Outsourcing Is Becoming a Cloudy Subject

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The technology services industry is rife with enough buzzwords to confuse most potential customers. Pessimists believe they exist to obfuscate reality. I share some of those concerns.

Let's cut through the buzzwords to discuss key points businesses should consider when looking at outsourcing speech-enabled solutions for the first time or making changes to current arrangements.

As I've said before, sometimes your outsourcing vendor uses yet another outsourcer for various services. Also, modern IVR architectures allow for increased flexibility in choosing which part of your platform to outsource.

Therefore, what once was a binary decision to outsource your speech-enabled services versus retaining them in house has become more flexible. Having multiple choices can paralyze organizations or, worse, cause them to jump to a conclusion before thinking through all options.

When a potential outsourcing vendor uses words such as in the cloud or omnichannel, even the most wired hipster will roll his eyes. Here's a hint: The number of buzzwords used inversely correlates to the ability of the prospective outsourcer to demonstrate a deep history of delivery experience.

Let's start with cloud. At some level, most architects will use the term. However, for contact center technologies, I have not heard anyone agree that anything hosted for the contact center is truly cloud services. I do give vendors a pass if they use the term as a marketing label (ABC Contact Center Cloud Services).

When vendors drop the word cloud into nearly every sentence, it is time to ask some questions. Start with "Where are your data centers located?" then follow with "Which centers are Tier 3 and Tier 4?" Depending on the answers, you might follow with "If you have only Tier 2 centers, how have you architected your offering across multiple centers with redundancy for availability above the 99.741 percent that Tier 2 centers offer on their own?" Take time to understand their testing and monitoring solutions. Some providers have quite primitive procedures and tools for monitoring.

Most buzzwords are direct replacements for other words or attempt to twist the original meaning enough to claim a new meaning. Omnichannel, for example, is nothing more than multichannel twisted to describe customers using multiple channels in quick sequence. Buzzwords make understanding cloudy, which is not something you need when you are committing a good portion of your organization's key channel to an outsourcing contract.

Two potential situations should be front of mind when looking at the various flavors of outsourcing: 1) being handcuffed to the outsourcer, making a switch-out expensive and painful; and 2) ease of working with the outsourcing provider and the flexibility in working with multiple partners.

The first point is self-explanatory, though you should consider all potential factors tying you to the provider. Your legal team should carefully review all contractual obligations of the provider and your organization. Performance clauses give you an out should service levels fail to meet your requirements, while change of control provisions are very important in this time of industry consolidation.

Carefully think through the second point, looking at as many facets as possible. Consider not only services that you may immediately use another partner for, such as application development, but also future services that support integration of your speech-enabled solutions with other voice services, such as callbacks, or channels such as chat, SMS, or Web calling.

For instance, does your platform-hosting vendor allow data connections from other vendors and not just your enterprise? One example where this is critical is the use of hosted address or identity confirmation services. Alternatively, perhaps you want to use a voice biometric solution that another vendor hosts. The future will increasingly bring new solutions that you will want to integrate with your speech-enabled applications, and your IVR hosting vendor likely will not offer all of them. Hence, the importance of the second point and the need to be forward thinking in how you structure your outsourcing contracts.

Stick with outsourcing vendors willing to discuss details and not hide them behind buzzwords or clouds. The only value the other vendors can provide is a winning card in Buzzword Bingo, as popularized by the Dilbert cartoon strip.

Kevin Brown is managing director at VoxPeritus, where he specializes in speech solutions and caller experience consulting. He has 20 years of experience designing and delivering speech-enabled solutions in on-premises and hosted environments. You can reach him at kevin.brown@voxperitus.com.

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