CRM applications have been available in the cloud under the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model--where applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers via the Internet--since the late 1990s. By now, the benefits of these types of deployments are widely recognized: Lower upfront costs, faster time to deployment, simpler administration, automatic updates, system compatibility, easier collaboration, and global accessibility are all hallmarks of SaaS deployments.
And while such deployments have really picked up in the past year or two, many firms are reluctant to even consider the cloud for fear of data being lost or misappropriated.
THE PERCEIVED THREAT
Security of corporate data is the number one concern related to cloud migration, cited by 74 percent of respondents to the latest "State of the Network" global study by Network Instruments, a provider of network and application performance monitoring. That's nearly twice as high as was reported last year.
In the healthcare field, the data issue looms even larger in any discussion of the cloud because patient confidentiality is of paramount concern.
This issue was strongly considered by contact center leadership at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Center, a healthcare provider operating 20 clinics in the San Diego area, before they brought in a cloud-based application to handle patient appointment reminders.
The company, which employs 420 physicians who handle more than 1 million patient visits per year, is using the cloud-based Patient Interact solution from Varolii for outbound patient appointment reminders. The system sends out 5,000 to 7,000 reminders per day to patients via an automated phone call or text message.
Sharp Rees-Stealy uploads the information, including patient names, appointment dates and times, facilities, and doctors' names, to Varolii's servers, and Varolii handles the rest.
"This data isn't anything that's too critical, but we wanted to make sure the information would be secure before turning it over," says Katrina Bidwell, manager of Sharp Rees-Stealy's patient contact center. "There was a lot of trepidation, even about turning over this information."
The data security issue is a legitimate concern, according to many experts, but one that is diminishing quickly.
"The cloud is maturing, and the leading players are proving that they can provide secure services that meet the regulatory needs of specific industries, like insurance, healthcare, and financial services," says Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies, a CRM consulting firm. "If you look at the evolution of SaaS offerings, the prominent players that deal with highly regulated industries have met the security requirements of those industries."
Five9, a cloud-based contact center software provider that facilitates more than 3 billion calls per year, counts among its clients a number of leading financial services firms and several insurance and healthcare providers. "It's a validation of the cloud that financial and healthcare firms are in there," says Mike Burkland, its president and CEO.
Geoff Merrick, chief technology officer of the Salesforce.com business unit at Cloud Sherpas, a cloud consulting and systems integration firm, says most cloud systems have matured to the point where companies needn't worry. "The data security question ... and compliance issues have been addressed," he states.
Universal Health Care, with 189,000 members in 19 states, turned over its contact center operations, which handle about 80,000 calls a month, to Five9 two years ago. Lisa De La Parte, the senior manager of its contact centers, has no concerns about security. In all the time with Five9, there has never been a data breach, she says.
Universal Health Care's contact centers blend inbound and outbound services for member services, sales, pharmacy, claims, enrollments, and case management. …