For many years, the call center’s primary focus had been on routine questions or transactions, both easily handled by an agent who almost always had a single-purpose function. More and more, these simple transactions are being handled by self-service functions such as interactive voice response (IVR), or on the web site.
Today’s call center agents require instant access to more information at their desktops than ever before as they handle increasingly complex customer inquiries and a much broader range of issues. Breakthrough telephony advances—notably Voice over IP (VoIP)—make the delivery of sophisticated information to the desktop possible. However, until recently, fully leveraging VoIP’s power wasn’t possible without adding significant expense or without increasing IT-management cost and complexity.
Opportunistic call center executives are capitalizing on innovative technology to deliver better service faster—without breaking the bank. In fact, by combining VoIP and software-streaming capabilities, leading call centers are finding they can do both for less, while increasing agent utilization and managing their technology more effectively. This new call center technology will come into its own in 2006.
Software streaming—on-demand delivery of applications and the operating system to a diskless desktop client from networked storage—lets call centers give agents a desktop that can fully leverage the sophistication of VoIP, while making centralized IT management a reality. In short, software streaming delivers the speed, flexibility and power of a fully loaded PC that is centrally managed, and it does so without a significant infrastructure upgrade and without overloading the network.
Until now, IT has relied on two fundamental architectures to support the call center— thin client and managed PC. But compared to other approaches, software streaming is significantly reducing desktop support costs at call centers.
For multi-seat call centers, deploying a full-blown PC on every desktop is an expensive proposition, and sprawling clusters of “fat” PCs are difficult and costly to manage. This is the case because IT must (either physically or remotely) repair, patch or manage the software for hundreds of PCs.
Thin client architectures offer organizations some centralized management capabilities and a greater degree of control over PC deployments, but they cannot support the new and necessary technologies like CTI. The benefits delivered by software streaming sound similar to those promised by thin client computing, but the technologies are completely different.
Conceptually, software streaming is similar to audio streaming. With audio streaming, songs are maintained on a central server and then streamed on demand to a client PC. With software streaming, the actual operating system and applications are streamed to the desktop from a central server when the PC is booted up and when any applications or libraries are loaded. The full operating system is not downloaded to each desktop, but, instead, the software-streaming service sends only the files necessary for each desktop to execute the operating system and desired application. While the size of the operating system image might exceed 1 gigabyte, only a fraction of that (about 100 megabytes) is in the desktop computer’s memory at any given time.
Most importantly, with software streaming, all programs execute locally on the desktop PC. This is absolutely critical to the success of the call center and, ultimately, the productivity of the agent, because the rich multimedia functionality demands computing horsepower that only a desktop can provide. The challenge has been how to cost effectively deliver that rich multimedia experience in a centrally controlled manner. Software streaming meets that challenge.
As with audio streaming, the desktop PC can chose from a variety of centrally managed images that contain different versions of the operating system or are configured with different software. These “golden images” are delivered on demand and require a simple reboot to change.
This breakthrough is achievable only if the desktops can boot from the network and do not need their operating system stored on a locally attached bootable media, in other words, no hard drive or compact flash is required to boot the computer.
Innovative companies like Time Warner Cable have realized tremendous savings in IT management costs after adopting software streaming technology. Time Warner Cable owns and manages the most advanced cable television operation in the country, serving more than 100,000 customers.
The company’s Greensboro, North Carolina (U.S.), call center was looking for a better way to install 20 to 30 software updates per year on its 350 desktops and tackle viruses and other problems that were infecting PCs. By deploying desktop software, the company has reduced PC update times from more than 100 hours to under a half an hour. In this software-streaming model, all programs execute locally on the desktop. The operating system and applications are streamed to the agent’s desktop without any loss of processing capability at the desktop and without any adverse impact on the network.
By centralizing control of both the operating system and applications, software streaming has helped the company overcome common IT concerns, such as employee misuse of email and downloading of unauthorized software. It also resolved virus and spam issues. Instead of spending time identifying and removing adware, spyware and viruses, an employee simply restarts the PC in question to eradicate such threats.
Continued customer-care advances underscore the importance of the call center IT infrastructure. The call center desktops today are the equivalent of the telephone. Software streaming enables them to be just as reliable, just as useful and just as easy to manage.
Uniquely, software streaming lets call center agents be more productive by using sophisticated tools such as VoIP and screen pop-ups. And it allows centralized IT management while reducing IT management and support costs. Software streaming empowers call centers, making them more effective to enterprises as they seek ways to increase customer loyalty without increasing costs.