A CIO’s Road Map to the Customer Service Cloud

By Neil Titcomb

The definition of cloud computing is multifaceted and confusing. Here are the main aspects of cloud computing and descriptions of what they mean:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): This is the first step most companies take toward moving to the cloud. Virtualization is the enabling technology behind IaaS, providing better resource utilization, cost savings, and flexibility. Most organizations begin using virtualization to consolidate servers and pool physical resources; they then eventually move on to desktop virtualization solutions once they see clear benefits.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Provides a platform on which to build applications, which are usually linked to a particular vendor. This enables organizations to have access to the cloud without having to install and maintain expensive, bulky platform and tools locally.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Provides access to hosted software applications in the cloud over the Internet. The user accesses the application from any browser, and all data is stored centrally by the provider. SaaS simplifies operations and reduces costs. However, some organizations have been slow to adopt this model due to concerns about security, control, and reliability. SaaS is a similar concept to the Application Service Provider (ASP). Integrated hosting of applications and infrastructure allows companies to focus not on delivering and maintaining the technology, but on using the technology to create value and differentiation. Pushing IT operations outside the four walls also enables more flexibility and speed.

Why the Cloud? Why Not! Security has always been a big issue with the cloud, since every environment is subject to attacks and data theft. But the threat is in any model, not just the cloud, and CIOs need to ask themselves what steps they should take to protect data. Remember that SaaS providers may be even more aware and prepared than internal IT departments to mitigate risk because they have more at stake; their reputations, their profitability, and ultimately their whole business model depend on delivering security and reliability.

Lack of control is often stated as another argument against SaaS. A company may feel that a particular application is too critical to the organization and not want to relinquish control to a third party. Despite this, some will argue that an organization still owns the application, even though they don’t own the support function. Plus they can always bring the support back in-house. The key is to find vendors with business models that align with your own and provide the level of support you need.

Some companies argue that running the same application as a competitor through a SaaS provider eliminates any competitive advantage. But remember, technology isn’t really the differentiator it used to be. The pace of innovation has accelerated to the point where everyone is neck and neck; it has more to do with how you use the technology you have to set yourself apart. Customization may provide a short-term competitive advantage, but in the end technology is always evolving, and competitors will catch up.

The bigger problems most large enterprises grapple with are cost of maintenance and limited ability to adapt to changing market conditions. The cloud mitigates those looming problems.

Where to Start: Making the transition to cloud is a big step. Do you begin this transition by moving your low-priority IT applications to a cloud environment, so that if something goes wrong, it won’t affect much? Or do you create a sense of urgency around the transition and start with a mission-critical application? Perhaps the latter is the smarter choice.

To move an important application – such as a business-critical contact center to a cloud environment – does two things. First, it creates a sense of urgency that demands the attention of key players throughout the organization. Second, it necessitates success. If you start by moving an application that the business depends on, failure is not an option. It also makes the initial overcoming of internal skepticism a lot easier and helps get everyone on board.

Cloud Migration Requires Careful Planning: If you decide to move to the cloud, you will need a migration plan to successfully drive the change throughout the organization. Virtualization is one of the most important elements of a cloud solution. For example, in order for remote employees to access applications over the cloud, virtualization of these applications is essential.

Your employees are important to making the transition to cloud work, so when creating your migration plan, it is critical to work alongside staff to ensure a smooth migration and make sure they are happy.

Choosing the Right Team: Selecting the ideal group to execute the cloud migration project is an important step in the process. Moving to the cloud might seem threatening to people in the IT organization, so having a respected leader will help bring others along. Additionally, you want leaders who are open-minded, anxious to learn, and optimistic. Because the cloud is, for many, uncharted territory, the team in charge of its deployment must be open to new ideas and approaches; additionally, they must be optimistic about a successful outcome.

It is critical to select a cloud solution provider that is willing to develop a partnership with your IT organization. The provider should act as an extension of your IT team in order to build trust and align with your organizational objectives. You need a provider whose culture is similar to your own and that believes in the importance of creating a business partnership rather than merely providing a service. Your organization and the provider must work seamlessly together for the end customer.

It’s Worth It! Along with concerns, there are huge benefits in making the migration to the cloud. Here are some examples:

  • Access to future upgrades: A great benefit of the cloud is the access you will have to future upgrades. This means you will always have the most recent technology and utilize enhancements you may not have been able to afford or have the time to implement.
  • Faster innovation to market: By using existing infrastructure and configurations, SaaS minimizes the need to customize applications, allowing for faster delivery than internal implementations.
  • Agility in responding to opportunities and threats: With a cloud-based IT infrastructure, you can easily scale up or down in response to market conditions and business opportunities.
  • Reduced costs: The SaaS model has the ability to reduce costs; it is one of the main reasons people make the move to cloud. Companies can save on having to customize applications, and they only pay for what they need, when they need it.
  • Improved performance for the business user: Cloud services are readily available at any time in order to meet customer demands. In addition, reliable cloud providers offer backup and redundancy, so you never have to worry about your organization coming to a halt because of a network issue or application hiccup.

Ultimately, satisfying customers is the main goal of any organization. Deciding to move to the cloud can be a great business decision, and moving forward may provide the only real option for some organizations to provide the levels of customer service they need at a cost they can afford.

Neil Titcomb is the UK&I sales director for cloud for Genesys.

[From Connection Magazine – May/June 2015]

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