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VoiceCon Orlando 2009: A Contact Center Recap

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This year’s VoiceCon saw a drop in the number of sessions dedicated to contact center technology, from five to two.  This was in keeping with an overall decline in the number of sessions due to the economy.  It also helped make room for a new “conference within a conference” on Video (a topic certainly near and dear to Cisco).

I moderated both of the contact center sessions and will share some insights here.  The first session was an Executive Panel of contact center executives from five leading vendors:  Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys and Interactive Intelligence.  This was the seventh such panel run at VoiceCon and we do it the same way every time – without PowerPoint presentations.  The entire session is based on questions from the audience, questions from actual customers.

One question addressed the age-old issue of whether a particular vendor’s solution would be moving in the next release to Linux from Windows.  Aspect and Cisco addressed the question, with both essentially saying that they would be remaining on Windows, Aspect for its Unified IP solution and Cisco for Unified CC Enterprise (Express is moving to the Linux appliance model). 

Both vendors voiced surprise at the question – does OS really matter that much?  I think the question highlighted the broad range of communities of interest involved in contact center technology decisions.  While a business decision maker may not really care, the IT professional tasked with supporting the application very well may.

One thing we forgot to highlight in our discussion of operating systems was how Windows has changed over the years with respect to the failover and security issues that were concerns in the past.  Whereas the initial contact center applications on Windows did face their challenges (Nortel’s Symposium comes to mind), this issue seems to have been put to rest.

The second contact center-focused hour was what VoiceCon called an “Un-Conference session.”  These were free-form discussions, led by industry experts, with audience members participating by sharing their stories and views.  The contact center session kicked off with a major logo customer voicing his displeasure with a recent move to IP telephony in the contact center.  It was interesting to see other users chiming in to tell their stories of perhaps initial problems but eventual satisfaction with IP.

Takeaway?  As much as vendors want to have the applications of technology be the focus, and the business users the drivers, the communications industry still has a technical side and users concerned with technical issues.  We’ll see a shift to application issues over time, but techies will remain part of the equation for the foreseeable future.

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Cisco Employee

I'm sorry I couldn't be there but I did hear a bit about this exchange on the Operating System question.  We have a statement on our Cisco badge "No Technology Religion" that is always tested when engaging in operating system debates so we tend to steer clear of that battle.

I would answer the question by saying our future platform direction is neither Microsoft Windows or Linux.  We're moving to the Cisco Voice Operating System (VOS) which happens to be based on Linux but it's a bit misleading to call it Linux since really we're moving to a "it doesn't matter" approach.  We are not simply "moving from Windows to Linux" but rather taking ownership of the functions performed by operating system software when we deploy our Unified Communications systems.  By doing so we eliminate the customer responsibility to purchase and maintain a distinct layer of software (whether that be Microsoft Windows or Linux).  We're rolling all the software as one purpose-built package delivered by Cisco.

This strategy is NOT about getting better reliability and scalability (we feel confident that we address those today with our Microsoft Windows Solution) but rather consolidation.

Cisco Unified Communications Manager is VOS.  Expert Advisor is VOS.  Cisco Unified Intelligence Center 8.0 will be VOS.  We're well on our way to having the majority of components in our enterprise contact center solution running in this model.  We'll port other components to VOS as it makes sense based on customer demand.

Note: the most interesting platform development ahead of us is not Linux but unified computing and virtualization.  Cisco Unified Computing System will change the platform architecture for how we deploy Unified Communications systems in a more dramatic way then a switch from Microsoft Windows to Linux.  I'll write a blog on that soon.

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