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Skype for Business and Anywhere 365–Match made in the cloud?

When people talk about Skype for Business Contact Center, the usual suspect providers crop up like Clarity Connect, Enghouse, Geomant and Unify Us to name a few. A quick google and the first page returns all these providers and a couple more. However, one contact center solution seems to be missing from the party, and that is Anywhere 365 by Workstreampeople www.workstreampeople.com.

I am not sure why this solution has gone largely unnoticed and even somewhat ignored it seems. However, I wanted to give some time and love to this product, as personally I believe it to be the most unified contact center solution available to Skype for Business at the present time.

Before we start looking into the product features, and deployment requirements, let’s look at what the demarcation points are that ultimately drive a business to a contact center instead of native response group functionality.

Contact center’s are driven by the customer’s need to contact the business. For small companies, this could be a generic line that rings any available number. In which case shared line appearance could provide. As companies scale up and grow their customer base, the influx of customer communications suddenly escalate to a point where a more robust and dedicated solution is required. The business needs a solution to manage incoming calls and deal with them in the most appropriate way. This could be to hold customers in a queue, manage the times in which customers can contact the business, forward to a group voicemail box or simply reject the call. This scenario is where Skype for Business hunt groups can help. Continuing down the growth of the business, new departments are created to deal more specifically with incoming customer calls. These could be departments dedicated to payments, new orders, complaints etc. To avoid excessive agent workload and to ensure that the customer can get to the correct department as easy as possible, certain decisions need to be made on how to route the call. These decisions are provided as options to the customer calling, such as “Press One for Sales, Press two for Support” etc. These decisions are made by the customer in order for them to reach the correct group of agents to deal with their enquiry. In this scenario, Skype for Business Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Response Groups can provide the functionality to the business.

However, beyond this, Skype for Business struggles to provide a more granular solution. Perhaps within each agent team there is a hierarchy of agents based on experience? Perhaps the business wants to use this experience in order to ensure calls are dealt with properly? Perhaps the business wants to reserve these agents for repeat callers about an existing issue, but want less experienced agents to handle new calls coming in? Perhaps the agents require additional information prior to accepting the call from the queue, such as caller records, open cases within their CRM? Perhaps all these agents need managing somehow?

If you are reading this and some of the questions above answer yes to you, then a Contact Center solution is what you need. How does Anywhere 365 fit these requirements?

Firstly, Anywhere 365 is a native contact center solution for Skype for Business. The agent does not require any additional software to be deployed to their workstation other than the Skype for Business client of course. Anywhere 365 sits as a trusted application server to the Skype for Business Front End server and utilises all modalities provided by Skype for Business, Instant Messaging, Audio, Video, Federation etc meaning it works in perfect harmony with all features of Skype for Business.

Skype for Business retains call control functionality, while Anywhere 365 controls the incoming call flow to the agents. Agents are hunted based on native Skype for Business presence information as well as by skill (experience).

Anywhere 365, much as the other contact center solutions out there, offer the following:

  • Unlimited IVR levels
  • Call waiting handling including call back
  • Custom messages, including place in queue
  • Agent Skill routing
  • Operational hours and out of hours call handling
  • Voicemail
  • Agent Wrap-up time
  • Agent Supervisors with whisper / coach and listen in

However, Workstreampeople’s vision for Anywhere 365 is where the product moves into a class of its own. It is the first proper unified contact center solution. Not only can it provide a contact center solution for your inbound calls, but it can also provide a contact center solution for

  • Inbound Instant Messaging
  • Inbound Video
  • WebChat
  • E-mail
  • Inbound via Social Media (WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook)
  • Inbound via dedicated Mobile App

Each contact center can be enabled for federation, meaning that the contact center can be contacted using remote partner connections, or via Skype consumer for incoming instant messages to full AV workloads. A customised webchat applet can be placed on any website to provide a contact center solution to a business internet presence. Webchats can be escalated into an audio call, or even a video call from the webchat applet without any additional software for both customer and agent.

Connect Anywhere 365 to WhatsApp or Twitter and have your customers contact you directly via social media, while retaining all the relevant contact center controls you would expect from a traditional solution.

Using Anywhere 365 can transform any business presence into a contact center for its customers, easily.

In addition to these awesome capabilities, Anywhere 365 also offers the ability to record inbound communications out of the box without the need for third party recording equipment. Retain PCI compliance by allowing the agents to pause, start / stop recording, and offer unlimited agents at no cost! That’s right, there is no additional agent cost for Anywhere 365, you pay just for the server.

Inbound agents do not have to be enterprise voice enabled. Therefore, do not need the Plus CAL. However, will require the Enterprise Skype for Business user CAL. Agents can be anyone, on any device such as workstation, laptop, mobile. Enabling enterprise voice functionality, agents can also be PSTN endpoints, such as traditional mobile phone, or house phone. Agents do not have to be business homed users, they could be from another company and by using federation bring these remote users into the contact center as available agents.

By allowing federated agents, Anywhere 365 opens the door for a truly global unified contact center, allowing business communications to remain online across time zones without having to purchase expensive infrastructure and complicated solutions. You can even outsource your departments to other companies to save on resource costs!

Another powerful agent feature of Anywhere 365 is its ability to connect to any CRM system to extract customer data based on caller ID. This allows the agent to see the most relevant and up-to-date information about the caller within the Skype for Business workstation client without additional software. Anywhere 365 uses it’s own CDR database in order to identify previous callers and allows the agent to see when the caller last called, which agent or agents they talked to, and allow them to gather the case notes from each call (with CRM integration).

Anywhere 365 contact centers are SIP endpoints, that use a bot service in order for agents to control their participation within the contact center. The agents can send commands to the bot to perform certain tasks, such as extend wrap-up time, enter a reason code for an unavailable presence event, such as tea break, see how many calls are waiting in each queue etc. Meaning the agent can be actively engaged in the contact center from any location.

There is a load of other super-cool features Anywhere 365 provide, such as SMS gateway integration, caller identification /  query qualification, outbound dialler (call meshing), reporting, supervisor dashboard, wallboards, self-service IVR etc. However, if I talk about all these, then the post will be very long.

Moving on to Anywhere 365 requirements. The application requires a server (of course). This server can be relatively low spec, depending upon the amount of agents, but it is recommended to have at least 8GB or RAM and a decent mid market quad core processor.

For small contact center deployments, SQL Express 2014 can be used, and with 2014 Express now supporting reporting services, you can take advantage of free licencing by Microsoft for in depth dialog reports.

The configuration of Anywhere 365 is performed entirely in SharePoint. Here is where you go urgh.. I did initially, but bear with me. The edition of SharePoint can either be 2013 Standard, or Foundation. Using foundation means no additional costs. It also means that the Anywhere 365 application, SQL Express and SharePoint Foundation can be installed on the same server. However, while you may be thinking I don’t have any SharePoint skills, Anywhere 365 provide an automated script that will configure SharePoint for you, so you don’t need to know anything about it, just how to click the next button and launch a powershell script. That’s it, simple.

For those, who are adamant that SharePoint is not going into their on-premises infrastructure, enter Office 365, and SharePoint Online. Starting with a basic E1 licence you can configure SharePoint Online to be your Anywhere 365 configuration engine. So you don’t need to worry about how to install, or maintain SharePoint at all. The SharePoint pages are used to provide admins with the ability to change contact center settings rapidly. Once changed in SharePoint, these changes are synched to the Anywhere server and applied immediately. This means the Anywhere server retains a copy of the latest configuration locally, meaning that SharePoint can be lost completely and the contact center will continue to operate as configured.

Moving towards the cloud first model and using SharePoint online is a logical step. As Microsoft invest more into Cloud PBX it is inevitable that a contact center solution will be provided as part of Office 365 at some point in the future. Anywhere 365 is ideally placed to be that solution. Why? Well the Anywhere server is already supported in Azure, it can use SQL in Azure and SharePoint in Office 365. Anywhere 365 can even use Skype for Business Online users as available agents in its contact center. The only thing that is missing for it to be a completely Microsoft cloud only solution is Office 365’s inability to provide a trusted application gateway to Skype for Business Online. Once that is provided (and it will – its coming – just don’t know when) Anywhere 365 can be hosted completely in the cloud, providing native integration with Cloud PBX, Skype for Business Online, Dynamics CRM, Salesforce etc.

I don’t mind stating now, that I bet in the next 12 months an announcement will be made that Microsoft have acquired Anywhere 365. Its not a matter of if, but when..

So if Skype for Business and Anywhere 365 a match made in the cloud? Time will tell, but I dare bet they will be.

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