Zeacom's Metamorphosis

31 Mar 2014

As the overall UC and business communications industries continue to evolve, the players evolve as well. One company that's gone through significant transition recently is Zeacom. Zeacom was acquired and became part of Enghouse Interactive (EI) in June 2012, and is quickly becoming one of the leading Microsoft Lync-based contact center providers.

At Enterprise Connect 2014, I met with Ernie Wallerstein, President of Channels for Enghouse Interactive, who provided an update on these changes. Enghouse brought together and integrated several previously-separate companies and solutions: Arc and Datapulse (operator consoles); Syntellect (IVR); QMS (recording); Safeharbor Knowledge Solutions (KMS); IT Sonix (dialer); Contact Center Interaction Management (Zeacom, CosmoCom). Zeacom is part of EI's Channels business, which brings to market an integrated suite of products, including multichannel contact center, IVR self service, recording and quality monitoring, reporting and analytics, knowledge management, dialer, and operator console, all using a common framework, architecture and user experience. Zeacom's product, now called the Enghouse Interactive Communications Center (EICC), targets small and midsized contact centers, and is now part of a much larger integrated portfolio of contact center products with a larger footprint. EICC will launch in eight markets and languages in May 2014, which wouldn't have been possible when Zeacom was a standalone entity. However, there are some challenges as Enghouse will have to work to bring the various appropriate solutions together, and will need to help train and educate the various channel partners on deploying combined solutions where necessary.

Zeacom's biggest momentum recently has been its Microsoft Lync offering. The company plans to double its number of Lync customers in the next quarter, and as Wallerstein pointed out, "Lync opportunities are our fastest growing market."

As part of Enghouse Interactive, "Zeacom brings the full blown soup-to-nuts contact center solution to Lync," including IVR, self service, skills based routing, screen pops, multichannel, knowledge management, call recording, quality assurance, post call surveys, and more, so that "the full breadth of the contact center is now available on Lync." Although the product can be deployed and offered in a "private cloud" configuration, Zeacom doesn't currently have a full "public cloud" solution for Lync. The company claims that it will have a solution later this year.

Wallerstein explained that part of Zeacom's success in the Lync world is based on its "native integration" with Lync. There are several ways for contact center vendors to integrate with Lync - essentially native and non-native integration. In addition to providing IM and presence, Lync provides its own call control and management system, known as Lync Enterprise Voice. To get a product out quickly, contact center vendors integrating with Lync can choose a "non-native" approach, using their own telephony/ACD infrastructure for call control or media-handling capabilities, rather than using Lync for these functions. Typically, these vendors leverage a SIP gateway to pull calls into their own environment. Many of the traditional telephony and contact center vendors choose this option, as the call and media control stays within their products, rather than passing control to Lync. This could be an acceptable option for businesses that aren't ready to leverage the capabilities of Lync Enterprise Voice and want to utilize their existing switch for call control.

The other option is "Native Lync," which utilizes the Lync platform for call and media control. Using Lync APIs, the contact center application works within Lync, leveraging the platform for not only IM and presence, but also for call routing, media handling, and other capabilities. Native Lync contact center and customer care solutions utilize Microsoft Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA) 4.0, and become a part of the Lync infrastructure.

There are currently 19 qualified Lync contact center providers as part of the Lync ISV qualification program, so Zeacom is certainly not alone in this area. These vendors are all aggressively pursuing the Lync contact center market, both with native- and non-native integration. There is certainly a good deal of opportunity in this market, but there is a good deal of competition as well, including some big names like Genesys, Aspect, and Interactive Intelligence.

At a contact center panel at the Microsoft Lync conference last month, I noticed that each vendor panelist touted that they utilize UCMA and provide native integration to Lync. I asked Wallerstein about this, and he explained, "The number of vendors with 'native' integration is actually a much, much smaller set. There are really two parts to the native integration: UCMA and 'Trusted Conferences.' The non-native vendors may use UCMA from the Desktop to do basic Lync functions, but they are still taking calls off of Lync into their own server environment for call management. True native integration leaves the call on Lync every step of the way, assigning the call to a 'trusted conference' and then controlling this conference using UCMA."

According to Microsoft, "At a high level, the Trusted Conferencing User model is a programming model that gives application writers a powerful means to seamlessly enhance the communication experience of one or more participants engaged in a conversation." Wallerstein points out that this is Microsoft's endorsed method for true native integration. It enables users to pull in any voice resource to the conversation, such as bringing in a supervisor or subject matter expert to the conversation with the customer. This level of integration lets contact center providers such as Zeacom provide enhanced services, such as IVR, call recording, and call queuing and routing, within the Lync Server. It is a more seamless and effective way to integrate with Lync and leverage Lync functionality.

As Wallerstein points out, Microsoft endorses this method because by leaving calls on the Lync Server, you get the functionality of Lync PLUS the functionality of the contact center product. Going forward, as Microsoft combines the Lync and Skype technologies and will provide a combined interface, UCMA trusted conferencing remains at the base level of integration with Lync and Skype, making the transition easier for customers. In this way, Zeacom allows for a migratory strategy, bridging the gap between voice and data, and enabling customers to migrate at their own pace. In addition, native integration lets Zeacom migrate customers from existing technologies and platforms to new ones. As Zeacom supports multiple legacy PBXs, customers that wants to slowly move to Lync contact center over time can provide the same interface and experience for agents and don't have to replace their existing solution all at once. If you put in a Zeacom contact center today with an Avaya system, for example, the same contact center solution and agent desktop can be used as the customer migrates to Lync one group or department at a time. This makes it easier for customers to move to Lync as quickly or slowly as they'd like.

This is important not just for customers, but for channel partners as well. As Microsoft aggressively pursues the voice business, channel partners are key, and having business partners like Zeacom that are well versed in the contact center technology and industry is important. According to Wallerstein, "Contact center is the hard part of voice, and Lync Enterprise Voice is new for many resellers. We've been doing contact center for over 20 years, and we bring all of that expertise to the Lync world. We see ourselves as subject matter experts for Lync resellers who may come from the data world, and we can help them be more successful."

Pointing out that Zeacom works across platforms and vendors, Wallerstein adds that, "Resellers need technologies that are agnostic to media delivery protocols. Working with an independent software-based solution provider that isn't tied to a specific vendor and instead is focused on the user experience, as well as the agent and supervisor, will help resellers and channel partners going forward."

I've been following Zeacom for many years, and watched the company grow and expand. While it is losing some of its New Zealand heritage and charm as part of Enghouse Interactive, the company will have more opportunities to evolve, and to provide more complete customer interaction offerings for customers.


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