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WebRTC standard is unfinished but enterprises are ready to adopt

Companies share their experiences with integrating the WebRTC standard into their technology and workflows at Enterprise Connect 2014.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) standard for embedding real-time communications into Web browsers has not yet been finalized, but enterprises already grasp its revolutionary potential. A WebRTC customer panel at Enterprise Connect 2014 demonstrated that potential, but also just how careful companies are to protect the competitive advantages of using it.

Panel moderator Irwin Lazar said a couple companies dropped out of the Enterprise Connect panel before the conference because their use of the technology was "too cutting-edge and too much of a competitive advantage."

[WebRTC is] really big on the hype cycle, but I think the hype is worthwhile at this point.
Keith McFarlaneCTO of cloud platform and telephony, LiveOps

Contact centers are especially enhanced by WebRTC, and while the standard today is a novelty, it may soon be table stakes for forward-looking companies. "The folks that are looking at this technology today are the ones that are a little ahead of the curve," said Lazar, vice president and service director at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research Group Inc.

LiveOps, a Redwood City, Calif.-based provider of cloud-based, multichannel contact center tools and services began embedding WebRTC into its tools and services, allowing customers to deliver advanced UC in software.

"For a certain class of implementations, you shouldn't have to put a bunch of expensive hardware on-site, and that's starting to include things like phones. Perhaps you don't need a PBX [private branch exchange] -- you might just need one big pipe to the internet," said Keith McFarlane, chief technology officer of cloud platform and telephony at LiveOps.

Not yet finalized, the WebRTC standard is changing communications

LiveOps, whose customers include Salesforce.com, Coca Cola and eBay , is using cloud communications provider Twilio's application programming interfaces (APIs) to embed WebRTC within its technology. Vendors that don't have the WebRTC yet are partnering with other providers -- such as Twilio and WebRTC startup CafeX -- to deliver WebRTC-enabled apps to customers.

LiveOps initially supported Session Initiation Protocol-based phones and then moved to pure softphone support in 2004. But new technology deployment problems were consistently an issue with softphones, McFarlane said. The company wanted to give its customer's call center agents more flexibility. "We wanted a no-install option, but we had to maintain voice quality," McFarlane said.

Testing out the more recent browser-based communication technology gave McFarlane and his team the confidence that WebRTC was a viable option, and Twilio helped LiveOps achieve browser-based telephony quickly. "As of 2013, we were completely enabled for WebRTC," he said. The best part about the WebRTC standard lies in the fact that it's not a proprietary technology, he said. While Twilio is currently the sole provider of WebRTC for LiveOps, that doesn't always have to be the case down the road.

"It's really big on the hype cycle, but I think the hype is worthwhile at this point," he said.

Vanguard, a Malvern, Pa.-based financial management company, has not yet rolled out the WebRTC standard into its business processes, but is in the process of evaluating what the emerging technology could do for it, said panelist Eric Ziegler, senior manager for Vanguard's IT division.

Traditionally, Vanguard financial advisors communicate with customers through secure email and follow up by phone. To improve customer experience, it started using Cisco WebEx for video and screen sharing with its clients 18 months ago. "We found that the [meeting] experience was much better when you could annotate and point at things on the screen to have that interaction," Ziegler said.

Ziegler believes WebRTC could help make their customer interactions even smoother. "We'd love to be able to provide a link to our clients that they could use to launch a video meeting with their advisor, and then the advisor could start sharing screens and documents," he said.

WebRTC standard support: What still needs to be done?

In order to successfully implement the WebRTC standard within their business applications, Vanguard has to first ensure their technology on the back end is prepared. "Our Web-based application our advisors use need to have video and content sharing integrated in, and then that same technology has to be pushed out to our clients," Ziegler said.

Panel moderator Brent Kelly, principal analyst and Consultant for KelCor Inc. shared his own experience with WebRTC. He noted that American Express has embedded a new click-to-video chat feature in its website. The audio quality was very poor the first time around, possibly an indicator that the company had not prepared its site properly for the amount of voice and video traffic that would now be generated from this new feature.

"I believe the American Express app had maybe 1,000 to 2,000 maximum downloads a day, but once this feature came out, it had over 100,000," Kelly said. "You can see what kind of an impact this would have."

WebRTC technology is not immune to general voice quality issues. Quality of service (QoS) must be monitored, and this is where vendors can help, LiveOps' McFarlane said. "We would love deeper insight into QoS -- it's a critical part of our business, ensuring that quality is sufficient for contact centers," he said. "But so far, we have not seen a difference in terms of latency, so we have been very happy with those results."

Given that the WebRTC standard is not finalized, companies that have already adopted it do have some worries. "We feel pretty good about how the standard might settle. API-wise, however, there is a browser-support war going on, and we are a little worried about that, even though over time I think it will work out," McFarlane said. "This is part of the reason we worked with a partner for WebRTC -- Twilio -- that can help with our implementations, instead of building out our own solution."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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