Benefits of Cloud Contact Centers
Understanding How Infrastructure & Architecture Affect Performance
All contact centers are not created equal. Cloud-native contact centers provide the most advantageous of the various deployment options for customer service teams to execute more meaningful customer interactions. Products which are natively built in the cloud provide the most sustainable, resilient, scalable technology.
Benefits of cloud-native contact centers as part of an organization’s large-scale enterprise resource planning include:
- Global scalability and redundancy
- Multi-level Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for continuous development and enhancements
- Microservices-based architecture for automatic data replication • Established disaster recovery protocols
- More repeatable and defined processes
- Lower latency for better call quality
- Enhanced data security
- Durability and functionality to meet the needs of tomorrow
Recent research from Markets and Markets indicate the cloud contact center industry will be worth $10.9 billion by 2019.1 A cloud-native architecture is the most expansive kind of contact center to address that need. It aptly connects all customer-facing functions within most enterprises – including inbound customer service representatives and outbound sales specialists.
Other models like hosted, on-premises or outsourced contact centers are no longer a viable option for most companies. Roughly 62% of global companies rely on cloud contact centers.2 Cloud-native contact centers are therefore better equipped to support technological requirements of the future by providing superior functionality and platform performance leading to more meaningful customer experiences. This whitepaper will help you understand the fundamentals of contact center infrastructure, and what to look for in the best cloud architecture.
Limitations of Hosted & On-Premises
It is essential to understand the shortcomings of both hosted and on-premises deployments before understanding benefits of the cloud.
On-premises means all equipment required to support a telephony system is located at a business’ physical office. Businesses would purchase and maintain physical servers and all other infrastructure.
This method has long been the common lay-of-the-land – call centers started out as large, cumbersome and expensive on-premises installations.1 Technological innovation has largely rendered on-premises solutions relatively inefficient and ineffective. The downsides of on-premises applications include that they are:
- Limited to on-site employees only
- Costly regarding licenses, operations, and maintenance
- Not scalable or flexible to changing needs over time
- Not safe – data security is at risk
- Vulnerable to natural calamities, overheating, or power outages
Organizations that still employ an on-premises solution will have no surefire way to add new channels as they’re needed, and therefore have no protection against technological obsolescence. Cloud is the only answer.
Hosted solutions work just like on-premises software, but the application is hosted in a third party’s data centers or the vendor’s servers. Agents, most commonly, login to the platform via an icon on their desktop which opens the portal.
Hosted contact centers store data remotely. Hosted may be a viable option for organizations with limited resources or undeveloped infrastructure, but it lacks the scope and reliability of cloud implementations.
At their core, most hosted applications simply use old on-premises technology and repackage its delivery method. This so-called “cloud” approach affords a few benefits of true cloud-native technology, but cannot take full advantage of technology the way modern cloud-native platforms can. Hosted models can be inferior in data delivery, redundancy and recovery abilities. Investing in hosted technology may appear as a minor “money saver” today but will ultimately limit your growth potential from a technology standpoint as the competition rapidly progresses.
Companies reluctant to move to the cloud may have reservations around flexibility, the ability to integrate existing channels, and the costs linked to creating the required architecture.3 However, digital advancements and customer expectations dictate that businesses that value multi-channel customer interaction must move to the cloud. 79% of operations point out that their current, often telephone-centric systems won’t meet their future needs.4 For global, customer-centric enterprises and national organizations, on premises and hosted infrastructure both have drawbacks making them less viable options.
True Cloud deployments require no physical hardware and are globally scalable. They are redundant – leveraging data that automatically replicates across multiple data centers – and therefore enable users to access the platform at anytime from anywhere in the world, so long as they have Internet access.
Cloud is presently the most common deployment and is ideal for any customer service support center, outbound telemarketing service, help desk service, government support center, and other inbound communications operation.
A distinction should be made between cloud-based and truly cloud-native. Many vendors market themselves as generally working in the “cloud.” They host data somewhere and deliver services via the Internet. However, a cloud-native application is a program that is designed specifically for a cloud computing architecture. Cloud contact centers are designed to take advantage of cloud computing frameworks.4 Code and data are native to the platform.
Clients are routed to the most practical global access point – not forced into predefined regions or specific datacenters. Additionally, data replication happens in real-time across the globe and is not confined to only one region or center. Cloud-native, in other words, describes a company which was born in, built in, and continues to function only in the cloud (via the Internet).
The most technologically-advanced cloud contact centers, like Sharpen’s globally-distributed, multi-tenant platform, can achieve the highest levels of call quality by using data from the most logical data center and utilizing a separate cloud infrastructure network where data regularly spins.
What latency means for call quality
When VoIP initially became the standard for call and contact center communication, call quality was unpredictable, and sometimes jumbled or even incoherent. This was due to, in part, bad or high latency.
Latency is synonymous with delay and has a direct correlation with voice quality.
Many telecommunication practitioners assume bandwidth is the key to call clarity and that by buying a “larger pipe,” they can resolve voice quality issues. But this way of thinking is largely incorrect as bandwidth is fundamentally different from latency.
Latency depends on the quality of the entire network and is affected by a multitude of factors including, most commonly, the physical distance data must travel to reach the router of another point (commonly known as network hops).
Latency is measured in milliseconds, and the lower the latency, the better. Anything below 60 milliseconds is considered excellent.
Improvements in data access and data replication has resulted in much lower latency than before. Sharpen’s latency runs at sub-60 milliseconds whereas many solutions can run between 80-100 milliseconds – the difference between hearing a crystal clear voice vs an “echo” or delay on the opposite line.
While many factors outside of a company’s control impact latency and call quality, one key is to work with a provider that lives in the cloud and that draws data from multiple data centers around the globe. Amazon offers the most popular and robust globally distributed data center.
Leveraging AWS for more scalable data usage
Amazon leads the way in terms of data center scale and complexity. Amazon Web Services is a scalable cloud-based infrastructure that provides data services to any software provider across the country and world.
Amazon maintains world-class data centers all over the globe and is constantly expanding its capacity and access points to remain the top IaaS provider in the world.
Sharpen’s cloud-native architecture allows us to deploy code seamlessly and quickly to grow alongside AWS. For example, when Amazon announced the deployment of a new data center in India in June 2016, Sharpen had code running there within hours, which allowed regional customers to lower their latency and immediately improve their service.
Using Amazon’s comprehensive and robust platform, contact center representatives will connect to and pull data from the most logical AWS center based on proximity – not forced into predefined regions or data centers.
Remote agents can be halfway across the world, yet use their office phone number and other features they would have access to at an HQ. Additionally, it’s relatively simple to add any number of virtual phones for new hires if need be.
Sharpen currently has code spinning on Amazon’s centers in all critical regions across the globe. This ensures that no matter what geographic location representatives are in, so long as they have Internet access, they will have unyielding and uninterrupted access to the application.
Contact centers require a wide range of functions, features, and services for effectiveness. These elements largely depend on the architecture behind the application.
Cloud architecture refers to how a piece of software is built, and differs from vendor to vendor depending on a myriad of factors related to the interface and capabilities of the application.
Think of architecture as the tiered nuts and bolts of the product. It usually includes a distributed database, a business logic layer, and a UI layer or interface which is what the end user sees. The quality of the architecture depends on several factors – how development engineers built the product, the code they used, and to an extent, the different functionality and features enabled.
Sharpen’s modern, cloud-native architecture truly stands apart. A few benefits of our microservices-based, cloud native architecture include data replication and data security, as well as robust API support so you can extend the functionality of Sharpen’s platform in your environment.
“Sharpen’s infrastructure is the magic that sets us apart from our competitors. Using the “economics of small” allows us to build micro-processes that are usable and reusable all over the application stack. Things as complex as connecting users in the U.S. to agents in India are very simple when many tiny operations are linked together.” -Bracken Fields, EVP, Product + Infrastructure
Microservices-based architecture for scalability and resiliency
When software is built, its building blocks – components, services, and applications – are developed with a particular structure and organization in mind.
Today, the most advanced cloud-native software programs are built using microservices – especially relatively large, enterprise applications. In general, a microservices-based approach has become the preferred method for modern software developers when building a new cloud-native platform. But what are microservices, and what is their value to your business and your customers?
A microservices platform is built using autonomous applications that operate independently from one another in the cloud; but that all cohesively integrate within a central application.
Traditionally, many enterprise software packages have been built and deployed using a “monolith” architecture. Using a monolithic model, the software platform is packaged and deployed as a single unit. Code, APIs, and other services are all stored as a single package in which the viability of the entire system is completely reliant and dependent on the survival of the each individual component. If one component or service fails in the monolith, the entire system will be compromised along with it. Additionally, a monolithic approach does not provide the scalability that a microservices approach does. Because the platform runs only in one instance, it’s capacity to grow when demand or data increases is limited. Microservices platforms are infinitely scalable since they are built on tens, hundreds, or thousands of different instances within the cloud.
Instead of a single, hefty, and often outdated system, a microservices approach allows each function of your contact center platform to operate in a more focused way, dedicated to a single task within the cloud. Ultimately, a platform leveraging microservices will yield greater resilience, scale, reliability, agility and speed for users. A system built using microservices provides the basis for modern and future SaaS platforms of all types – especially customer experience technologies like contact centers.
Robust API support for continuous development
Cloud-native contact centers are built to be incredibly flexible so that new customer service channels can be added as they come available. A platform built with robust API support makes this possible.
APIs refer to a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. APIs are how the architecture works – the style in which it was built and functions. They also specify how software components should interact and be used when programming graphical user interface elements.
Most vendors who offer APIs do so as an afterthought – they produce a list of APIs as a minimal feature in order to show they have support. Best practice, however, is for a company to use their own APIs to program their interfaces – that shows a true commitment to the API set, and guarantees future expansion and enhancements.
For instance, Google APIs are a set of application programming interfaces developed by Google which enable easy integration and information sharing between with Google Services and other owned facilities. Examples of these include Search, Gmail, Translate and Google Maps.
When engineers and developers build software, they aim to write reusable code. This makes for more economical use of resources and sets the foundation for future expansion. In other words, APIs allow for creating a single piece of code that permits variations, attributions, and development.
APIs remove the complexity of interacting with the coding framework so that developers don’t need to know specifics about each database or microservice. Working with APIs is beneficial when additional channels need to be added to the contact center, when notifications need to be enabled across a web property, or even if underlying components must be modified with better components.
WebHooks, another device used in modern cloud-native applications and architecture, are user-defined HTTP callbacks triggered by some web-related activity. WebHooks are commonly triggered by forum posts, website actions, and calls, chats, and emails coming into or leaving the queue. All of these fire a WebHook and allow extension of certain functionality into your own environment. WebHooks are a much more efficient way to drive event-based actions, which are especially common in contact centers.
At Sharpen, our UX and UI programmers all use custom-built REST APIs for all functions within the application. We don’t ask customers to use something that we don’t use ourselves.
Redundancy ensures secure disaster recovery and system protection
Redundancy is one of the most critical features of modern contact centers. Implementing redundancy at the VoIP and network levels is an integral part of VoIP communication, ensuring business continuity.5
Redundancy is synonymous with continuity. One of the primary objectives for IT decision makers and contact center managers is to achieve a system without a single point of failure. Power, connectivity, and environment are all vital. Organizations working in a cloud-native, distributed architecture will have the highest level of protection from disasters because of superior recovery and high availability.
Call continuity and system redundancy are crucial in order to ensure no calls, customer data, or internal data will be lost. These features also automatically forward calls in real time to designated mobile phone numbers if Internet service fails. Many systems also incorporate disaster routing. If the system cannot connect to the user’s private telephone network within four seconds, the call is automatically routed to one of up to three other systems specified by the user.
Data replication ensures immediate and up-to-date customer information
Database replication occurs solely in the cloud. Vendors that do not geo-replicate data in multiple cloud data centers are not living natively in the cloud.
Native geo-replication enables users across the globe to access the same data but to do it through the most efficient geographical data center. Agents will be able to leverage the same data which continuously updates in real-time. For example, if one agent adds a new record to the database, other agents can immediately see that information. But if it’s not replicated in other data centers, other agents will not see it. By eliminating data silos, cloud contact centers allow real-time information gathering for a more relevant experience when customers contact for service.
The importance of data security and encryption
Threats to network security and customer information must be taken seriously. Security measures within most contact centers are multi-layered – meaning it provides controls at multiple levels such as data storage, data access, and data transfer.
Data exists in two states – in transit and at rest, and both need to be encrypted, or secured. Most commonly, this is done using HTTPS and SSL certificates. It scrambles transmission between a user’s browser and the server on the other end, requiring a “key” to be unlocked. Encryption comes in various strengths. The higher the number, the more scrambled and tougher it is to decode data. But if encryption is too strong, it will take longer to decrypt, resulting in performance degradation. Sharpen uses AES 256bit encryption, the gold standard for data encryption.
Cloud security measures must address corporate, operational and organizational security policies. Security is critical in all aspects of contact center operations including network safety, product development, system maintenance, and disaster recovery.
To ensure protection against some of the most common security threats of present-day – like identity theft, scamming, and data hacking – varied and continuous data protection mechanisms must be embedded into the architecture of any cloud contact center.
Protective measures seek to prevent, detect, and eradicate malware. These methods might include: manual system scanning, automated or scheduled scanning, systematic management of firewall and ACL rules, restricting admin privileges to only authorized personnel, examination of logs for exploration of programming errors, and routine auditing of security measures. It’s vital to understand the scope of any potential threat, then limit the attack vector by controlling the size of the Internet-facing network boundary.
Preventative security measures like end-to-end encryption will enable vendors to maximize confidentiality, confidently maintain integrity, and ensure data protection for customers.
Takeaways: requirements for your cloud-native architecture
It’s important to have a basic understanding of how cloud architecture works and its benefits to have meaningful discussions with your counterparts in IT before purchase or a transition to a new system. Key items to understand include:
- What cloud-native contact center means: A cloud-native contact center was built in and functions in the cloud. It’s the only deployment option that leverages data which is geo-replicated among numerous data centers across the world, and therefore provides global scalability. Cloud contact centers give you the most advanced customer service orchestration capabilities, and prepare you best for future implementation of emerging customer service technologies.
- Differentiating between cloud and other options: Cloud-native architecture differs from hosted or on-premises. Realize many vendors hide or disguise their exact deployment manner because very few have cloud-native architecture. While the technology of a hosted or on-premises system may be usable, it’s largely technology of the past with notable limitations that will become apparent as web technologies rapidly advance. By choosing cloud, you will avoid technological obsolescence (having to reconsider a new platform in several years once your on-premises or hosted model becomes outdated).
- Continuous deployment + improvement: A notable benefit of cloud-native is the ability of the platform to con stantly, rapidly, and seamlessly update. This way, you can ensure constant feature upgrades and improvements with no downtime or maintenance.
- Global redundancy: A contact center which serves remote agents or a multinational customer base has to be fully globally redundant in real time. Data replication across all zones with automatic redirects are vital.
- Future of contact center architecture: There is little debate among leading industry experts that cloud is the future. Its benefits are robust and extensive and include embedded technologies like redundancy, replication, backup, data storage and more.
Empower Your Customer Service Team with Sharpen’s Cloud-Native Architecture
Sharpen was born in the cloud.
Our cloud-native architecture is not a hosted model, nor an attempt to take a premises-based solution and deliver it over a web client. Our architecture is a modern, globally distributed, multi-tenant platform built on the latest and most secure web technologies including microservices, WebHooks, HTML5, and REST APIs.
We built a distributed system that replicates across 30+ global AWS data centers in a secure and reliable manner.
Our platform empowers customer service teams with capabilities including voice, voicemail, callback/virtual queue, SMS/MMS, email, web chat, social media, live video, and integrations with Salesforce, Desk, and Zendesk for sales teams to pull valuable customer information. Our flexible APIs are built to extend functionality in your environment to not only automatically sync new product features as we release them, but also seamlessly add new channels as you need – all at no additional cost.
This makes Sharpen the world’s most agile, flexible platform to meet and exceed the needs of today and tomorrow.
 Cloud Contact Center Growth Surges Past 20% As Companies Realize These Benefits.” Customer Experience Report. Markets and Markets, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 16 Aug. 2016. http://www.customerexperiencereport.com/strategy-and-trends/cloud-contact-centergrowth- surges-past-20-companies-realize-benefits/
 “The Contact Center Conquers the Cloud.” Digital image. TradePub.com. Accessed June 30, 2016. http://www.comparebusinessproducts.com/resources/item/contact-center-conquersthe- cloud
 Dimension Data. 2009-2015. Dimension Data’s 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report: Summary Report. Accessed June 27, 2016. https://www.dimensiondata.com/Global/ Downloadable Documents/2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Summary Report.pdf
 Goulart, Karen. “Native Cloud Application (NCA).” TechTarget, Nov. 2014. Web. 30 June 2016.
 “Top 10 Technical Pitfalls When Running a VoIP Business: Part II.” TelecomReseller (blog), June 22, 2016. Accessed June 30, 2016. http://telecomreseller.com/2016/06/22/top-10-technicalpitfalls- when-running-a-voip-business-part-ii/