I’ve worked with Cisco’s Contact Center Enterprise, or CCE, for over a decade now.

The documentation is both great and terrible. Great in that almost everything about the product is documented somewhere and freely accessible. Terrible in that if you don’t already know what you’re looking for it’s very hard to find. If you’re a beginner trying to understand the product from scratch, it can seem overwhelming. It’s a shame because at its core it really isn’t that difficult.

The SRND and design guides are far too detailed for a beginner. The install and configuration guides don’t offer much context. There’s a Cisco Press book (http://www.amazon.com/Unified-Contact-Enterprise-Networking-Technology/dp/1587141175) but it isn’t focused on a beginner audience and mostly adds content rather than combining and condensing information found in Cisco docs.

What’s really missing is a good, approachable intro guide to CCE. That’s why we’ve decided to create this blog series. We’ll start one post at a time, but ultimately, the goal is to have something that can be combined into an easy to follow introductory guide for CCE and CVP.

I’ll assume the audience is relatively technical but with no prior experience in UCCE. You may be part of your company’s IT organization responsible for supporting a new UCCE install, or a consultant branching out her skill-set. Even if you’re an expert, I find that review can be helpful to ground your knowledge. The review will be mostly technical but not a deep dive into scripting or configuration. We also plan on having a companion series that walks through scripting in CVP so stay tuned, or check out some of the other posts on this blog.

Without further ado, part 1 of our series, Intro to Cisco CCE and CVP:

Context

In this post, I’ll give an overview of how CCE and CVP fit into the telephony ecosystem. If you’re already familiar with phone systems and contact center technology in general, this will be very basic. Feel free to skim or skip over. For everyone else, it’ll give you the context to understand how the alphabet soup of acronyms all fit together.

PBX

Let’s start from the very beginning. Say you have a relatively large office and need phones setup for all your employees. This isn’t quite like buying a phone line for your house, you may have dozens if not hundreds of employees in one building, or even spread across the country or working from home. We might have rules about who can call whom and want provide features like voicemail and company directories. Buying a phone line straight to a carrier like ATT or Verizon for every employee would be a mess (and crazy expensive). What we’d really like is to have every employee tied into a single unified phone system that we can control. This is called a phone switch or PBX (*Private* Branch Exchange, as opposed to the systems run by the public telephony providers).

Traditionally PBX technology was a large piece of analog hardware tied to a single physical office. These days, most PBXs are just software running on standard servers. To distinguish these software PBXs from the traditional hardware, you’ll sometimes hear the term soft PBX, soft switch, or IP PBX. In the Cisco world, the role of the PBX is played by Unified Communications Manager or UCM. You may sometimes hear it referred to by its older name: CallManager.

ACD

Now how does CCE fit into this picture? Imagine we’re trying to set up a call center to provide customer service to our customers, and we have a PBX like Cisco UCM. How do we get customer calls to the right people? Standard PBX features like hunt groups and broadcast groups might help here. Hunt groups let us point a number to a group of phones and ring one phone at a time, moving on to the next if nobody answers. Broadcast groups work similarly but ring every phone in the group at once. We can use these features to route our customer calls to a group of customer service agents and it could work well for a very small group, but quickly turns to chaos once we scale to dozens of call center agents or more. We don’t want to make our customers wait before a hunt group finally finds a desk where someone is working, or try to deal with every phone in the office constantly ringing on a broadcast group. Things get even worse if we need to add other call center groups, like sales or website support.

What we really need to get a handle on this are few key features: assigning agents into groups based on what types of calls they are trained to handle, tracking which agents are logged in and available to take a call, and routing calls to available agents with the appropriate skill-set to handle each call. The technology that provides these features is traditionally referred to as an Automatic Call Distributor or ACD. This, finally, is the role that CCE plays in our call center. It is the ACD, providing these additional call center features on top of the core telephony features provided by UCM, the PBX in the Cisco world.

IVR

There’s one more core feature we need to complete our call center: the much-maligned automated phone menu. When callers first call in to our main lines, we may want them to navigate a phone menu to select why they are calling, which we can use to route the call to the appropriate skill-set. Maybe we want to get really fancy and let callers enter their account information and perform transactions over the phone without having to talk to a human. The technology responsible for this is known as an Interactive Voice Response system or IVR. You may also see it referred to as a Voice Response Unit or VRU. That’s an older and lesser used term, but you’ll see in a few spots when configuring CCE.

In the Cisco world, there are two main products that can act as the IVR: IP IVR and Customer Voice Portal aka CVP. There are also some IVR-like features built into Cisco’s voice mail system – Unity – but these are only good for simple corporate auto attendant menus. The difference between IP IVR and CVP is mostly technical, just keep in mind that CVP is the preferred option in new CCE installs, and you don’t see much IP IVR being sold anymore. Because of this we’ll focus mainly on CVP.

Summary

The three technologies we’ve discussed: UCM, CCE, and CVP, together make up the Cisco Contact Center Enterprise suite of products. There are a lot of details, features, and other related products we haven’t discussed, but these three make up the heart of it. Understanding the role they play will help ground you as we dive deeper into CCE in later posts.

Check out part 2 of the series, where I discuss the CCE call flow at a high level.