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Rob McDougall

Upstream Works supplies omnichannel agent desktop software to enterprise contact centres. Our focus is to simplify the agent experience by providing a consistent set of data and tools across all channels and AI vendors.

Tell us about yourself?

I am an Electrical Engineer from Western (formerly UWO). My first job out of school was in computer programming for Perle Systems, where I stayed from 1983 to 1995. In 1995, I left to join a boutique contact center middleware provider called Canadian Lynx, which was quickly acquired and eventually led to the spin-out (via management buyout) of Upstream Works in 2000. We provided boutique Computer Telephony Integration middleware applications until about 2007, when we defined a new class of desktop applications now known as omnichannel – allowing contact centers to treat all customer communications channels equally and to give agents consistent tool sets and information across these channels (e.g. voice, email, video, messaging).

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

I would focus on diversifying our supported platforms earlier. We are very focused on the Cisco Contact Center ecosystem, with initial inroads into Amazon and Microsoft, but I’d like to see more deal flow in these two channels. They are slow to build.

What problem does your business solve?

Contact Center agents deal with multiple desktop applications (often six or more) and deal with a disjointed customer experience (what I do on chat isn’t transferred into the voice contact centre). Our products eliminate these siloes. In more recent years, we have been enabling contact center AI applications in a similar fashion – letting businesses choose best-of-breed AI solutions for different functions and hiding that complexity from the users (contact center agents). Additionally, we provide a level of independence, allowing a company to leverage existing equipment and architectures to get advanced contact center features without tying that to a move to the cloud. When the cloud conversation happens, the solution can seamlessly migrate along with the business – on their own time and with minimal disruption.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

On day zero with Canadian Lynx, it was just an interesting job. It wasn’t until about 2005 that we had the “pound your fist on the table and say, ‘There must be a better way!'” moment. This was when we really saw what agents had to deal with in a contact center – a fairly low-paid position dealing with incredible complexity on the back end while trying to mollify upset customers in real-time. Our goal, our ‘societal benefit’ if you will, was to make every customer interaction with a contact center just a little bit better.

What is your magic sauce?

We are in what is called a ‘horizontal vertical’. That means we work across a wide variety of industries, but we have always dealt with the complex requirements and legacy equipment that businesses continue to have and realized that our products are a really good fit for large or very complex contact centres. This is because we have taken care of the 90 per cent standard stuff with a very mature and robust product while providing the APIs to deal with the specialized needs that these large organizations inevitably have. We are definitely not a one-size-fits-all company; we are out to solve complex issues in complex environments.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Our “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” has always been to be the desktop for every call centre. Over the next five years, I’d like to continue to expand our platform footprint and expand out to other contact centre provider technologies, as well as other unified communication platforms (for our AgentNow video product). We continue to make inroads into supportable and user-friendly AI capabilities – either by using our own AI applications or by using the current market leaders as required by our customer base.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Our biggest course change came back in 2011/2012. We were providing desktop applications for Nortel and Avaya-based contact centres throughout North America. We had great acceptance from the reseller channels that understood the value we brought to the table. However, we were constantly fighting the manufacturers who liked to make promises but couldn’t often deliver on them. We lost one large deal because the (incumbent) manufacturer dropped their price by 50 per cent to compete with us. When we got called back a year later, the company was too gun-shy to do anything due to the fact that the previous attempt with the manufacturer had failed. We found that working in competition with the platform provider we were required to work with was indeed a limited business model. So, in 2012, we came out with a product supporting the Cisco Finesse contact centre framework, and Cisco embraced us as helping them solve customer problems. That was a turning point for the business and really helped to give us a much better growth trajectory.

How can people get involved?

People can find out more about us on our website, Although we don’t sell directly, we are happy to take your call to discuss your requirements and then refer you to one of our resellers, which would help create an overall contact center solution. In Canada, that would be one of the telcos, TTEC Digital, Kyndryl, or even directly through Cisco or Amazon. Internationally, it’s a much larger list. A full list is on our website.