IP contact centers pose significant challenges

Careful planning is necessary to cross a minefield of issues

For instance, a 7-year-old TDM contact center may be so different from a vendor's current IP offering that the disruption of the upgrade won't be any worse than installing a new vendor's gear, she says. "Is it more disruptive to switch vendors than it is to stay with the same one? My premise is it's not, really," she says. "It might be no more disruptive to start from scratch."

The flip side is that upgrading -- even though it may amount to a rip-and-replace -- may be had at a bargain price because the vendor wants to retain customers and will pay a premium. Vendors will readily offer 30% off the per-seat price, but that's not enough to clinch a deal. "If they offer 50% or even better, then you're making me pay attention. If not then it makes more sense to put my paper on the street with an RFP," she says.

Advertising for bidders will typically shake out better deals if vendors start with shallow discounts, she says.

Mitigating factors include the extent to which customers have integrated the contact center platform with enterprise applications. "If you spent time and money integrating then it's worth considering" upgrades to existing platforms to avoid further integration costs, she says.

Then again, rebuilding the integration to use newer technologies such as XML that result in a more flexible architecture may be worth the investment in the long run. "You have to look at that situation more carefully," she says.

Customers also need to consider what has happened to their vendor between the time they bought their current system and now. They may have switched focus, sold off assets and lost some edge over the competition. There may even be new vendors that weren't around when the current contact center was bought, she says. "One of the issues to get over is loyalty to your existing vendor," she says. "Just because you have something in place doesn't mean it's the best choice going forward."

Avoid the temptation to swap features of the old platform for their rough IP equivalents. Demand more, says Grant Sainsbury practice director of Customer Interactive Solutions at Dimension Data. Instead, plan how new contact center features enabled by IP can be turned into money as soon as possible even though it may seem safer just to replicate the TDM functionality. "That's a bad strategy. You're making an investment," he says.

An IP upgrade is the opportunity to improve integration of front office and back office applications and to redistribute the workforce in a more cost-effective way, he says.

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