NICE Systems’ Yohay Etsion Sees WebRTC As A Potential Giant Step In Contact Center Evolution

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In 2011, Google released an open source project based on enabling the web browser to serve as a platform for real time communication. This was known as WebRTC. WebRTC (Web Real Time Communication) is a potentially revolutionary new set of (still being defined) standards, that can potentially evolve the contact center, and broader telecommunications space, much the way SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) did back in the 1990s.

WebRTC enables the web browser to act as a multi-mode communications platform. One admittedly flawed analogy would be to think of the web browser becoming a “smartphone.”

NICE Systems is at the cusp of WebRTC development, seeing the vast potential this technology has for the call center. Omnichannel would now fully be enabled in the browser. Instead of the browser being an adjunct to the PBX, the browser becomes the PBX—and at an enterprise scale!

NICE Systems' Yohay Etsion

NICE Systems’ Yohay Etsion

Customer Experience Report’s Editor in Chief Loren Moss sat down recently with NICE Systems’ Yohay Etsion to discuss the possibilities, and NICE’s WebRTC vision.

Customer Experience Report: So, with WebRTC, my understanding is that, rather than everyone doing their own thing, it looks like that in the industry, there’s an initiative to move, to make it a standards base, just like telephony, we have standards like H-323 or Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and all these different things so, give me a background on where that is. I guess there’s a long process and papers need to be submitted, but tell me about the genesis of how the idea came about, what NICE’s role has been in that, and where you guys are now with these efforts.

Yohay Etsion: I think that the WebRTC standard as a whole is still at the beginning of the way. It’s not that this is a closed standard. We see that (Google’s) Chrome does support the generic standard, but it will take a while for all the vendors to agree on the codecs and make sure that, it’s interoperable so everyone could enjoy it. So, from a WebRTC standards point of view, and I’m probably not saying anything new, we’re I would say at the beginning of the way when you look at enterprises, right?

Because some enterprises like that WebRTC brings a lot of flexibility, and we do see that already, but if you look at the adoption of WebRTC as part of an enterprise solution, it still has quite a long way to go from a standards point of view, from the interoperability point of view, as a broader support point of view. At NICE what we want to do is to make sure there is an accompanying standard that tells you how to record WebRTC. One of our businesses is recording interactions. The beauty of WebRTC, regardless of recording, is that it allows you to create one session that contains all channels. From browser to browser you create one session,  you can transfer video, voice, chat text; you can share the screen, files, you can send proprietary data such as fingerprints and so on and so forth, and this is very interesting to NICE because that allows our customers to record everything in one place.

Today usually when you’re recording voice, from an architectural point of view, you record a voice from the PBX. And now you want to get text, so you have to connect to the email server or the chat server; you want to get the screen then you have to attach a client to the workstation so you can record the screen. Yes, we’ve consolidated everything, and you see there’s one experience. By the end of the day, there’s a lot of technological complexity to make sure that you can record everything.

Major components of WebRTC:

  • getUserMedia - Allows browser access to the camera & microphone; & to capture media
  • RTCPeerConnection - Sets up audio/video calls
  • RTCDataChannel - Allows browsers to share data peer-to-peer
  • getStats - Allows the web application to retrieve a set of statistics about WebRTC sessions.

from Wikipedia

Now, WebRTC gives everyone a fresh, or a better way to record everything. Because now you have one session, you pass everything through that session, so given that you record that session; that means that you record everything. You don’t need to record separately. So what we want to do is follow the market trend of moving toward WebRTC, so hopefully that would also mature in the enterprise space, and once it does, we want to be able to record in a standard manner.

Because of that we have started work today to make sure that we can standardize a protocol or standard, to record the WebRTC sessions. We have approached several players in the market, and interested them in this initiative. We had a roundtable meeting in the IETF previous meetings with several market leaders, and we are working with them on a draft. Actually, this is not one draft, we are working on two fronts: one is the ability to record WebRTC from the SBC side.

The session board of control side, meaning that in this scenario the customer opens the web browser, sparks up a WebRTC to the enterprise, and is captured by the session board of control–the ACME the Oracle or whatever the session board of control is there, and we want to be able to be able to record that from the SBC. So, the entrance is through the enterprise. So, that’s one way to do it.

Customer Experience Report: Is it a technologically more efficient place to capture it then before it’s spread through all these different channels?

Yohay Etsion: Yes. You’re right. It’s a centralized place, it’s easier to get, it is the entry point to the enterprise anyway, and probably they one where WebRTC is relevant to enterprises. The configuration would probably start there. The WebRTC terminated at the entry point and then connected through the local PBX to the agent.

So we want to be able to have a standard to record directly from the session board of control, which is the entry point. So, this is one effort. Another effort is to be able to record from the end client, and as you’ve mentioned, that is a bit more complex.

So, if you want to be able to record with WebRTC not from any centralized location, but from the actual client web of the customer or the agent, that means that you have some kind of javascript that is downloaded to the browser that sparks up the WebRTC session or that receives the WebRTC session, and collects all the information from the WebRTC session and forwards it to the recording solution.

Customer Experience Report: Don’t you have less control when you do it that way because you don’t have as much control over that connection or that end-point device, especially today,  not so much in the contact center, but in the larger world you have BYOD, and people are out there with all kinds of funky devices and trying to do it on an Amazon Kindle or something like that, and so now because you have this proliferation of devices, that would be a less-efficient and a more difficult way because of all the variation and because of the lack of control, that would be a more difficult place to capture it, I would think.

Yohay Etsion: Yes, you do have a tradeoff, but it’s more complex. It’s harder to control. We would probably want to record, not on the customer side, but from the agent side, but you’re right, this is the trade off. You get less control, but you get more access and more flexibility because you are accessing the actual, raw WebRTC data instead of trying to connect to a mediation device. This is the tradeoff. So, these are two different ways to achieve the same thing, which is recording the WebRTC session.

You know, I’m not a prophet, I don’t know how it will turn out. If we look at WebRTC, just from an enterprise point of view, it could end up with, session board controller or a mediation device on the edge of the enterprise and this is how it’s going to be, but there’s also an option, that the vendors, and I’m not necessarily talking about the PBX vendors such as Avaya, Genesis, or Cisco and so on, but some other innovators will create a solution that does not require a PBX, because if you think about it, a lot of the value that PBX brings, it brings three main core values: it brings call termination or call establishment, it brings the IVR, the interactive voice, it brings the IDC that handles the buffering to the agent and decides which call goes to which agent.

Now, in an era, not today, not tomorrow, not in a year or two years from now; but in an era where you have as much bandwidth as you want, and WebRTC which is an open standard which connects browsers with no need to install or deploy anything on the browsers, in that era why do you actually need the core value that the PBX brings, in order to just to create the media?

Customer Experience Report: Now it’s all software, it can be done in all software. It’s device agnostic. You can have a call center and people are sitting there and it doesn’t matter. What that does is it opens up the whole universe of expanded…Let’s rethink the idea of a telephone. Even though we already have software telephones, but now, why constrain it to the idea of a telephone? You can have a call center based on Skype or something like that, or some future version of a WhatsApp because you don’t even need a soft telephone anymore.

Yohay Etsion: Exactly. It can be that, we don’t know. It’s too early to tell. Think about another concept. Today, you need an IVR because a customer calls and you have no idea what they want, right? You ask them, “Do you have a technical problem or do you want to buy a new product?” And then if it’s a technical problem, they’ll ask you, “Well, do you have device X or device Y?”

Given that the core value of the PBX is call connection. IVR call connection might not be relevant anymore. IVR value drops because you already have the context.

In WebRTC, you can spark the WebRTC session from the website. So what would probably happen is that the customer already has made contact. They went to the website and tried to find what to do if their device doesn’t work. So, they went to the page of their specific device and they’re troubleshooting, and there they have a click to call. And once they click it, a WebRTC session with video, audio text, whatever, has sparked open, but you already have the context.

Customer Experience Report: You know they were looking at this problem, on this model number, of this device.

Yohay Etsion: Call termination becomes a non-issue. IVR is still important, you might want to still ask or get information, but it’s not as important as it is today because you already have context. You still need to manage the call distribution across agents, but given that the core value of the PBX is call connection. IVR call connection might not be relevant anymore. IVR value drops because you already have the context.

Along can come an innovator and provide and end-to-end solution with the value that you still need from the IVR side, the call distribution solution, they can present an end-to-end WebRTC solution for the enterprise. I’m not saying that this is going to happen, we don’t know, but in order for us to be able to be ready, in order for our customers, to be able to be ready, for whatever configuration or architecture they will choose in the future.

We want to be able to create two standards: one from the SBC, which takes into account that the PBX is not going to change, we just need to terminate the WebRTC, and we want to be able to record at a central device, but we also want to prepare for the scenarios or the configurations in which the telephony environment is going to profoundly change. And in this case you do want the flexibility of recording from the client side.  Not necessarily the customer side, but from the client of the agent that is now receiving and discussing from the customer.

Customer Experience Report: You’re still going to get both sides of the communication. You’re not really going to be losing anything. So, what’s the next step in the process of creating—It’s fascinating when you’re in the media that covers the industry you hear first about the proposals and then you see five or ten years later, whenever the case is, people are using it as the standard.

You see the evolution of things, which is really fascinating if you really care about these things. So, one, what’s the next step?, and two, from what you’ve seen, what has to happen and how far away are we from this being as an adopted industry standard?

Yohay Etsion: I don’t think this will come tomorrow, not in a year, and probably not in two years.  But in order to be prepared for what’s going to happen in three, four, or five years, you have to work on it today. We have to see who the customers are, we have to see who the market leaders are, we have to compose the relevant standards so when the time comes and this becomes prime time for enterprises, this is where we’re talking about the “enterprise space,” then already we have a standard, we’ve already tested some solutions with partners and market leaders so we can provide out-of-the-box solutions to our customers, when primetime comes with WebRTC. If it doesn’t come, that’s okay, but we don’t want to miss the train, we want to start working on it today, start working with customers today, with market leaders today, to have a standard to start testing solutions.