Mythbusters Cloud Edition Part II

shutterstock_64407022Last week, we began a three-part series exploring myths that are sometimes used by on-premises solution vendors to create “fear, uncertainty and doubt” about moving communications, and specifically contact center applications, to the cloud.  If you didn’t see last week’s blog, it addressed two related misperceptions, “There’s No Difference Between Public and Private Clouds” and “Moving to the Cloud is a Forklift Upgrade.”  This blog tackles myths related to security and reliability in the cloud.

The Cloud isn’t Secure

First let me rush to say that I don’t pretend that every cloud deployment is secure enough for every communications application.  Case in point:  if your contact center takes credit card numbers over the phone, you need to ensure that the application being run by your contact center SaaS vendor is payment card industry (PCI) compliant.  The most complex aspect of PCI compliance for the contact center is voice recordings.  Contact centers that record customer service interactions for quality assurance are often capturing credit card information.  PCI compliance requires that these recordings be stored and destroyed properly.

When it comes to PCI compliance, cloud contact center providers can often provide a much higher level of security than specific businesses are able to afford on their own, especially smaller businesses.  Why?  For one, PCI compliance raises the cost of a solution; in a multi-tenant hosted environment these costs are spread amongst multiple users – and economies of scale drive down the cost to each individual company. 

The second reason a cloud provider can be more secure than CPE is the ability to deploy the required staff resources to keep up to date on shifting security requirements, particularly with changes in regulations (PCI, HIPPA, etc.).  Contact center SaaS providers with a defined “Trust Office” that creates, approves and audits security processes go way beyond what all but the largest and most sophisticated individual companies can afford. 

The Cloud isn’t Reliable

In April 2011, every type of media (social, print, online, broadcast) was consumed with the story of the Amazon Cloud failure.  In the lead sentence of its story The New York Times said the failure highlighted, “the risks involved when companies rely on so-called cloud computing.”  Some rush to generalize this shut down of business web sites, small and large, to a condemnation of all things cloud.

But as is true in the case of security, reliability comes at a price that can be more palatable in a cloud-based setting than in the CPE alternative.  Take the example of a business in my home state of New Hampshire with 150 contact center agents, 100 at headquarters and another 50 working from home offices around the country.  In the past six months, there have been two major power outages (Hurricane Irene in August and what was known on Twitter as #Snowtober) that would have brought down a CPE contact center and its connected home-based agents. 

To avoid such a shutdown, the business would need to set-up, administer and pay for a duplicate operation, with duplicated carrier connections, outside of New Hampshire – at a significant cost.  The cloud alternative is to choose a contact center vendor with geographic and carrier redundancy.   Headquarters may still not be able to run its agents’ workstations, but the 50 home-based agents around the country would be able to connect and service customers.

Can, and do, some companies build and pay for completely redundant operations to hedge against disaster?  Absolutely.  Can every company afford that luxury?  Clearly not.  And for those that can’t, a cloud-based contact center solution provider becomes a more, not less, reliable alternative.

Don’t forget to come back next week for the third and final blog in this series.  Sheila McGee-Smith, the founder of McGee-Smith Analytics, is a leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant focused on the contact center and enterprise communications markets.  Her views on the market can also be found in her weekly blog on No Jitterand in real-time on Twitter @mcgeesmith.