The $22-billion call center market — dominated by legacy solutions from Avaya, Cisco Systems and Genesys — is ripe for disruption. Of the estimated 14.5 million call center agents worldwide, 95 percent of them still sign into on-premise offerings.

However, thanks to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) total cost of ownership (TCO) savings of as much as 40 percent and relatively easy implementations, the transition to the cloud has already begun: It’s estimated that within two years the cloud penetration rate in call centers will reach 13 percent.

At this month’s JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Mike Burkland, CEO of Five9, an emerging provider of on-demand software for contact centers, explained that the migration to the cloud is tied to the refresh cycle for on-premise solutions. Instead of spending big bucks to upgrade to the latest legacy offerings, the refresh often acts as a trigger opportunity to bring call centers to the cloud.

Another Trigger Point

The adoption of Customer relationship management (CRM) software in the cloud is another trigger point, providing “real pull” for the call center transition, according to Burkland. Since CRM software is a data repository for customer information, call centers are tightly integrated into these back-office solutions.

For example, when a service call comes in, Five9 solutions do a data search across the CRM system, then route the call to the most qualified agent based on the background information and historical interactions associated with the specific customer. When companies move their CRM software to the cloud, they often consider moving the call center there as well.

With many large organizations using different legacy call center solutions across various divisions, the transition to the cloud is often a decentralized decision made by each department, with the enterprise-wide move taking place over an extended period of time.

A large company with 10 or more call centers might initially move a few of them to the cloud, see how it goes and then decide to fully transition. This is actually good for smaller vendors of cloud-based call center solutions in terms of their land-and-expand strategy: win over a division or two at a customer, and then build the business from there.

Who is Leading the Charge?

According to Paul Jarman, CEO of inContact, another provider of cloud-based solutions, 90 percent of call centers today have less than 100 seats, with this group representing 50 percent of industry revenue. These midsize contact centers (even if part of a larger organization) are often the most likely to lead the charge to the cloud.