Like businesses across all sectors of the economy, cloud service providers are far from immune to the worst ravages of the recession.
But when a provider does go bust what happens to the businesses that have put their faith, money and resources in finding a suitable partner and are now threatened with losing services, resources and data as a result of their collapse?
For many organisations, the main challenge is: when their data is held in the cloud; how do they retain control and ownership of it when their service provider goes under – and how easy is it to transfer that data to another service provider? Just as importantly: what mechanisms does the existing provider have in place to protect them if the worst does happen?
Typically, when organisations acquire on-premise software, it is written into their contract that they get control of the code in the event that the software vendor goes out of business.
In other words, the ownership of the software and responsibility for maintaining it effectively passes to the end user business. As a result, that business does not have to worry about the nightmare scenario of the lights simply going out on its operation if its provider goes into administration.
In contrast, this would be a major concern where vendor’s software is running on its customer’s hardware and the user organisation is just paying a maintenance fee. With no ownership rights to that software, the user business could be left without any viable options if and when the vendor organisation went bust. So how can the industry best address these real and legitimate concerns?
Today, there is an irreversible tide moving towards the cloud. This cannot and should not be wound back. But service providers and customers must ensure that they structure agreements and subscriptions in a way that insulates the end customer from this kind of scenario – particularly with something as important and customer-facing as a contact centre.
Organisations simply cannot afford to lose the ‘front face of their organisation’ even if it is just for a matter of hours.
To effectively mitigate this threat, end-user organisations first need to look closely into what they are signing up to when they make an agreement with the contact centre provider. Companies need to choose their supplier very carefully. In particular, they need to be wary about providers making extravagant claims about what they can achieve and yet offering knockdown prices.
As Karine Palacios, head of cloud contact next generation, BT Global Services, says: “Businesses should be suspicious about risk-taking new entrants to the cloud market offering cut-price deals. They need to be clear exactly who they are doing business with and what they are going to get for their money.
“Buying from the cheapest ‘new kid on the block’ is almost always a bad move,” she says. “There is no substitute for experience in this market. The cloud contact centre market is now over a decade old and it takes some time to understand how to operate high-quality business-critical multi-tenant cloud applications.”
Some providers are also much better than others in offering full accountability. Unfortunately, some have not thought through their approach in detail and some even shift this data to other organisations without providing full transparency to the customer.
Businesses can look to protect their data by ensuring that they have access to an offline backup copy, created at regular intervals, ideally every 24 hours. They need to know whether their provider can deliver this for them.
The customer organisation would also benefit from a transparent approach where it controls its own data and at the same time a counter party is involved in the process – typically another independent service provider – which also has another copy of the software running.
In this scenario, in the event of the main provider’s failure, the customer could rapidly reload the data back into the service provider’s system and be quickly back up and running once again. In today’s advanced contact centre environment where resilient IT systems and approaches like mirroring and co-location are readily achievable, this kind of situation is a realistic possibility.
So there are clearly strategies that cloud service providers and their customers can adopt to mitigate the risk of the lights suddenly going out on a cloud contact centre.
Contact centre solutions providers like ourselves at Enghouse Interactive, for example, can also make a significant contribution to ease the process and protect their customers by thinking very carefully about who they are providing their software to, by ensuring that they work with the most reliable and robust organisations and by doing due diligence.
They can further help by asking for a significant investment upfront from their partners to help ensure not only that their own product is successfully taken out to market but that its customers are fully protected.
Ultimately, it is question of trust: the solutions provider has obligations to the cloud service provider and vice versa and both have obligations to the end customer to provide robust, resilient and secure cloud services.