By Matt Bogan:

Matt Bogan is the product manager for Startel, a leading provider of best-in-class contact center solutions. He has been involved in the contact center industry for over fifteen years.

In July of 1955, Tomorrowland opened at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. At the time, Walt Disney, an enthusiastic futurist, said “scientists today are opening the doors of the Space Age to achievements that will benefit our children and generations to come. The Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that area living blueprint of our future.”

Startel started out in 1980 just down the 5 freeway from Disneyland. It’s hard to know if the company name was influenced by the opening of Space Mountain just three years prior, but it definitely reflects the passions of another notable futurist, Don Berry. From its inception, Startel has been a company dedicated to looking to the future. We’re founded on researching the new opportunities afforded to the communications industry by advances in technology, identifying which have the most long-term viability, and then putting those into our customers’ hands. Part of that has always been helping our customers understand – and maybe even get excited about – what’s next. Unlike Walt Disney, we don’t have an amusement park to help do it, but we still do everything we can to provide our customers and friends with a ‘living blueprint’ of the future of contact centers.

That looks like a platform where an agent anywhere in the world can log in to a website from any device with an internet connection and start handling interactions without any specialized training on software. No one will need to tell them what button to push to send a form to the client. No one will need to teach them to interpret complex relay instructions. If the data they take from the caller needs to go into some specialized software for a client, rather than the agent needing to learn a new soft-ware suite and manually re-enter that information, automations built on RESTful APIs will synchronize data behind the scenes without agent intervention. Your dispatchers and lead agents will become more like civic engineers than air traffic controllers. Rather than making lots of quick decisions in real-time to ensure individual messages end up where they should, they’ll make deliberate, focused decisions to redirect the flow of data en masse according to client requests. Many of our customers have already begun implementing this future with the tools already available, and are reaping benefits both in saved labor and improved employee morale. More than that, they’re a few steps ahead in preparing for the upcoming transition away from the manual-dispatch-heavy desktop applications that have been common in our industry since the early days of computerization.  (Click here for a fun explainer video on what an API is and why you need it!)

The “work-from-home revolution” is a future Don Berry was envisioning as early as the 1980’s. Consequently, Startel has offered support for remote agents for most of our company’s history. The driving technology behind it has shifted several times during that span, however, and we’re on the brink of the “next big thing.” It’s likely that your current remote agent capabilities rely on a VPN connection for agent data (“screens”) and in most cases, voice data (“audio”), as well. However, various tech magazines and IT whitepapers use words like “dying” and “obsolete” to refer to VPNs now. VPN technology isn’t going to disappear overnight, but it’s quickly being supplanted as the best practice for remote workers. VPNs protect the data in transit from being intercepted as it travels across the internet, but they also create a tunnel into your network and to critical equipment like your CMC and Soft Switch. Even if you trust your agents, that tunnel exists for everyone that might access their computer or home network, whether that’s other members of their household, or a threat actor that’s gained access to their machine via a virus. Antivirus and judicious firewall administration are around to keep honest people honest, but the rise in remote work is leading to a “trust no one” approach to network security among IT professionals. Rather than giving every remote worker the keys to the kingdom and then trying to use firewalls and antivirus to “walk back” that access, technologies replacing VPN assume the machine on the other end is untrusted and start from a stance of least-possible-access. One such technology that is mature, robust, and nearly ubiquitous is HTTPS. HTTP, as the backbone of the worldwide web, was purpose-built for serving resources to untrusted machines. By adding TLS encryption to HTTP, you get HTTPS – a secure point-to-point connec-tion similar to a VPN, except without the inherent trust of the machine on the other end.

This means a web-based agent interface and softphone that communicates via HTTPS isn’t just a fun way to show off what technology can do now, within a few years, it’s likely to be the only acceptable option. It’s hard to know exactly how and when that shift will happen, but similar progressions of technology in the past would suggest that sometime in the near future, there’s going to be an increasing number of hurdles to doing business with clients if their data will be stored on a system with VPN tunnels pointed at it. It’s hard to know whether those hurdles may first be new requirements by your cyber liability insurance provider, a governmental security mandate akin to the Omnibus rule, or just a wave of new RFPs and service requests that require HTTPS-based access for your remote workforce, but they’re almost certainly coming.

Web-based applications are more secure and more powerful than they were even just a handful of years ago, but they still have a different and more limited set of capabilities than desktop applications. If you’ve tried switching back and forth between Microsoft Office’s desktop apps and their web-based “Office 365” equivalents, you’ve seen it in action. They perform a lot of the same functions and are similar enough to be familiar, but different enough to be disorienting and not all the older features are still there. That’s not poor design on Microsoft’s part, it’s that the conventions for web-based software are different, and that means how the software works and the way users interact with it is different. Just like you might have to recreate your rules and change how you sort your mail if you switch to web-based Outlook, switching to a web-based agent interface will mean changes to the way you program your accounts, and to the way your agents access and utilize the tools available to them. At Startel, our job is to try and make that transition as easy as possible, but part of that is making sure you’ve started to align the way you use the software today with the way it’ll be required to work in the future. It’s a big priority in ensuring you don’t get caught under the wave of change.

For a customer that’s never begun the process of preparing for the future, moving to the web today would be a daunting and potentially expensive challenge. The three best things you can do to start getting ready today are building your new accounts using IntelliForms, moving as many agents as you can to the Flex Agent Interface, and getting a jump on the work of replacing the old macros and manual dispatch instructions in your existing accounts with scripts, formulas, and dispatch scripts. The “Intelli-“of IntelliForms gives them the “horsepower” for the kind of guided call-flow and on-rails dispatch that will be required for complex accounts moving forward, and Flex is now the “stepping stone” between the way a Startel platform worked in the 2000’s with the way it will work in the 2020’s. Flex is less dependent on the older conventions that won’t be able to make the jump to the web, like macros and Startel keybindings, but it still retains those for the time being as an aide to your existing workforce. Automating your accounts with features like dispatch scripts is what will net the gains in efficiency needed to abandon macros and stop training function keys to new agents, but if that’s a work in progress for your site, Flex can still be used for manual dispatching and agent workflows that include “read, read, read” in the mean time. (Click here for testimonial from customers on how FLEX is making their life easier!)

Startel has always sought a balance between allocating resources towards the things our customers need today and development of the solutions they’re going to need tomorrow. We’re at a point in time that we’d be doing you a disservice if our focus didn’t start shifting away from the existing desktop applications and towards our industry’s future. The first part of that was the “moratorium” on new Clas-sic development a couple of years ago. The next part was our Flex development “fast track” last summer and all the improvements it yielded for customers moving to Flex from Classic. With the “stepping stone” of Flex now firmly in place, our efforts are by necessity going to start focusing more heavily on our web-based products than they have up to this point. We don’t like to leave anyone behind, and we don’t plan to – after all, even now in 2022, Netflix will still mail you a DVD from theirDVD.com website if you really want them to. But, the next steps into the future are going to require Startel and our customers working together – us building the platform to provide a modern service and experience to your agents and clients, and you working diligently to prepare them for it.

This article originated in The Galaxy Newsletter a publication of the Startel National Users Group.

Since its founding in 1980, Startel has established a loyal customer base from a variety of industries, including contact centers, education, government, healthcare, insurance, telephone answering service and utilities. Today, Startel has customers in 43 states across the United States as well as Canada, Central America, New Zealand, and Switzerland. Our customers depend on Startel’s solutions and services to increase business efficiencies, identify performance opportunities and deliver quick, secure and accurate communication 24/7 x 365.

If you are interested in learning more about our CMC with RestAPI give us a call today at 800-STARTEL or email us at Sales@Startel.com.