I am currently sat in a very nice Aspire lounge at Birmingham airport waiting for my KLM flight to Holland. I’m off to Amsterdam to give a presentation for 365 Saturday on the new Omni-Channel Engagement Hub. Being new you may have many questions about this latest feature in Dynamics 365. In this post I will try to address many of the most obvious questions …

I’ve been working with a preview version of The Omni-channel Engagement Hub for a few weeks now. I wouldn’t (yet) describe myself as an expert but I have started to become very familiar with  its key features. As I wait for my flight I’m busy putting the finishing touches to my presentation and also thinking about what questions I might get asked on Saturday. Below are the obvious questions I came up with and to the best of my knowledge the answers;

  • What is the Omni-channel Engagement Hub?
  • Who would use it and when?
  • When is it available?
  • What is this “Enterprise Grade” routing concept?
  • What is the “hub” part?
  • Isn’t that like USD?
  • What will it cost?
  • Can you share anything about the roadmap?
  • How do I find out more?
  • Neil, what do you think??

What is the Omni-channel Engagement Hub?

The Omni-channel Engagement Hub gives us support for SMS, Chat and CDS entity routing within Dynamics 365. These “channels” are presented within a new interface called the Engagement Hub. It supports sessions within a browser, something that was previously only possible with Unified Service Desk.

I have mentioned the channels, SMS, chat and CDS. (You might not immediately know what a CDS channel is! See more details on that below.)

But you should be aware that The Omni-channel Engagement Hub is built upon the Channel Integration Framework (CIF), therefore I hope we can expect more channels in the future.

Who would use it and when?

The Omni-channel Engagement Hub is aimed at contract centres. Environments when agents need to juggle customer conversations across multiple channels. Often needing to converse with several customer simultaneously. In the last few years the tool of choice in this space has been Unified Service Desk. (I will return to that point later in this post!)

When is it available?

Currently The omni-channel Engagement Hub is only available as a preview feature. (As at May 2019.) The release notes for the April Dynamics 365 wave suggest a general release date of July. As far as I know we can still expect a full release around July time.

What is this “Enterprise Grade” routing concept?

Routing is a very important concept in The Omni-channel Engagement Hub. Unified Service Desk has a focus “only” on the agent desktop, how the conversation events get to the desktop is outside the scope of USD. But now we have an approach to let us define channels, workstreams and queues. And by using these concepts route conversations to the correct agents. The “correct agent” being someone that has the skills and capacity to handle the query.

Each channel links to a workstream. The workstreams allow us to allocate a required spare capacity for the interactions. And, what presence states the agents must be in to receive the conversation. For example, we might send messages to agents that are marked as available or busy (if they have spare capacity). But if someone is on lunch or on training we’d exclude them from any routing.

Each workstream can have associated routing logic. Conditions on this routing logic define which queue the conversation will be dropped into. Each queue will have several users. Each user will have a capacity and presence. We can therefore use all this information to decide which agent should handle which work items.

Additionally (and importantly) we can enforce a push or pick logic for work items. Sometimes agents on queues will see available work items and cherry pick them from a list. In other scenarios the conversation will be pushed to the agent real-time. To give this some business context, some channels will need real-time attention. Live web chat, for example, would be pushed to the first available agent. Whilst other “off line” channels might work better in the pick scenario. For example, cases created on your web portal might be picked from agents.

The graphic below is my crude attempt to show how the channels, workstreams and queues relate to each other …

What is the “hub” part?

The “hub” is a Dynamics 365 App. It gives us access to an agent and supervisor dashboard. Opening work items from these dashboards will start a session for each conversation. New tabs can be opened within sessions by using “control click”. You can also manually start new sessions by using “shift click”.

Session management like this is important for contact centre agents who might often need to juggle multiple conversations simultaneously.

Unlike Unified Service Desk this is all achieved directly in the browser with no need to install any client software.

Isn’t that like Unified Service Desk?

Yes and no!

The Omni-channel Engagement hub can give contact centre agents a unified experience and things like session management will certainly help them manage their workloads. In many scenarios it could meet most of the agents needs. And as time progresses maybe The Omni-channel Engagement Hub will offer more and more features.

But the Omni-channel Engagement Hub is absolutely not a USD replacement. In my opinion, the reverse is true. As I feel it represents a fantastic opportunity for Unified Service Desk.

USD is not “just” an interface. It’s a development framework allowing us to create highly tailored user interfaces that address the very specific needs we often encounter in enterprise scale contact centres.

The Omni-channel Engagement Hub fully supports USD. We can now consume omni-channel conversations within USD or within the engagement hub. Meaning rather than being a USD replacement it represents additional options. There is a time and place for both interfaces.

Within USD we have the added advantage of being able to extend the systems capabilities. Supporting complex automations, line of business systems integrations and much more. Most of these features cannot be provided by the engagement hub alone.

The “magic” USD provides is still going to be in high demand and will now be even more powerful with the addition of The Omni-channel Engagement Hub.

What is a CDS Channel?

Spoiler alert – The CDS channel is one of my favourite features of The Omni-channel Engagement Hub!

Using Microsoft Flow we can route CDS entities. Imagine that you can create a Flow that whenever a high priority case is created (maybe on your portal) it will be pushed directly to a waiting agent. Or whenever a custom entity is created it can show in a queue that all agents with capacity can see and pick from.

This is a really powerful feature to be able to route work items beyond the traditional chat conversations directly to agents. I believe it opens some really powerful routing / queuing capabilities that we haven’t seen in Dynamics 365 before.

What will it cost?

Unfortunately, in May 2019 I can’t answer that question! The Omni-channel Engagement Hub is still only a preview feature and Microsoft are yet to release any pricing details. Sorry, this is something I can’t answer! But hopefully pricing information will be published very soon!

Can you share anything about the roadmap?

I don’t have any secret insight into Microsoft’s roadmap! But I think we can guess the direction of travel with several features. These are my personal opinions and not facts ….

I expect us to see more features in the chat channel. Including the ability to theme the chat widgets and maybe other features like co-browse and post chat surveys.

As the Channel Integration Framework is being leveraged to give us the existing SMS, Chat and CDS channels I expect to see more channels. And importantly the ability to include custom channels. I’m looking forward to seeing things like 3rd party telephony working alongside chat in a seamless integration.

Whatever the future roadmap brings I think these are exciting times.

How do I find out more?

You could attend my presentation on Saturday May 18th in Amsterdam! But as I’m creating this blog post at the airport if you haven’t already registered you might be a little late. Sorry!

Seriously …. A great place to start would be docs.microsoft.com. The guide below contains loads of great content;

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/customer-engagement/omni-channel-engagement-hub/omni-channel-engagement-hub-guide

Also, if you miss my presentation …. watch this space. I do hope to create a recording and publish a demonstration soon!

Neil, what do you think??

I really like the engagement hub, having sessions in a browser is a powerful feature. These don’t quite go as far as Unified Service Desk in terms of automation, but I can think of many simpler situations when they will be ideal.

Thankfully we can still use Unified Service Desk. I still see large contact centres benefiting from a full USD implementation because of its extensible architecture. But very importantly USD and The Omni-channel Engagement Hub will “play nicely” together. So this isn’t about picking one technology or another.

I think the routing logic is very powerful and flexible. I’m looking forward to a chance to “play” with it in a live scenario. USD is “just” about the agent desktop experience. In my opinion, this routing logic fills a gap in the Dynamics 365 product set.

I really like the CDS channel. (Did I mention it was my favourite feature?) I think the ability to do complex real-time routing when cases (or other entities) are created is powerful. I’m already thinking of uses outside of contact centres for this!

I felt the chat channel worked well but this is a preview version. Some features I’d like to see don’t yet exist. For example, we can currently only theme the chat in a limited way. But hopefully in the fullness of time we’ll see features like theming become available.

I have only scratched the surface of the capabilities in this post. There are many other great features, such as real time sentiment analysis. And the ability for supervisors to monitor and join conversations that appear negative.

Keeping in mind that The Omni-channel Engagement Hub is a preview feature I’m really impressed with how robust it feels. Additionally, it has been easy to get started with. My initial experiences have given me a very positive feeling about this new technology and I’m really looking forward to using it more ….