Google and Avaya bring thin client-style operations to the contact centre

A recently-announced deal between Google and Avaya has potential for companies facing customer service challenges.

Avaya has announced its Agent for Chrome software, which is a tiny piece of software designed for the Chromebook, a laptop device built to run Google’s ChromeOS operating system.

Chromebooks are reinventions of the thin client computers of yesteryear; slimmed-down hardware designed to connect to resources in the cloud. But they’re still designed to pack enough power to carry out local computing tasks in the browser, making them more than just a browser and a keyboard.

The idea is to bring thin client operations to the contact centre, by using a browser-based agent to access Avaya’s back-end software. Avaya and Google hope to free lots of contact center workers to work remotely in the process.

The browser-based contact centre

The agent runs directly in the browser, meaning that companies don’t need a fully-specced Windows or Mac computer to run it.

That’s pretty important in a company with lots of employees focused on a single, narrowly-defined set of tasks, such as data entry. It can dramatically reduce the total cost of ownership associated with delivering applications to the desktop in several ways.

One clear win is that you don’t need a windows license to run one. The other is reducing the heavy burden of desktop computer maintenance on the IT department. With Chromebooks costing less than $300 a piece, it may be easier in many cases to simply rip and replace a faulty system.


Until recently, these thin client architectures were great for applications that didn’t need low-latency, streamed communications. Data entry apps and even office productivity software work well in these environments, because the browser can take a few tens of milliseconds to refresh a page of data without slowing the user down too much.

Applications like voice and video are different, because they require a constant stream of communication with minimal interruptions. Although far from impossible, that has been harder to do in the browser. Instead, most companies resort to dedicated applications running locally on a ‘fat’ computer to handle this work.

Avaya Agent for Chrome uses WebRTC. It is a standard set of application programming interfaces (APIs) enabling browsers to handle these low-latency, synchronous communications without having to install any proprietary software.

In practice, this enables contact centre staff to take phone calls from customers directly in the browser. Avaya’s agent connects with its back-end Avaya Aura Call Center Elite call routing system, and turns the Chromebook into a contact centre terminal, throwing up caller details alongside the call.

Employment opportunities

One interesting thing about this whole venture is what it might do to contact centre employment patterns. Google and Avaya are promoting the idea of distributed remote agents using this technology, and rightfully so.

The business continuity implications here are obvious; having contact centre agents distributed throughout various regions enables a company to sustain customer service operations even if one particular region is affected by a disaster.

The other benefit here is to human resources departments, and workers. Not only may contact centres now have a host of potential new work-at-home employees, but those employees may now be able to take on part-time work that wasn’t possible before. Everyone from stay-at-home mothers or fathers with young children through to people with disabilities unable to leave the house may now be able to benefit from work opportunities.

What’s happening with Chromebooks

The announcement came with a customer win. Packaging firm MeadWestVaco is using the Chromebook-based Agent with about 100 workers, who can now work remotely, and it is saving costs on additional hardware (including physical phones).

This begs the question: are Chromebooks breaking into the enterprise? Google is pushing hard for the adoption of its systems by enterprise users. It has a Chromebooks for Work initiative, which includes a management console for the administration of multiple Chromebooks via a central point. As of October, it now includes several recently-added features such as single sign-on.

There are still some drawbacks to the Chromebook for some firms. It won’t fare too well if you want to integrate all of your contact centre workers with Active Directory, for example.

Nevertheless, thin-client systems and workers focused on repetitive, narrowly-defined task sets go together well in many environments. Now, WebRTC plugs a gap. It’s a win for both companies, and potentially plenty of customers besides.

photo credit: alanclarkdesign via photopin cc

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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