Microsoft Middleware Aims To Streamline Call Centers

On Wednesday, the company's Communications Sector Group said it will take what had been basically a framework available since last year, and offer it as a product to link back-office data and front office clients and ease integration of voice and messaging across the board.

"CCF will provide a single unified portal, taking one, two, three, ten or 15 presentation layers and consume them into CCF," said Vish Thirumurthy, group manager.

" The need to integrate telephony seamlessly into apps is hugely strategic."," said George Brown, CEO of Database Solutions, a Cherry Hill, N.J. integrator. "Right now it takes a hodgepodge of things to do that although the big call center companies like Aspect try to do it," he noted. Aspect Communications provides call center infrastructure.

Back office apps run the gamut from base ERP systems, billing information, ticketing, and order management. Typically companies run many solutions from different vendors, all of which have their own interfaces. That leads to a lot of task-switching and toggling by call center people and others at the front end.

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The Microsoft Customer Care Framework 2005 software sits between the back-office applications--which get wrapped in the XML Web Services layer—taking a Service Oriented Architecture approach that then exposes them to all channels at the front end, Thirumurthy noted.

Where Microsoft for the past two years has provided a general framework or blueprint for this sort of work it is now offering a software "SKU," meaning software as well as reference implementations, and a designer's guide for installing, configuring and, extending it. In reality that means large service providers or other customers can add CCF to their volume license Enterprise Agreements.

His middleware is one route to providing the mythical "360 degree view of a customer" that ERP, CRM, business intelligence and other vendors have been promising for years. The issue is that customer service representatives typically need to dig around various systems to find out the order, shipping, billing, complaint information they need to handle calls. That is the problem Microsoft, as well as SAP, Oracle, and the rest of the software world is attacking

VARs can use this middleware to integrate the interfaces as Thirumurthy described, or even more broadly to integrate voice recognition and speech into existing applications, or add instant messaging to a self-service portal for example.

In theory, this widens the reach of such portals beyond PC users to people with browser-equipped smart phones, for example.