Spark subsidiary taps Amazon Connect to help deliver contact centres in the cloud

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

Digital Island will draw on the scalability and attractive cost structure of Amazon Connect as it helps customers set up "omnichannel" cloud-based contact centres.

Tech giant Amazon has drawn local headlines this week for striking a deal with the Government to produce a TV adaptation based on The Lord of the Rings that could see it spend up to $650 million and claim $160 million in tax rebates in the process.

That deal includes an intriguing provision for Amazon to set up an innovation programme, requiring it to “build a wider relationship between New Zealand and the Amazon group”. What could that include? With Amazon’s business spanning everything from drones to healthcare, the possibilities are endless.

But the company best known as one of the world’s largest e-tailers is most active in New Zealand currently through its cloud computing division Amazon Web Services. An off-shoot of that business that’s growing even faster at the moment is Amazon Connect, its cloud-based contact centre offering.

In the last six months, Transpower, BNZ and Vodafone have begun moving to Amazon Connect for their contact centre operations. The not for profit Plunket used Amazon Connect to keep its free Plunket line operating during last year’s Covid-19 lockdowns, with agents equipped with laptops and headsets answering the calls of anxious parents from their homes.

Now Digital Island, the cloud communications and collaboration subsidiary of Spark is going big on Amazon Connect. Spark acquired Digital Island in 2017, keen to tap the company’s expertise in cloud-based contact centre and PBX systems. 

Easier to scale

Digital Island has been offering contact centre solutions from major vendor Mitel. It will continue to offer Mitel products, but chief executive Leon Sheehan says Amazon Connect now has a big lead over most cloud-based contact platforms due to its scalability and pace of innovation.

“It is easier to scale it and to make changes,” says Sheehan.

“It helps businesses when there are times of low capacity, and also if they need to then burst to higher capacity. The consumption-based model is really different to the license base model that we’ve kind of seen in the past.”

The Connect model sees customers pay based on their call and messaging volumes, similar to the consumption-based model that underpins AWS in general.

Digital Island is offering the core Amazon Connect service, but putting its own spin on it.

“As part of our package we’ve created this user dashboard which is really easy to use, and then built in significant analytics behind the scenes to make it more operationally efficient,” says Sheehan. 

Digital Island’s dashboard for Amazon Connect users

Digital Island will offer Amazon Connect as a managed service and Sheehan says he expects to see businesses using it report savings of up to 40% compared to existing phone systems that come with upfront licence costs.

Amazon Connect works on any hardware, an agent can even manage calls from a smartphone or tablet. Customers don’t need to be using AWS currently, Connect is a standalone service and analytics data can be exported to other platforms. 

Omnichannel means fewer calls

Sheehan also anticipates call volumes to reduce by up to a quarter for Amazon Connect users as the system’s other communication channels are increasingly drawn on. Those cost and call volume reduction estimates are based on Forrester research on the total economic impact of moving to Amazon Connect.

“Instead of having your traditional interactive voice response (IVR) system put you hold, you can actually have end users go through that menu without having to necessarily engage with a contact centre agent,” says Sheehan.

“You can start to feed in content like FAQs, you might want to add a [chat] bot.”

Ultimately, the strength of Amazon’s artificial intelligence and machine learning capability is what puts it ahead of traditional contact centre players, says Sheehan.

“With their roadmap of technology it just seems to be moving much quicker than anything else in the market.”

Sheehan said its contact centre customers were seeing their agents increasingly based back in the office but that supporting hybrid working arrangements was the name of the contact centre game moving forward.

Taking stock after a tumultuous year

Elsewhere in Digital Island’s business, Sheehan is seeing customers embrace cloud-based PBX systems rather than maintaining their own phone hardware systems and the pandemic has seen rapid uptake of Microsoft Teams for collaboration and communication. The priority now was to integrate Teams with key applications businesses use.

Digital Island offers a Mitel product that integrates Teams communications with mobile and fixed-line calling so that workers in the Teams environment can seamlessly make calls in and outside of the organisation. 

After having to scramble to stand up systems to keep their businesses operating during the pandemic, Sheehan says customers are now taking a fresh look at disparate systems and how they can integrate them.

“They are having a bit more of a mature conversation about what this means for their business ongoing and how it unites the rest of their business.”

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform, Sciblogs.co.nz.

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