“There can be no doubt that businesses have to employ technology if they hope to compete,” says Rob Lith, Director of Connection Telecom. “When it comes to investing in cloud computing and virtualization, the return on investment may very well be the ability to remain in business.”
1. VoIP and mobile telephony
According to a 2008 BMI-TechKnowledge study comparing SA’s telecoms and broadband performance (services and pricing) with five “peer” countries (Brazil, Chile, India, Malaysia and South Korea), South Africa’s fixed line situation is similarly challenged. We’re definitely seeing a demise in the number of landlines being installed, with big implications for telephony. The trend is not alarming – in developed countries, landlines have decreased by almost 10% since 2001. In related matters, there has been a 13.7% increase in ADSL subscribers to 795 000 – 19.5% of the fixed line base (around 4 million). In other words, while fixed line penetration is waning, ADSL is growing in absolute numbers and as a percentage of fixed line installations.
By and large, the gap will be filled by mobile and wireless solutions, but also by networked voice (VoIP) offerings from a plethora of alternative telcos. VoIP is making increasing inroads, worldwide as well as in South Africa. The technology is strong in greenfields implementations (new companies or branches) and as replacements of end-of-life analogue systems.
Should the public telecoms infrastructure become more IP-centric, businesses might find themselves in the communication wilderness – with outdated equipment and lack of support.
2. The rise of on-demand call centres
Virtualisation has meant that call centres are able to grow or shrink their agent pool according to demand, without resource concerns such as bandwidth and scale of application support. For call centres to be able to compete, changes must happen at the speed of business without being charged for excess capacity.
Business will have to access this elasticity (provided by virtualization) to compete, partnering with companies that deliver bandwidth and application resources as a managed service.
Non-virtualised call centres are by their very nature over-provisioned to cater for times of peak performance. The adverse effect of that is that they are often underutilised, as their spare capacity cannot be divorced from the underlying infrastructure to be put to better use elsewhere – which makes it even more difficult to compete with their cost-effective, on-demand counterparts.
3. Cloud computing
This ties into the consolidation of data centre resources – allowing not only call centres but other enterprises to take advantage of the ease of management and improved utilisation of standard, rationalised infrastructure. This has several spinoff advantages; including the ability to deploy a small IT team to manage the much smaller, standardised data centre footprint, as well as a smaller carbon footprint.
Virtualisation can further be deployed on the client’s premises by simply slotting into the client’s virtual environment, with the benefit of greater control over infrastructure for the client. In the case of desktop virtualisation, call centres can make use of virtual agents who can work from home in flexible working arrangements that cut down on travel and base camp real estate.
Technology equips companies with the ability to lower operational overheads, optimise capacity and control their existing resources more effectively. The question isn’t whether you should be investing in the technology, but when to invest.