How to Architect a Cost-Efficient Cloud-Based Call Center

Posted by Alex Misevski on November 28, 2016

Contact center technology is a $22 billion market - however, only 10 percent of it operates on the cloud. Despite sharing a small fraction, Gartner predicted that companies will steadily adopt Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS) products, leading to a 13 percent increase by the end of the year. Cloud call center solutions are emerging strong, such that Markets and Markets forecasted that its global adoption could amount to almost a $15 billion industry by the end of 2020. 

The Problem with Traditional Call Center Architecture

Building a contact center on-premises requires millions of dollars in capital expenditure. Purchasing multiple servers for hosting, storage, load balancing, redundancy, and disaster recovery takes the bulk of the cost. This is closely followed by software licenses for interactive voice response system (IVRS) and contact center solutions that handle customer profiles, agent availability, call routing, and transfer.

Private Branch Exchange (PBX), routers, and switch are also basic hardware investments needed to receive inbound calls, outbound calls, and establish internet connection. Cisco dominates this market, providing both conventional and more recently IP-based technologies ranging from enterprises down to small and mid-scale businesses. However, this is still costly ranging from $4,000- $20,000.

Another major concern is security, particularly protecting customer information and hardening of servers so that hackers can’t penetrate valuable data. Call center security also means implementing safeguards so that agents will not steal sensitive information they have access to. Call center security requires a combination of both process and technology. Security solutions such as Endpoint Detection Response (EDR), Non-signature Approaches for Endpoint Prevention and User and Entity Behavioral Analytics (UEBA) are only few of the information security technologies recommended by Gartner. This could be applied both for servers and agent machines, but costs could surge up to thousands of dollars and could steadily increase as the workforce expands.

Due to numerous servers, network hardware, and software that must be managed on a daily basis, a traditional call center architecture results in high operating costs. Servers and network equipment must be kept optimal all day. A dedicated IT network administrator or even a team must oversee these to make sure that the lights are always on.

Capital costs in building one’s own call center from the ground up could mean allocating funds to initiatives that don’t represent a company’s core portfolio. For example, an e-commerce business would need a contact center to support its sales, after-sales, payment, delivery, and technical issues. If their call center were built in-house, they would have to invest millions that could be better spent expanding their product portfolio, operating process, or beefing up sales and marketing.

Due to high costs needed to gear up an in-house call center, cloud based solutions emerge as an alternative to conventional Cisco, Genesys, and Avaya technologies, allowing companies to reduce overall capital and operation expenses. 

Switching to a Cloud-Based Call Center

Cloud computing architecture is built based on economies of scale principle. Cloud shifted the business and economic model of IT provisioning and consummation, through the process of resource pooling. This is done through setting up a multi-tenant architecture utilizing virtual resources that can be consumed and scaled as needed. Because of this, the cloud brought a significant reduction in total cost of ownership through shifting from a capital (i.e. CAPEX) to operational (i.e. OPEX) mode using a pay-as-you-go model. 

Call Center Through Infrastructure as a Service

There are a couple of ways to start switching to the cloud. For an already existing contact center, software hosting can be shifted from on premise to an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) set-up. This means that organizations can still utilize their same call center systems; however, instead of buying and maintaining servers, they will host them on the cloud.

In switching to IaaS, capital expenditure for hosting, storage, load balancing, redundancy, and disaster recovery can be eliminated. Instead, companies will only pay for resources that they have actually consumed. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is one of the industry leaders in IaaS. In fact, even NASA utilizes their cloud computing resources for their Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) project which is an integral part of several missions including the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) and Carbon in the Arctic Reservoir Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE). The network architecture below shows an outbound call center using IaaS to host their systems and storage.

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Figure 1: Call Center Architecture using Infrastructure as a Service

This architecture shows that network hardware such as PBX, Switch, and MUX are still maintained on premise. To utilize existing software licenses and eliminate high data center costs, hosting was moved from on premise to the cloud.

IaaS enables call centers to operate on a building block approach where additional resources such as memory or storage can be turned on as needed. Companies need not maintain their own datacenters and strategize whether they need to implement centralized or distributed datacenters across various office locations. This gives more flexibility because each satellite office can manage and control their own virtual machines while the entire organization can still enjoy the benefits of having a centralized management.

Call Center Through Software as a Service

Another option of switching contact centers to the cloud is through software as a service (SaaS). In this model, businesses can subscribe to a cloud based call center solution to either replace an existing one or to build a workforce from the ground up. The network architecture below shows a SaaS implementation.

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Figure 2: Call Center Architecture using Software as a Service

In this cloud implementation, a business subscribes to a call center SaaS solution that they can customize through certain application programming interfaces (API) catering to custom processes and business rules. This SaaS architecture also eliminates the need to purchase their own servers or subscribe to a hosting and storage IaaS.

A cloud based call center technology follows the same pay-as-you-go model of IaaS. However, instead of having to deploy systems in the cloud, businesses can subscribe to a web based application and pay recurring costs depending on the number of subscribers. SaaS call center solutions have features like intelligent routing, call deflection, customer relationship management, case management, workflows, and approvals together with metrics and reports.

Industry leaders are Cisco, Genesys, Avaya, and Interactive intelligence, based on Gartner’s magic quadrant for global Contact Center Infrastructure (CCI) of May 2016.

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Figure 3: Gartner Magic Quadrant for Call Center SaaS Providers

Center through Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Building a call center from the ground up using PaaS gives the most flexibility because specific business processes, features, performance, capacity, and storage requirements can be tailor fit to organizational needs. PaaS provides companies a platform to create, execute, and manage solutions without having to invest on hardware and licenses that are needed to create it. The network architecture below shows the design of call center made through a cloud based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider - Zang.

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Figure 4: Call Center Architecture using Platform as a Service

In using a PaaS product to receive inbound and make outbound calls, PBX hardware can be replaced with an IP PBX– a software which uses Internet Protocol (IP) enabling audio, video, and instant messaging by utilizing TCP/IP. Zang as a VoIP provider has an application programming interface (API) that allows call centers to purchase a trunk line, receive inbound calls, execute outbound calls, record conversations, and even transcribe them. Eliminating the PBX hardware could mean up to $20K worth of savings as Zang only charges $0.015 for outbound and $0.01 inbound calls.

Call center technology for IVRS, call routing, agent availability, and call transfer can either be a SaaS or a IaaS implementation depending on the business’ current network architecture. In this diagram, a business has an already existing system that is hosted through Amazon (i.e. IaaS). In utilizing both PaaS and IaaS, hardware costs from PBX and servers are eliminated and costs of operation are only paid as they are consumed.

Which is Right for You?

Call centers are steadily moving towards the cloud to reduce CAPEX and OPEX costs, utilize new tech, and improve systems, processes, and performance. There are three ways to utilize the cloud – IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS. Deciding which implementation to choose depends on a business’ current state. For organizations which have an already existing systems, IaaS can be beneficial to eliminate hardware costs of hosting, storage, load balancing, redundancy, and disaster recovery. SaaS is perfect for companies which are yet to build a call center or would want to decommission legacy systems and adopt new technologies. Cloud based solutions have features like intelligent routing, call deflection, customer relationship management, case management, workflows, and approvals together with metrics and reports. Finally, the PaaS model suits organizations that have a more custom need for their call center architecture. With this, business processes, features, performance, capacity, and storage requirements can be tailored to organizational demands. PaaS can also be utilized together with IaaS to eliminate data center costs, saving thousands of dollars.

For some organizations, choosing the right solution may not be as straightforward. An analysis of existing network and solutions architecture, technology, and process must first be conducted to identify gaps to create an overall unified communications plan. When doing this, do your own research and find a consultant that is technology agnostic, to help you decide on the cloud solution that best fits your company’s need and strategic direction.

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