party software from another vendor and wrapping a service around it," says Jones. "The result is better customer support, along with the ability to directly make software improvements as necessary."

Brendan B. Read is ContactCenterSolutions's Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard