Contact centers have been the overlooked application during the industry discussion of IP telephony. Contact centers offer perhaps the tightest link between communications and business process - a link that will become stronger as the industry moves to Web services in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) context.Contact centers will be the driving force behind companies that highly value interaction with customers. Today, sales forces and call centers are the primary customer contact points. But customers want deeper access into the companies with which they conduct business. Customer-facing organizations are retooling their contact centers by adding IP telephony for mobility, screen-pop consolidation, and Web services and SOA to link customer communications to business processes. The result is a company that offers its customers a better experience.Contact centers are evolving in terms of agent empowerment and linking agent interactions with business applications, such as inventory management. Agents increasingly require more access to enterprise resources, be they experts or applications. Agents have built ad hoc ways of reaching back into their enterprises for these resources. For example, many agents are forced to leverage public instant-messaging services to find experts within their companies. This opens up security issues, does not provide journaling and is not measurable. In this model, agents' effectiveness in reaching for assistance is based upon their experience and the size of their professional networks, which they cultivate themselves. More ambitious agents have access to more resources, which yields an uneven customer experience.Companies soon will be able to systematize, sanction and measure these interactions so knowledge workers and experts can be a legitimate part of an agent's professional network. In addition to expanding an agent's professional network, Web services can tighten the linkage between agents and their enterprise back-office systems. For example, after an agent's interaction with a customer is completed, the enterprise needs to know what occurred and take appropriate action, such as cataloging and trending a set of product issues. Linking agents to back-office systems and enabling a more structured way in which they can reach into the enterprise are opportunities most companies are starting to address with Web services. While this has focused on human-to-contact-center interaction, there are as many opportunities for system-to-contact-center improvements for customer-facing organizations. For example, a popular BMW commercial shows a driver talking to a contact center agent after his car has sent status data to the manufacturer, which told the contact center to schedule maintenance with the owner.Vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, Alcatel, Mitel and Nortel are starting to deliver Web services-based platforms that will let IT departments develop communications-enabled business applications, which will transform their businesses. The customer-facing organization is just one example of how the game is changing. You can find more information on customer-facing organizations and Web services at www.lippis.com.Lippis publishes the Lippis Report newsletter, a resource for network and IT business decision makers. Get your free subscription at www.lippis. com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.