In the IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Communications Platform as a Service 2021 Vendor Assessment, the communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) industry was hailed for having “emerged from a turbulent 2020 in excellent shape.” There’s no doubt the pandemic accelerated adoption of cloud-based communications platforms, with businesses struggling to stay connected to customers during lockdowns, closures and layoffs. Moving forward, the industry is poised for more explosive growth as enterprises realize the value of expanding voice and messaging capabilities in personalizing customer engagement and employee collaboration through automation.
Most organizations are already familiar with unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) and contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) systems, but not every organization is as familiar with CPaaS. While all three are cloud-based and share similarities, they are not the same and serve very different purposes, which is why it is necessary to understand each and their respective benefits before implementing one.
UCaaS is an all-in-one cloud-based platform that has evolved from the concept of unified communications (UC), which really began to mature in the ’80s with voicemail. During the ’90s, UC made tremendous progress with the widespread availability of the internet and further technological advancements, including:
-Voicemail and email integration, which created a unified message system for cellphones and computers.
-Internet Protocol (IP), which made audio and video collaboration possible.
– Voice over internet protocol (VoIP), which made phone service over the internet possible.
In the 2000s, the introduction of the application program interface (API) enabled applications to send information back and forth, but it was the advent of the cloud that allowed UC systems to shift away from an on-premises solution and pave the way for UCaaS, which focuses on the provision of three primary collaboration features: audio and video conferencing, IM (instant messaging) and VoIP (think Microsoft Teams). It is ideal for communications and collaboration between knowledge workers (professionals focused on sharing information) within teams, within companies and even across different companies.
While UCaaS is used by knowledge workers, CCaaS is purpose-built for contact center workers and focuses on customer communication and call routing from all channels. Today, modern CCaaS software is developed and maintained by a third-party provider and hosted in the cloud rather than on-premises, which eliminates the need for costly in-house computers and servers that require ongoing investment and regular upgrades. Although it services a smaller portion of the business, Gartner predicts that CCaaS will be the preferred model of adoption for 50% of all contact centers by 2022.
CPaaS, on the other hand, offers a customizable, flexible approach and a comprehensive framework for building or adding a wide range of communications workflows, features and functions into existing business processes and applications easily using open APIs. In addition to customization, CPaaS integrates with commonly used customer relationship management (CRM) tools like HubSpot and Salesforce, as well as UCaaS and CCaaS solutions. Top providers have carrier-grade network infrastructure, some interconnecting with over 800 local and regional operators, as well as developer support, artificial intelligence (AI) personalization, automation for common business tasks and analytics for end-user insights.
It is important to note that not all CPaaS providers are the same. Typically, the focus is on one of two approaches defined by Gartner as follows:
-Developer: offers a self-serve model with low, transparent pricing.
-Co-creator: offers custom development and implementation and works with in-house developers.
Choosing the appropriate type of CPaaS provider is critical and should depend on how available developer resources are in an organization. The main reason for choosing a CPaaS provider is not to address one immediate need only but to deploy an extensible platform that can meet an ever-growing list of new use cases to improve customer and employee interactions.
This is what makes a CPaaS solution ideal for a wide range of businesses, particularly those that want to blend self-service with conversational assistants and live agents over time. For instance, organizations with contact centers handling heavy call volumes and diverse customer interactions and touchpoints will benefit from a CPaaS solution that allows for the integration of the following solutions and features:
-Self-service, including account status information, payment management and appointment scheduling.
-AI-enabled chatbots and virtual assistants.
-Intelligent call routing across platforms.
-Automated customer authentication.
-Outbound notifications and reminders.
-Smart call routing.
Likewise, businesses that have or are deploying a UCaaS solution for their knowledge workers can benefit from orchestrating a communications workflow between their contact centers and their UCaaS knowledge workers using CPaaS.
A major advantage of using a CPaaS solution is that businesses only pay for the services they need and are not required to add any additional hardware to an existing system. Many solutions can be implemented quickly, in hours rather than days or weeks, depending on the scope and scale.
During the pandemic, for example, a large state health department we worked with sought to implement a CPaaS solution to streamline appointment scheduling and communications the day before a massive vaccine site was set to open. In half a day, an automated hotline was deployed and able to successfully serve more than 1 million callers in the first couple of days. The system was also multilingual and could distinguish whether a caller was eligible for vaccination via a preliminary survey after which callers were routed to an agent who helped schedule an appointment.
Both technical and non-technical teams in any industry can use a CPaaS platform to build differentiated customer experiences that range from 24/7/365 responsiveness to customer self-service for administrative tasks that can be time-consuming for employees and contact center agents.
To determine which CPaaS solution will provide the most benefits, companies should consider their current and future needs and whether they want the freedom and flexibility to customize communication applications or incorporate a single solution with a variety of standardized features. Using the information above provides a good jumping-off point before taking a deeper dive, which is recommended for decision-makers. Evaluating cost versus benefit will further help in choosing the right solution, as well as evaluating a comparison of providers.