The buzz and discussion around cloud computing continues to heat up and generate ever increasing levels of interest. It seems there are as many definitions of cloud computing as there are vendors offering their services in the “Cloud”. In order for a company to take advantage of the many offerings, it makes sense to understand the fundamental components that make up the “Cloud”. So we thought it might make sense to take a step back and look at the basics of cloud computing.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (www.nist.org) provides a comprehensive definition of Cloud Computing. It can be summarized as:
Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
The definition goes further indicating this cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics:
1 – On-demand self-service,
2 – Broad network access,
3 – Resource pooling,
4 – Rapid elasticity, and
5 – Measured Service
And finally there are three service models to this definition:
1 – Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS),
2 – Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS), and
3 – Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
We will focus on the Software as a Service (SaaS) since it is the model level IVR services are offered.
The original concept of SaaS can actually be traced back to the early IBM mainframe days where the concept of time-sharing first developed. Obviously a major difference between time-sharing and SaaS is that the service was delivered primarily through hardwired connections as the internet did not exist at that time. With the internet expanding in the 1990s, another acronym came into being, the ASP (Application Service Provider). Centralized computing resources were utilized to provide software hosting services of specialized software applications. The intent of this service was to reduce the overall cost through centralized administration of hardware and software systems. SaaS is an extension of this original ASP model.
The SaaS acronym is said to have first appeared in an article called “Strategic Backgrounder: Software as a Service”, published in February 2001 by the Software & Information Industry’s (SIIA) eBusiness Division. 1
However you wish to define it; IVR Hosted Services or IVR as a SaaS, IVR functionality is a great application to deploy to the Cloud. Why?
First, one of the key benefits of a SaaS model is to provide services in a “one to many” model. That is a single or central service providing services to many end-users. IVR applications have a long history of doing just that even when not deployed in a hosted services or SaaS model.
Second, IVR systems are well suited to a centralized support environment for software upgrades, hardware upgrades, operating system upgrades, and specialized system software upgrades. In many cases, IVR systems deployed in a SaaS model will bring upgraded and improved system features before many users could afford it if they had purchased the equipment directly. In effect they benefit from piggybacking on the requirements of other customers whose needs drive the necessity for improved or enhanced features more rapidly.
Third, IVR application development requires very specialized development skills. These specialized skills apply not only in the application coding effort, but also in the area of requirements analysis, call flow development, vocal user interface (VUI) development, specialized stress or load testing, and post implementation application tuning. Due to the nature of most IVR applications, these skills are not typically needed throughout the enterprise once the application(s) have been deployed, and therefore are expensive resources to keep on hand if not utilized fully.
Fourth, some applications are only needed for a short time or when demand spikes significantly. A few examples include specialized surveys, special event announcements, temporary emergency service offerings, new product support efforts, seasonal surveys, or service outage coverage. The need for speed of rapid development and deployment most often exceed the capabilities of I.T. development staff members who do not specialize in IVR application development.
Fifth, is scalability and elasticity. Sometimes demand for a service exceeds expectations and let’s hope that is a good thing. Not being able to respond quickly enough can be a bad thing. Being able to scale capacity up or down based on demand while only paying for actual needed capacity is a powerful benefit. With few exceptions, accurately predicting demand, ordering needed additional equipment, increasing network capacity, and installing and testing the application(s) rarely take place in a scheduled or orderly manner if increasing demand is stressing the organization.
And finally, the cost of incremental capital equipment comes into play. In some cases the need to scale a system may only be marginally greater than existing installed equipment. However, it is not always possible to scale a system to just the level desired, and you can be forced to scale a system based on minimum equipment upgrade paths. That can be hampered further if you have an older installed system with an application that works well, but the IVR vendor no longer supports an upgrade path for your existing system.
IVR is a proven and powerful tool in increasing customer support functions, enhancing call center operations, and providing quick and easy retrieval of highly repetitive or common information retrieval tasks. Deploying IVR systems in a Saas or Hosted Services model is another step in the evolution of increasing the ROI on IVR usage and allowing greater flexibility for the users of IVR applications
1 – “Software as a Service Strategic Backgrounder” , Software and Industry Information Association, Washington, D.C. February, 2001