Microsoft upgrades Customer Care Framework

Hosted application toolkit added and security features upgraded

Microsoft announced the availability of Customer Care Framework (CCF) 2008 today, replacing the 2005 Framework edition.

The latest version adds a hosted application toolkit that should make the incorporation of third-party applications into Microsoft's desktop application container, also known as the Microsoft Agent Desktop, easier, according to Vish Thirumurthy, Group Product Manager at Microsoft.

The toolkit is able to crawl the UI of a running application and sort out how to integrate with the Agent. For example, it can monitor the API calls on a Win32 application in order to plug the application into the agent or container requiring less coding, according to Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, an analyst agency.

Rather than integrating applications on the back end, CCF uses what is called presentation layer integration, which integrates applications on the front end at the UI layer.

CCF interrogates each application and defines the application in an XML format. The XML format knows how the applications will behave and how to interact with them.

"If you are a customer care agent with 15 different applications open, instead of switching back and forth using Alt T, CCF aggregates all the key information on a single screen," said Thirumurthy.

The latest version will also allow customer care centers to automate, to some degree, the agent's workflow by bringing each new application into view as the agent submits the data for the preceding application.

The advantage of presentation layer integration, according to Thirumurthy, is that it is not invasive.

"Applications don't get changed," Thirumurthy said.

Integration at the middle-tier level, on the other hand, requires that the back end expose itself as a Web service, in essence forcing changes to the application.

Nevertheless, Helm remained somewhat skeptical over the long-term viability of presentation-layer integration.

"It is too limiting," Helm said.

Helm believes that the CCF team is in fact working toward application integration and away from UI integration, pointing out that the CCF customer self-service portal is now built on the same Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 platform.

"They laid the groundwork by reworking the workflow engine. Now you can use the same workflow in the Agent Desktop and self-service portal so that developers will be able to plug in applications like CRM into the workflow rather than plugging them into the UI within the desktop," said Helm.

Finally, Microsoft upgraded security in version 2008 and will now support "non-Active Directory-based protocols," said Thirumurthy.

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