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Cisco Systems, Inc. Executive Interview

Ross Daniels, Director of UC Solutions Marketing, Cisco, Cisco Systems, Inc.

1. There have been several definitions of “Collaboration” by analysts and vendors. How does Cisco define it?  


The Cisco Collaboration portfolio brings together conferencing, customer care, enterprise social software, IP communications, messaging, mobile applications, and Telepresence to empower business and organizations to improve and accelerate team and customer experiences, helping them drive innovation in a post-PC world. By using technology to build trust and enhance team performance, companies can form global teams who can confidently collaborate across traditional boundaries and quickly access the most relevant experts and information to drive better decision making and improve customer service.

In my role, my key area of focus is Customer Collaboration, which we define as the combination of traditional contact center technology and processes with key innovations in social media, Web 2.0 agent workspaces, video, and network-based recording and analytics to empower businesses to forge deeper, proactive relationships with their customers.

2. The viability of Unified Communications’ (UC) applications has been the basis for considerable discussion. What applications have your users found to be most beneficial?  


We're seeing tremendous growth in all areas of our Collaboration portfolio, but if I were to highlight some specific UC applications that are resonating with contact center customers I'd include several things: presence/instant messaging (IM) that allows agents and supervisors to quickly collaborate to resolve a caller issue; web conferencing between customer service representatives and "callers" that can encompass rich, multimedia interactions including video, chat, and shared browsing; video-enabled contact centers supporting 3G (or higher) mobile callers and standard or high-definition endpoints at retail/branch-office locations; and certainly mobile applications, including presence/IM on a mobile device, or roaming contact center supervisors.

3. The adoption of UC has been, by most indications, slower than expected. What are the reasons for the slow adoption rate?  


If we define UC as a single, do-anything client then I'd argue that no vendor really offers that, and if they did it's questionable whether a significant number of users would actually buy it. On the other hand, if we consider the uptake of UC technology and applications, then clearly there is widespread adoption, including the examples of UC with customer care I mentioned before.

That's not to suggest that businesses never face challenges when adopting UC technology, because sometimes they do. When this happens, however, in our experience the problem often doesn't lie in the technology itself but rather in the business processes of the enterprise. For example, presence/IM can allow customer care representatives to engage the help of product experts to resolve a caller issue, but has the enterprise provided the incentive for those experts to do so? Businesses and organizations that adopt UC should do so with a clear understanding of how their internal procedures and business processes may need to evolve to take fullest advantage of the technology they're implementing.

4. Many vendors compete in the UC arena, i.e. Avaya, Aspect, Siemens Enterprise Communications. How does Cisco differentiate themselves from their competitors?  


A primary Cisco differentiator has always been the power and intelligence built into our network elements, which link people, devices and applications in a way no other technology can--while providing reliable and highly secure collaboration experiences. Cisco has the most complete, comprehensive UC/Collaboration portfolio in the industry, with the network providing core functionality and serving as the common, unifying denominator. Because of this, Cisco UC and Collaboration solutions uniquely allow people to work together naturally anywhere, on any device, with any content.

The network also allows us to offer our customers a flexible choice of delivery models, including on premises, hosted, and hybrid solutions, as well as virtualized applications and clients. This flexibility is particularly important to modern contact centers that may encompass physical or virtual facilities, home agents, remote experts, outsourcers, and technology partners.

5. What new products and services can we expect from Cisco in the next twelve months?  


We spent the last eighteen months releasing ground-breaking new Customer Collaboration products like Cisco SocialMiner, Cisco MediaSense, and Cisco Finesse, demonstrating our thought leadership and vision in the customer care market. In the coming months we'll continue to build on the momentum of these new products, but are also focusing on our core contact center and IVR portfolio with ongoing emphasis on simplification and ease of deployment and use. One aspect of this is the introduction of "playbook" tools to help align customer business requirements with well-tested and pre-configured customer care solutions to expedite the sales, design, and deployment of our products.

We're also working closely with other Cisco teams to offer expanded hosted deployment models and virtual desktop solutions to continue meeting the needs of the modern contact center.

6. Customer access points such as social media channel, mobile, video, etc. are, in some circumstances, considered outside of the traditional contact center. With the removal of the traditional contact center boundaries, do these trends indicate that contact center has now become an “enterprise contact center”?  


I don't think there's any doubt that the contact center has expanded well beyond its traditional boundaries and into the enterprise. Presence-enabled enterprise experts helped pave the way a few years ago, but as your question suggests, the current expansion is being driven in no small part by the expansion of customer access points. Social media is one area where we're seeing a tremendous amount of growth, not only through the engagement of enterprise specialists into customer social media threads, but also through increasing cooperation and coordination between enterprise marketing and the contact center. For example, marketing may offer a targeted perk or promotion to a customer who originally posted a service complaint.

We're also seeing the "enterprise contact center" encompassing remote/branch offices and retail locations as modern consumers increasingly expect to interact with people across the full spectrum of a business, whether that’s with an employee at a retail branch, a marketing manager, a product expert, or a contact center agent.

Continuing to bring the new customer touchpoints into the network of people and systems in businesses is one of the industry's current imperatives. This is why we see the contact center now evolving to an enterprise service, as the processes of customer care literally need to be available to and orchestrated across a variety of people and systems both inside the company and beyond. Customer service representatives and marketing make promises that the entire organization needs to deliver on. Contact centers can't resolve complex issues in their own; they rely on resources throughout the organization, and sometimes even outside it.

Cisco believes that the evolution of the contact center to an enterprise service will further demonstrate the inherent advantages of our network-based approach to Collaboration and UC.

7. Video appears to be emerging as a viable tool in the contact center environment. What are the most effective applications?  


Cisco was one of the first vendors to offer video-enabled contact center, with retail, finance, and healthcare companies showing particular interest in video customer care. Interesting and effective uses of video include kiosks at retail locations where shoppers can get in-depth product advice, high-definition Telepresence rooms at local bank branches that offer sit-down consultation with remote financial experts, medical diagnosis from off-site doctors, and sign-language translation services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

8. Can you explain the major differences between Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise and Cisco Unified Contact Center Express?  


Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise is based on a redundant server architecture and offers industry-leading pre- and post-routing and CTI capabilities in single- or multisite environments. Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise scales to support multiple Cisco Unified Communications Manager clusters and up to 12000 contact center agents on a single system. Multiple systems can be deployed and networked together for even greater capacity. Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise provides skills-based contact center routing for multichannel contact centers and optionally includes support for inbound email response, web text chat, and web collaboration. It also includes a fully blended outbound option with preview, progressive, and predictive dialing modes. Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise offers integration with popular industry-standard customer relationship management (CRM), workforce management, wallboard, dialer, and call recording packages. More than 100 predefined real-time and historical reports templates are offered, along with a fully documented database that lends itself to custom report generation.

Cisco Unified Contact Center Express meets the needs of departmental, enterprise branch, or small to medium-sized companies that need easy-to-deploy, easy-to-use, highly available, and sophisticated customer interaction management for up to 400 agents. It is designed to enhance the efficiency, availability, and security of customer contact interaction management by supporting a highly available, virtual contact center with integrated self-service applications across multiple sites. Cisco Unified Contact Center Express provides automatic call distributor (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), computer telephony integration (CTI), and agent and desktop services in a single-server, "contact-center-in-a-box" deployment. It provides multiple scalability options through expansion servers and integration with Cisco Unified Intelligent Contact Management (ICM). Cisco Unified Contact Center Express is available in three versions, Standard, Enhanced, and Premium, and all of these versions are tightly integrated with Cisco Unified Communications Manager.

9. What will be Cisco’s areas of focus in the near future?  


I've already touched on some of this, but to re-emphasize we're building on the momentum of Customer Collaboration even as we concentrate on simplifying our core products and offering expanded deployment models.

The industry is reacting very positively to our strategy, evidenced by Cisco SocialMiner winning Best of Enterprise Connect this spring, as well as independent analysts acknowledging our vision and innovation with Customer Collaboration. The market itself is also confirming our momentum, as we recently achieved the #1 position in worldwide IVR port shipments, and our contact center business is growing at twice the rate of the market. Our focus is to keep building on our existing momentum with the goal of leadership in the customer care market. 

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