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Friday, 14 May 2010

Integrating Social CRM

I agree with Harish Kotadia that Social CRM represents a huge opportunity for services companies.

He has create a follow-up post on how IT services companies can prepare for the opportunity covers some of the key steps to capitialise on these opportunities. Paraphrasing slightly, his recommendation is for organisations to
1 - evaluate ways their clients can:
integrate social media channels into websites
integrate the new channels into their Sales, Marketing & Support processes and systems
include social media metrics in performance dashboards and SLAs
2 - develop delivery capability to address Social CRM requirements of their clients, partnering with leading vendors in key areas of Social CRM, namely:
Social Media Measurement & Monitoring
Customer Community Platforms
Social Media and Network Analytics

To this I would add the complicating factors that (1) there are a large, changing number of players in #2, with a lot of experimentation at the moment and consolidation coming soon – see for example Michael Maoz from Gartner’s comments on this and (2) there’s a big integration challenge behind point 1 - between heavily structured CRM systems that may not be very integration friendly and a whole new world of often cloud based services. This integration will need to support a lot of change as companies as experiment and evolve their Social CRM implementations.
So I would add a third step to the prescription for services companies following this path, and that would be to investigate lightweight integration technologies that can bridge these old and new worlds cost-effectively and flexibly but without creating more hard-to-maintain complexity.

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Friday, 7 May 2010

Poorly equipped agents: wasting my time

Just took a call from my phone provider that reinforced how giving agents the tools to do their job can make a massive difference. The conversation went something like this

Agent Hello, I’m just calling to make sure you are on the right tariff. Can I ask, what time of day do you make most calls, do you phone mobiles or overseas?
Me (not really concentrating) Mainly call in the evenings, weekends. Phone Australia every few weeks, some mobile calls.
Agent How much do you spend roughly per month?
Me I don’t know off-hand. Hang on, shouldn’t you know all this? Do you have access to your billing system?
Agent Yes – I can see you are on tariff X.
Me (surprised) But can’t you see how much I spend or what on?
Agent No, I don’t have access to that part of the system. But can I tell you what tariffs we have?
Me (lost interest) Don’t have time now – can you email something to me, or point me at them on the web site?
Agent Sorry sir we are a phone only call centre.
Me I don’t have time for this at the moment. I’ll look on line.
[mental note to self – check out their tariffs and consider that move you were thinking about].

So ... I was initially well disposed to getting a call to check I wasn’t paying too much. But because the agent was put in the position of not having the right information or to be able to deal with me in the way I wanted, the net result was to encourage me to consider switching provider.
Because I spend a lot of my time talking to people in and around call centres, I can imagine there were lots of reasons for this that made “sense” at the time – such as that this team of agents can’t have access to the billing system because if contains sensitive information, or that agents generally don’t have email provided to them for all sorts of sensible concerns about managing channels of communication. However, the presumably unintended consequence is that the call to me had a pretty negative impact. This is unfortunate as it wouldn’t have been that much effort to mash up the solution the agent needed, giving them easy, safe access to suitably cut down applications and relevant information at the right point in the call
I’m sure there are better examples out there – would be good to hear about them.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Mondial Assurance – extending CTI for agents

Today we’ve announced that Corizon has been chosen by Mondial UK to simplify its agent desktops. To quote from the press release
The new solution will combine Mondial’s established desktop applications with its Cisco Agent Desktop infrastructure to create a simple set of screens that are easy to use, and crucially minimise the time to identify, validate and record customer interactions.... It will optimise and automate the process of entering customer information, increasing efficiency and providing a quicker service for the customer.
Apart from providing another proof point of the ROI on streamlining agent desktops, a couple of things seem to me to interesting about this solution
- It provides a great example of one of the “mashup patterns” we described a while ago in this blog – “Extending interaction management and CTI applications” in this case integrating the Cisco Agent Desktop
- It shows the versatility of mashups by being able to integrate desktop applications as well as web applications and web services

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Mashups, lightweight workflow and enterprise 2.0

Reading Andrew McAfee’s interesting post on lightweight workflow made me think again about how some of the trends in enterprise applications and enterprise 2.0 might fit together. In particular, as he points out there has been a realisation for a while that there is a

need for technology that spans the highly structured interactions baked into classic enterprise apps like ERP (in other words, their pre-defined workflows) and the totally unstructured interactions enabled by the 2.0 toolkit ... (blogs, wikis, facebook, etc.)
The post goes on to describe how, in the world of collaborative, ad hoc processes, there are really interesting things going on to address this need to bring data and functions out of the enterprise application world and into the collaborative / enterprise 2.0 zone. It cites products such as Google Wave, SAP Streamwork and Salesforce Chatter bringing application content and data into the conversations they power. I would also argue that these trends are nicely complemented by data-style enterprise mashups that make it easy to combine data to create dashboards and widgets.

However, I was also struck by some of the comments to the blog, specifically from Dan Keldsen
It seems we're finally getting solutions on the low-end (lightweight) of workflow, the traditional high-end (far more flexible than *most* need), but have instead of the classic bell curve bump in the middle (with a notch taken out for the chasm), well, we have essentially no-mans land....
What's the path from no workflow, to lightweight workflow, and on up to heavyweight workflow?
This is an important point. There is a risk that we’ve been focused at either end of the “long tail” – with enterprise 2.0 focused on no or lightweight workflow, while enterprise applications and BPM focus on the highly structured and complex. This isindeed a gap and dearth of solutions at the workgroup, line of business level, where teams such as contact center agents are left with complex, multi-application desktops that are hard to learn, slow to use and error prone. For these teams, processes can change frequently and the need for integration is at the UI level rather than for complex, long running transactions. While desktop scripting can go some way to alleviate these problems, it is the ability to create seamless process based mashups for these users that match their changing roles that is needed.

This style of mashup fixes the “no-man’s land” problem in two ways
  1. It provides tremendous ROI in its own right, making the jobs of users such as customer service employees more productive by providing previously unfeasible integration solutions
  2. It provides a stepping stone between the highly structured and highly ad-hoc. This can work in two directions – it provides an additional driver for the extraction and supply of the widgets needed in the ad hoc world, and it provides a means to “pave the cowpaths”. By this I mean a process whereby ad hoc processes can be mined for repeatable mashups, and mashups can be mined for future features or enterprise applications and BPM processes, allowing reusable components to be created and shared in response to real patterns of demand.
In other words, I think that if you add process based mashups to the equation, you get a step closer to a sensible end to end story.

The picture below is an attempt to summarise these ideas – feedback welcome!

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Friday, 9 April 2010

Usability and integration

Thomas Otter from Gartner recently made some great points about what really matters in delivering business applications – not just building good looking UI, but also focussing on the details of usability when things go wrong.

As Thomas points out, helping users with error handling and providing appropriate validation are frequently poor relations of application delivery. Another common symptom of this lack of user-centricity is forcing users to step outside an application to access additional data and transactions. When this happens, the number of things that can go wrong is multiplied and the user is again typically forced to cope for themselves.

Getting these points right at the desktop makes hard commercial sense for organisations such as contact centres. In my experience looking at desktop processes, they nearly always exhibit significant problems and opportunities for improvement, some of which can be addressed through tactical fixes, others of which require the creation of a simplified, seamless desktop that masks the underlying complexity. Acting on these opportunities can deliver a significant impact on productivity and “right first time” performance, as well as agent satisfaction and training times.

However, Thomas’ comment also carries a reminder for any integration of applications on the desktop. These solutions should be subject to the same test that he suggests – “tell me what happens when things stray from the happy path” - to make sure new usability problems aren’t being created where old ones are being removed. Worth bearing in mind when implementing integration of this kind.

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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Thoughts from Gartner CRM Summit

We’ve enjoyed an interesting first day at the Gartner CRM Summit in London.

Gartner’s overall assessment is that social CRM - community in customer service, social sales techniques and social media marketing - will be the most hyped segment of the CRM market (surprise!), and will see the most growth. However this will (surprise again!) still not be a major spending area - traditional salesforce automation and customer service contact center software, together with marketing automation will continue to take up the lion’s share with more than 85% of spending. In other words, the innovation must compete with the significant background “noise” of the demands of ongoing operations.

I think there is a parallel here to another of the dominant themes at the event - the “intent-driven enterprise”. There are significant challenges associated with this innovation that are being overcome
  • Making each customer’s value explicit
  • Getting marketing and business intelligence together to define customer
  • Understanding customer intentions in real time
  • Providing front-line employees with knowledge of customer value
However, I would add that again, all this innovation needs to be deployed against a challenging operational background. In particular, front-line employees who are struggling to use complex desktops to service customers often find it impossible to put value added strategies into practice. As a result, organisations need now more than ever to streamline and simplify these desktops in a way that cuts the noise level for the agents so that customers can be heard and the determined intentions acted on.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Improving the user experience

Integration technology has been on a journey that has radically improved agility and reduced TCO. It has moved from a manual craft to something more modular, reusable and business focused:
• Hiding complexity behind well defined and open interfaces that encourage reuse and sharing
• Replacing point to point with many to many
• Minimising the custom coding required for any particular solution
• Abstracting away complexity, becoming more model driven and “business technology” focused
• Adding management capabilities to monitor and improve usage

As a result, integration at the data and process levels have been transformed, and the enabling integration technologies have become widely adopted. This explains the popularity of approaches such as BPM.

However, these approaches still leave users stranded with too many applications on their desktops, including major enterprise applications that are complex and difficult to use because they are not dedicated to the task at hand. This is primarily because they do not extend to delivering the simple, intuitive, flexible UI required to make people more efficient and to reduce the cost of building and maintaining applications for people. If I want to create an integrated (composite) application for users in my business that spans several functional domains (such as billing, CRM and order management) then:
• I have to custom code the UI for all the functional domains and how they are to be combined, or i have to take a packaged application like CRM and begin to develop new screens that lock functionality from other domains into its code
• I have to do this each time I need a new solution
• There is no equivalent of a “process model” that lets me involve the business and make changes rapidly, and there’s no reuse or sharing at the UI level
• I’m on my own when it comes to measuring and monitoring usage

In other words integration for people has missed out on the principles above. Applications for users are still crafted individually, rather than being assembled. It’s only been economical to build / buy applications for the largest user groups or to deliver specific functional applications which the user must “swivel” between. Users and processes become inefficient, and as more and more point solutions build up on the desktop, developing and integration solution becomes harder, as functionality is baked into these applications. The success of SAAS applications actually re-inforce the proliferation of applications on the desktop with yet a new generation of applications.

The answer though is simple enough: extend the same principle applied to data and process integration all the way to the user interface and the building of user facing applications:
• Service enable ui : create UI services, well defined and open interfaces that encourage reuse and sharing rather than point to point integration
• Develop business friendly mode to orchestrate the UI services
• Provide management capabilities to monitor and improve usage

This is what enterprise mashups really ought to focus on: addressing the last mile of integration to make people more efficient.

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Friday, 12 February 2010

iPad: a return to web 1.0?

Interesting comments from Jay Rosen on the iPad and what it says about where Apple think the Internet is going: "In a way it is taking us back in web time to the read only web. We had advanced from web 1.0 to web 2.0 where users are producers. That is what YouTube is about, and blogging and social media. The users are producers of some of the most popular seems to be restoring people to the days when they were just the audience, when they were just the consumers of content. It is very hard to produce content on the iPad. Now that is interesting for something in 2010".

The 'consumption experience' of the Internet does need major improvement. Laptops and desktops of today are not the most effective, the most pleasing way to absorb content, be it a web page, a video or a film. The mobile experience of the web, despite major progress with smartphones, is still very limited and not entirely satisfactory. Driving a much better consumption experience seems to me to be essential going forward. However, does this mean a return to web 1.0? Of course not! People will continue to create content. What it means though is a trend towards delivering fit for purpose applications and devices, a move away from "do it all, jack of all trade" devices and applications, so full of features it becomes almost impossible to use for all but a few specialists.

What does this mean for the Enterprise? Web 2.0 also had a major impact on enterprises by allowing users, employees to generate and share their own content. The growth of wikis, collaboration and micro-blogging is a testament to that. Some thought this would go as far as allowing users to 'generate' their own applications. A significant part of the early focus of enterprise mashups was to provide simple enough tools to allow end users to do just this. Did this make sense? Of course, allowing users to personalise their desktops, to develop dashboards, to manipulate and create knowledge from data would add value. However, I never thought end users would want, or should, generate their own enterprise applications beyond dashboards. Would you want call centre agents to have the freedom to develop their own desktops? How would a process be enforced to deliver a consistent customer experience (without even starting to deal with scalability, data integrity and security)?

A major improvement to the "consumption" of applications was what was really needed. A better way to deliver fit for purpose desktops to users, dedicated to the task at hand, tailored to the need of each user. This could not be achieved without major changes to the approach of developing applications for people. It required analysts, process specialists and business owners - i.e. the ones who understand best how people need to do their job every day - to be involved in developing these applications. They needed to be allowed to participate fully and take control of the specifications and delivery of the application in a collaborative way with IT. It also required "stripped-down" applications dedicated to specific use cases and user groups, with intuitive and simple user interface to guide the user through the task at hand and to make the application easy to use and learn. This is what web 2.0 for the enterprise can bring: a new, cost effective way to develop applications for people where the "consumption experience" is significantly improved.

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Friday, 5 February 2010

The Agent Desktop – the elephant in the contact centre?

A recent paper from Gartner (Top Business Processes for Customer Service, 2010 to 2012 - subscription required) about customer service process priorities adds to my impression that the agent desktop - and in particular the complexities of using the applications on it - is in danger of being the “elephant in the room” when improving service delivery in the contact centre.

The report discusses the process improvement priorities for customer service, looking at problem resolution, feedback management, workforce optimization and field service processes. Within the first category it examines agent facilitated, self service and collaborative problem resolution. As it suggests, it is essential – in both financial and customer experience terms- to move as much interaction as possible to the self service and social arenas. However, most organizations will still need high quality agent facilitated support, either because of the complexity of the issue or because of customer preference.

In this arena it cites a familiar set of challenges
  • Problem definition and understanding — both by the customer and the agent
  • Process handoff steps, both intra- and inter-departmental within the organization
  • Transfer of customer from one department to another, or transferring from one channel to another
  • Ability to resolve the problem for the customer
  • Cost to the organization of resolving the problem for the customer
  • Time to resolve the issue for the customer
  • Keeping the customer informed of the status of the issue resolution
  • Tracking inquires linked to the same issues over multiple contacts

I completely agree that the technologies cited as relevant to addressing these challenges - Call handling and case management, trouble ticketing, training, knowledge management, cobrowsing, automated call distribution (ACD), call recording and workforce optimization – are important. When it comes to the “moment of truth” and the customer is on the phone, the only thing that really matters is “do I have access to the knowledge, information and tools needed to fix the problem?”. And for most agents this all comes via the desktop, which will typically be cluttered with CRM, KM, trouble ticketing, case management etc as well as a set of operational applications such as billing, tests, returns management, field service bookings, logistics, order management and diagnostics. So we have all this investment in systems to help the agent, but then deliver them through an unusable clutter that frequently undermines the bigger strategic objective.

Like the proverbial elephant, this rarely gets mentioned, even though it’s a fundamental determinant of the agent’s performance and hence customer service. I can think of a few possible reasons
  • We are conditioned to having to work this way
  • Technologies that have offered a solution have failed, reinforcing acceptance
  • “The agents can manage” so we can act like it doesn't matter

This elephant needs to be sent on its way if the challenges are to be met. We need to give the agents the right tools, not handicap them with horrendous desktops. Why do you think we tolerate his presence?

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Friday, 29 January 2010

Ambitions to Perform

I attended an excellent event delivered by Sabio, one of our strategic partners, last week. Focused around the Sabio Best in Class benchmarking framework called Insight, the agenda covered individual areas of focus for Contact Centres each illustrated perfectly by a case study. Targeted at Operations Directors, IT and Senior Contact Centre Management, the event covered Demand Management, Automation, Accessibility, Optimisation and Efficiency in the Contact Centre from a strategic and underlying technology perspective. The balance between prescriptive advice, practical reality and input from the attendees was refreshing. As were the case study presentations, for once not all about how great things are but illustrating real examples of the progress and real performance improvements that each company had made, with the recognition that there were still many things that need to be addressed and that much of the time they were fire fighting.

HomeServe talked enthusiastically about how they had improved resource optimisation through forecasting and identifying the key factors that influence call volumes. However they accepted that their forecasts would never be 100% accurate because of factors that they couldn’t predict such as the more recent freak weather conditions. They talked about the progress they had made in multi-skilling through simplifying the desktop, making it easier to train agents and to broaden their remits. The result of this was their ability to successfully blend work between teams to address forecast anomalies better but recognised that there was still progress to be made here to make it seamless.

Egg spoke about managing demand and driving greater automation, their desire to move customers to self service wherever possible whilst admitting that in some cases automation was not possible and that the customer would have to call and speak to someone. Egg uses extensive measurement and monitoring processes to identify contact trends that can be addressed by the business. On the whole their move to self service continues to be successful for the majority of transactions but they explained that it was important that if the customer did have to resort to calling that the integration between the channels was seamless and the customer service levels were consistent.

In a very energetic presentation from Lego, the senior customer services director described in detail how Lego were working towards achieving better customer accessibility. Lego were unique in their desire to increase direct customer engagement to ensure that they continue to grow and meet customer needs. The recognition that their customers were multi-lingual, spanned generations and that the majority of Lego is sold during what they called Main Season or to the rest of us – Christmas has massively impacted their contact centre strategy. They needed to achieve improved customer contact across multiple segments whilst recognising and developing Lego as an emotional brand that their customers felt part of and involved with. Something that they realised they lost sight of in the early part of last decade, but had since 2007 been striving to put right with some excellent success rates.

Finally a presentation from Telefonica O2 Ireland that talked about delivering operational efficiency through measuring in call performance, aligning the agent with the customer needs and the work that they have been doing to segment the customers and align service requirements to those segments but doing this within the unique challenges of the local market.

These sessions in addition to some interesting conversations with many attendees led me to believe that the priorities of senior contact centre directors both in operations and IT are many and varied but that the underlying principle they are looking to achieve is the right level of customer service.

There are many areas on which they can focus their attentions in order to achieve their business strategy, technology being one of them. This led me to think that the key defining factor in any technology implementation within the contact centre has to be its impact on the customer. There are so many technology options that will deliver clear business benefits but where should they focus to improve performance – it was made clear that they should begin with the customer journey looking at the major pain points. Ultimately much of that customer journey is controlled by what is going on at the agents desktop. There are some technologies that will have a more wide reaching impact than others, Enterprise Mashups being one where quick wins can be made and strategic value delivered. One thing that was clear is that companies with extensive sector and technology expertise as demonstrated by Sabio can clearly help to bring together the strategy and technology elements to address these pain points, reduce the fire fighting and help contact centres to meet their ambitions to perform.

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Friday, 22 January 2010

“Obvious Mashups?”

I have been reading Jack Trout's "In Search of the Obvious, the antidote for today's marketing mess". Trout's view is that to succeed in differentiating your offering, you need to look for 'obvious solutions' that will set your products apart from your competitors in a way that is equally obvious to your customers. To help in 'identifying the obvious (sic)', he devised 5 tests, the tests of Obviousness of your marketing strategy or new product concept:
1. The problem when solved will be simple - the obvious is nearly always simple, so simple that generations of people looked at it without seeing it
2. Is the time ripe?
3. Does it check with human nature? i.e. would everyone understand it, without requiring any specialized knowledge?
4. Does it explode in people's mind? i.e. "why didn't I think of that?"
5. Put it on paper - does it still make sense when put on paper?

Trout's focus is mainly on consumer products for both differentiation within a category and for new product development. I thought it would be interesting to check enterprise mashups against the principles highlighted by Trout (ignoring the last one!):

1. Enterprise mashups turn integration on its head. They take the often abused but appealing “lego brick” analogy of SOA at face value and make it work. Pieces of IT are really laid out like bricks – simple, visual and tangible - and are then simply combined to create useful new solutions. And it turns out that a lot of very valuable integration can be done by using these building blocks in a straightforward fashion, without the usual paraphernalia and complexity of integration. Simple – it just took the courage to do it the obvious way (and to figure out what the right sort of lego bricks are)!

2. Is the time ripe?
Is integrating applications to make people more efficient a major issue? One only needs to look at the mess on most contact centre desktops (and the associated inefficiencies and costs) to agree. Do customers need a way to achieve this without major investment? Of course, especially in today’s economic climate. Do companies need to combine internal legacy applications with new generations of web-based services? Definitely, whether it’s to capitalize on social web trends or to benefit from cloud computing.

3. Does it check with human nature?
People understand the problems, associate with them, and see the value - everyone has experienced the issue of working with multiple applications to complete a task. Everyone has been on the receiving end of the same issue when dealing with contact centres. We intuitively understand the idea of combining the different and relevant bits of applications – a bit like creating a collage of the desktop - to make a job easier.

4. Does it explode in people's mind? When you show people what mashups do, the light switches on. The issue is almost the opposite: if this is so obvious, why has this not been done before? Together with the history of failure in integrating effectively applications for people, customers initially tend to think this is too obvious and too easy - there must be a catch.

I think Enterprise Mashups pass the tests. Obviously I would, being at Corizon. Let me know whether you agree.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Impact of Data Ubiquity

Part 2

This blog post is co-written with Lee Provoost from the social business consulting firm Headshift and started over a bowl of porridge

The end-user of your product doesn't care what kind of data silos are laying underneath your IT system. They just want the information they need to do their work, but very importantly: taking in account the context of the work! Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes, your customer doesn’t talk to you in silos and certainly doesn’t want to be treated in silos. Have you ever called your bank, only to be passed to several different departments? We know already that Interactions aren’t Connected and ultimately we are still running processes as if we are in the industrial age – an assembly line of handoff after handoff.

This is the same as going to a McDonalds and asking for a ‘Happy Meal’ but being told to get a drink from one counter, a sandwich from another, fries from a third and the toy will be sent directly from Mattel – oh and you want a straw, napkins and sauce – there’s self service for that. More of a Meal than Happy! Not quite so fast or convenient food. What happens when the meal then changes, there's a new toy, you add something else to the box - how is the existing process able to cope with changes easily?

We have now identified the impact of data ubiquity:
  1. the corporate IT department being challenged by huge data silos (lock-in) and disparate solutions with complex processes that rely on humans to be the integration layer
  2. the business end-user dealing with too many different and complex applications and not being able to make sense of all the data (filter failure), subsequently not being able to deliver the process
In many businesses the delivery of an end to end business process relies on users accessing multiple software applications that combine to deliver the complete process. The result of this can be disjointed processes, mistakes, slow access to required information, no single customer view and ultimately a dysfunctional customer experience that the business users can’t impact.

So, the goal we're trying to achieve is to provide business end-users Enterprise 2.0 systems with meaningful contextual information in a simple and elegant way – we like to call this fit for purpose!

Mashing it together

As a technologist, the first reaction would be to try to solve this data silo problem. (Let's ignore for a second the old approach to create a monolithic repository, called the black hole, where we dump everything in.) How can we make it more accessible, can we wrap a web services around it, can we apply on a large scale the principles of Service-Oriented Architecture and Model-View-Controller, can we add an open data API interface to it, etc. That will most likely keep us busy for the next coming years. Wake up call: your customers are not going to wait two years till you have your internal issues solved. This approach also often instigates new shadow projects that proclaim to deliver tactical, quick win solutions whilst waiting for the 'nirvana'.

As a business end-user, you're faced with a proliferation of applications. A lot of time and money have been invested in building these, so... why not starting by reusing the useful bits of the existing apps to get immediate value?

This is the approach pioneered by Corizon. An user-centered focus approach, starting with the end users and working down - understanding the process in which they go through to complete a task, be it solve a customer enquiry in the front office or manage work in the back office - referred to as the user process. All too often, technology's answer to a problem is upgrade to the latest version as it has all these new features. The problem with this is that this doesn't necessarily resolve the original problems, complex process, too many applications.

Once the user process is clearly defined, we then (or can in parallel) look at working up - understanding what data & applications we need access to to effectively and efficiently complete the defined user processes. We will now understand the pattern, what gets the most use, by who, how. This firmly puts the cross hairs on which applications to enable for reuse. Unlike traditional data re-use approaches, this approach enables the useful & required bits of applications, but also defines reusable UI and stores these in a library of reusable services.

Now we have two key elements defined, a clear user process and a set of reusable UI services. Corizon's solution then allows you to mashup these to create the optimal interface, be it a standalone UI or consumed as a widget in your Enterprise 2.0 application. Adding new, or removing legacy applications becomes a much less complex task - the UI Services approach allows you to interchange these without affecting the interface.

Good is good enough

At first sight, this approach might sound a bit unconventional, but we'd like to invite you to an excellent post by Peter Evans-Greenwood (@pevansgreenwood) that talks about "The Price of Regret".

Building the big, scalable perfect solution in the first place might be more efficient from an engineering point of view. However, if we make the delivery effort so large that we miss the window of opportunity, then we’ve just killed any chance of helping the business to capitalise on the opportunity. ... Size the solution to match the business opportunity, and accept that there may need to be some rework in the future. Make the potential need for rework clear to the business so that there are no surprises. Don’t use potential rework in the future as a reason to do nothing. Or to force approval of a strategic infrastructure project which will deliver sometime in the distant future, a future which may never come.

One thing we've learned in this consulting business is that most of the times, good is good enough since perfection takes an eternity.

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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Data Ubiquity Threatening Usefulness of Enterprise 2.0

This blog post is co-written with Lee Provoost from the social business consulting firm Headshift and started over a bowl of porridge
Part 1....

"Content and data are everywhere. People are creating and curating content like never before. As data storage becomes cheaper, businesses are storing,archiving, and mining more data than previously possible. The increasing openness of APIs and data portability make more enterprise data available for both consumers and employees to consume. Free flow of data also allows businesspartner relationships to be readily analyzed and optimized." (Emerging Opportunities in Social Business Design)
Filter Failure
With large corporations storing more and more data (be it for compliance, regulatory or internal mining purposes) in their Enterprise 2.0 (and overall IT) systems, we have the danger of getting big data silos or disparate solutions. To make matters worse, they are often stored locally in systems that are owned by different business units with different purposes. So, imagine that you have invested a lot of money and effort in a knowledge management system, just to realize after 3 years that it does not suit your needs anymore and you need something else? If you have a couple of thousands of files, it's still quite manageable. However, if you work in a very knowledge-intensive organisation, three years of data might have accumulated into several hundreds of gigabytes of data. Good luck with that migration.

Then go through a merger with your competitor or launch a whole load of new products or services and try to gain consensus and consistency across these disparate solutions.
With the increasing importance (and increasing amount) of data floating around your organisation, it becomes more and more important to think about open standards for data interoperability. Accept the reality of the day that a lot of your data is stored in silos. What we need to think of now is how we are going to make this data step-by-step accessible so that we don't need to do tedious and error-prone data migrations when the system doesn't cope with our demands anymore.

Perhaps to your surprise, I'd argue that the data silo lock-in is not your biggest problem. No, the inability to intelligently manage and reuse this volume of content in a meaningful way is a much bigger danger that has a direct impact on your business. Filter failure arises when individuals are unable to synthesize and understand the vast amounts of information being generated by an organisation.

Where the problem used to be getting enough information, now it's being able to make sense of it all. So in addition to filtering the underlying plethora of data and subsequent applications, you also have to be an inline translator. For anyone dealing with end users directly eg a front line customer agent dealing with lots of applications, they will always speak in their own language and never that of your systems, applications or processes. More importantly, they have no reason to.

The interface is the product
But what exactly are we trying to solve here? Why would we even care about this problem? Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happens perfectly coined it in the following cartoon:

Even this is being kind – the average knowledge worker will use between 6 and 15 of these apps, we have experienced people using upwards of 30 because of these data silos. The typical enterprise application looks much like "Your company's app" as shown in the cartoon. There is such a vast amount of data flowing around your company that you often end up with these kind of user interfaces. Instead of achieving the goal of bringing powerful information to the fingertips of the business end-user, it just confuses people. It just makes people unhappy and unproductive. For every new channel, (email, web, social channels, ...) and for every new product, the quick answer is often to bring in a new additional application. This all adds to the complexity and mess on the knowledge workers desktop.

And just in case you would forget, an IBM Design tweet nailed it:

Part 2 of this blog which will be published next week will go on to describe how the issues of data silos and increasingly numbers of application interfaces can be addressed.

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Monday, 21 December 2009

Corizon introduction video

We've created a new video that provides an introduction to Corizon enterprise mashups and their use.

Please check it out and let us know what you think.

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Friday, 11 December 2009


It’s always good to be recognized, and Corizon’s inclusion in the top 10 Contact Center Technologies from Call Center Helper magazine is great feedback directly from the market. It is especially significant when you remember how varied and complex the contact center technology industry is.

This provides another piece of tangible evidence of two changes that we’ve been seeing all year:
  • Fixing the desktop has continued to move towards the top the call center priority list as it is becoming recognised as a critical factor in many productivity and customer experience delivery issues
  • Enterprise mashups have jumped from “is that a serious business tool for important operational applications?” to being a recognized approach that is seen as a very effective way to integrate applications for people
It’s also testament to the great job that our partners, consultants and engineers do in creating implementations that make a significant difference to the work of contact center agents.

So, thanks to those who voted for us; for those who didn’t, we have plenty of ideas about how to change that in 2010!

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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

IT becoming more important to improve business efficiencies according to McKinsey survey

In a recent global survey of CIO, CTOs as well as non IT executives, McKinsey found that, during the recession, IT has become more important to improving business efficiencies. 39% of those surveyed now see the primary role of IT to improve business efficiency vs 31% a year ago.

This bodes well for software and other IT products focused on improving business processes, making people more efficient and increasing productivity. Furthermore, in 2010, more than 45% of respondents expect to increase IT investment confirming our view that when a short payback and low operating costs can be demonstrated, companies are increasingly interested in investing in new IT projects. Reducing overall management costs of IT itself remains high with 60% of respondents expecting operating expenses to decline or remain steady. Financial services is the most bullish sector with regards to IT investment.

non-IT executives continue to say they want to forge a closer partnership with IT in order to improve performance and better manage risks and disruptions that lie ahead.

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Friday, 4 December 2009

Allowing for the human element

When people must work with business applications and processes, it seems there is continual need to strike a balance between completely rigid process definition (when people become pure input / output devices) and completely ad hoc behaviour (no repeatability, management etc.).

This is one of the themes being taken up in the BPM world at the moment. For example as Jim Sinur recently pointed out:
Today BPM is really into preplanned and rigid process models. While the underlying technologies are agile and explicit rules and processes are being leveraged, process models need to move from fixed to variable behavior. This will probably start with collaboration points in a mostly fixed process, work to loosely bound process snippets to dynamically created and executed flows that are bound by governance constraints. These kind of processes allow for BPM to extend its benefits to a larger group of work activity that is not so predictable. This will likely include collaboration across organizations and into value chains that touch different legal entities.
There is an interesting link to be made to some of the thinking published about how to improve quality and profitability in environments that rely on people interactions –such as customer service. For example Human Sigma looks at the effects of variability in the effectiveness of human customer-interactions

Human Sigma contends that as an organization tries to standardize processes and scripts for management teams to follow, scripting employee behavior does not really enhance the quality of the employee-customer interaction. In fact, it may worsen it by emphasizing the steps to do the job instead of the outcome the process is supposed to produce. [Six] Sigma followers look at the manufacturing world and conclude companies can improve processes and systems because the inputs they use to make things can be kept at predictable and repeatable levels. But human systems in business – such as the employee-customer encounter – do not conform to such predictable rules. Sales and service organizations in particular, with a high degree of direct employee-customer interaction, cannot expect to follow such conforming practices as those in the manufacturing world.
When we think about providing software solutions to support agent-customer interactions, there are therefore a number of important conclusions
  • We need to balance providing “enough” guidance to simplify and safeguard what a user such as an agent is doing, while leaving sufficient freedom for the user to be able to focus on the end goal- solving the customer’s issue - not the steps mandated.
  • The engagement level of the agent with the business has been shown to be key to quality and has a significant effect on the profitability of interactions. The desktop environment provides a very tangible example of how much the organization “cares” about its employees (or doesn’t).
  • Measurement and monitoring are key to understanding and improving the quality of interactions. The more we can do to understand the hard and soft aspects of customer service, the better chance we have of improving service and performance.
In fact this could almost be a manifesto for using enterprise mashups in the contact centre- building high quality desktops with the involvement of the business, guiding activities while providing freedom to act, providing the means to continually adjust!

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Friday, 27 November 2009

The futility of call centre coaching (or why not every attempt to cure the same symptoms is equal)

The first part of the title isn’t original, but it’s certainly attention grabbing! It comes from an article by Denis Adsit. Apart from its title, I found it interesting because it has implications for the choices that call centre managers have to make when they are looking to improve performance. Anybody wanting to improve call handling time or first call resolution (to take but two common measures) is confronted by a wide range of options - all offering the same results – so it’s not easy to know where to attack.
There’s a fair bit of maths in the article, but the discussion makes the situation clear without worrying about that too much! The point is not that training or coaching are inherently bad, it’s just that they are never ending activities that are constantly diluted by agent turnover:
The conclusion … is that coaching in systems with a broad mix of tenure and even a modest level of turnover will have little effect on the performance of the entire system. To improve the outputs of a system, managers must find an approach to process improvement which lifts the performance of all the agents at the same time, not one at a time.
So, everything else being equal, it’s better to improve processes and systems that affect the whole agent population than to focus on activities that address agent (or presumably customer) problems one at a time. The effectiveness of the desktop is perhaps the prime example of the former. It is a key determinant of how easy / hard it is to get up to speed and perform effectively as an agent. Until recently, the problems of integrating applications for people has meant that everything else has been far from equal in the area of desktop streamlining, and a fear of high risks, costs and slow projects have stood in the way of improvement. This might perhaps explain the variety of other approaches (even if they are “futile”!!) , and indicates the size of the opportunity that exists with modern, pragmatic enterprise mashup technologies

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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Integrating applications for people

Dale Vile, from Freeform Dynamics, has written an interesting article discussing whether packaged applications are becoming less relevant:
Whether it’s SOA purists telling us that we’ll all be self-assembling solutions from components, enthusiasts of modern development environments wanting to build everything from scratch, or the SaaS evangelists saying it’s all going to go into the cloud anyway, it is trendy to dismiss application software packages as being out of touch with the needs of the 21st century….but the truth is that both vendors and their customers can only move so quickly, and while the latest incarnations of ERP, CRM and other packaged applications promise a lot, migrations and new implementations consume both time and resources.
It almost seems a response to a very frank article from ZapThink advocating the move away from packaged applications to self-implemented SOA solutions.

I agree with Dale - I don’t see companies in the current economic environment looking to rip and replace their current applications and systems. If they are, then they are likely to be looking at SAAs, but as Ray Wang emphasizes, this does not remove the integration issue:
Rapid SaaS Adoption Will Lead To A Repeat Of 1990’s Best Of Breed Integration Challenges’ and ‘Given these scenarios, CIO’s and line of business apps will need to rely on stronger enterprise architecture and integration in hybrid deployments. In fact, au contraire on the death of SOA!
So what everyone seems to agree on is the increased need for integration. However, resolving the integration challenge is far from being fully addressed today. A big gap still remains: integrating applications for people. Contact centres are a good example of this, but I would venture to say that most people involved in supporting key processes end up having to use multiple applications to do their jobs. SOA technologies do not yet address this problem: user specific solutions end up having to be custom coded, in effect ending up building new silos and legacy applications, destroying the point of establishing a flexible and re-usable architecture in the first place.

To address this issue, SOA technologies and approaches need to be extended to the user interface and user interactions. This needs to happen in ways that suit human centric processes, where change and speed of adaptations are key. Current SOA programmes are generally bottom up, complex and relatively slow to get off the ground. Much more agile, fleet of foot solutions to integration need to be provided. Solutions that can start delivering value in days but without building new legacy.

This is where enterprise mashups have a major role to play. They provide not only an approach to ‘clear out their application integration backlog more quickly and at less cost’ (Anthony Bradley), they also provide a route to delivering more effectively a modern, flexible architecture. How? By extending the SOA concepts of composition of services all the way to the User Interface. In other words they provide the capabilities to turn valuable UI (from legacy applications, modern solutions, SAAS applications) into re-usable components that can easily, quickly and cost effectively be assembled into user specific solutions. Whether your implementing new SAAS applications or need to evolve from legacy systems, enterprise mashups provide the answer to integrating applications for people .

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Billions of dollars lost to poor customer service

Interesting research from Genesys has just been published and is given a good write up in by Stuart Lauchlan. First, I must say they deserve ‘la Palme d’Or’ for the highest number one can find in a customer service press release: $338.5bn! Having said that, I think it is interesting to quantify the actual costs resulting from underperforming customer service in this way. Where do the issues stem from?
"The biggest problems that customers experience and which undermines the customer satisfaction levels are familiar ones. They include being trapped in automated self-service, having to wait too long for service, having to repeat themselves and having to talk to company representative who lack the skill to deal with their problems. On the other hand, most consumers surveyed argued that they would be most satisfied when dealing with a competent, live customer service rep."

Delivering a positive customer experience, enabling customers to engage with a competent, live customer service rep is actually very difficult. It requires providing the agent with systems that not just deliver the right information at the right time but also guides him or her through the steps needed to resolve the customer query. This is the only way to allow the agent to focus on the customer interaction and ensure satisfaction. The most critical aspect is an effective user interface that prompts the agent in an intuitive way through each step required to complete the task and resolve the query. What is the main obstacle to achieve this? The multiplicity and complexity of systems that agents are forced to use.

The other interesting point here is that customers prefer to talk to a live person, to a human being, to resolve their queries beyond the most simple tasks. This reinforces our belief that contact centers are and will continue to be essential in maximizing customer value. Trying to resolve performance issues by automating away the contact centre does not seem to be the right answer. Providing agents with the right tools that make their jobs easier is.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Comment on "Enterprise Mashups in Transition"

Anthony Bradley from Gartner provided some interesting views on how he sees the enterprise mashup market developing this week in his blog posting: Enterprise Mashups in Major Transition.

The transition he has identified is chiefly concerned with a shift in the use cases he is seeing that drive demand. As Anthony says:

Just about everyone, including me was talking about enterprise mashups as a new paradigm for end user computing where business users would rapidly assemble and reassemble applications in a highly dynamic fashion.

And then…

… a shift in the need began. Instead of asking about end user empowerment, clients began inquiring about how to reduce integration costs with mashups. Some organizations were trying to use mashups to clear out their application integration backlog more quickly and at less cost. Others were facing new integration challenges due to mostly unexpected mergers and acquisitions.

This accords with what many of Corizon’s customers and partners are looking to enterprise mashups to provide in the first instance. I would add that this shift does not move the interest in enterprise mashups purely to the IT domain. Fixing integration problems does not only concern IT but also business unit leaders in that they have the potential to greatly impact the efficiency of their teams. In today’s environment, many businesses are looking for way to deliver a step up in people productivity with short and low risks projects: enterprise mashups are perfectly suited to that.

Finally, this type of pragmatic integrations will naturally create a pool of reusable mashable components if done with the right technology. Once created (and paid for) thanks to these projects, these components will make it easier for end users to create their own mashups in a safe way, with the buy in from IT. So the nirvana of end user empowerment is perhaps not as distant as Anthony fears!

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Why are contact centre desktops so broken - part 2

This posting is the second part of my colleague Toby Baker's observations based on his work with contact centres and their desktop integration problems.

My last blog asked why contact centre desktops are so broken, and tried to explain why. This one suggests what we could do about it.

Let’s re-cap – the main problems are:
  • There are too many apps on the desktop. The average is 6, I have seen 60.
  • The data is all over the place – across multiple screens and apps.
  • No standard User Processes – it’s left up to the user to figure out how to make it all work.

So why is this a problem?
So many reasons! Here are the main ones:
  • Complex ALT-TAB, COPY-PASTE operations means longer call times, longer hold times, higher abandon rate
  • Lots of applications means lots of training
  • Lots of double-entry means lots of errors
  • Hard to find data means lower first call resolution
  • Lack of standard process means compliance is more challenging
  • System-centricity, rather than customer-centricity means lower customer satisfaction.
So what can we do about it?

1 - Look at the user processes you have, from a customer and agent point of view, and see where the bottlenecks are.

  • How much ALT-TAB and COPY-PASTE do you see?
  • How many screens do your agents have to go through?
  • How many logins do your agents have to remember?
Imagine if all this complexity could be removed – how much time could be saved? What would be the benefit of automating and optimizing this process?

2 - Decide which user process to improve first, and figure out what the ideal process is. Create a roadmap towards that ideal process, creating early fixes that create payback fast. Involve your users, and start building a business case:

  • What could you do with the call handling time that you save?
  • What would it mean if your new agents became fully competent sooner?
  • What would happen to your abandon rate, FCR or PCA30 if you did this?
3 - Split the problem into two halves: The user processes and the applications underneath. User processes change at a different rate from system interfaces, and you need to separate the two to deliver fit for purpose interfaces to your agents. Design the desired user processes working with analysts and business, then work with it to turn the relevant “bits” of applications into the building blocks of the solution.
  • Add to your business case the benefit of being able to change screen flow and therefore user processes quickly
  • Imagine how much benefit there is in re-using the everything you build in subsequent projects
4 - Start a project to build a model office, and start proving your business case. See what can be achieved quickly when you implement those quick fixes on the way to the optimized User Process.

Follow these suggestions, and the problems caused by broken contact centre desktops will start to disappear very quickly!

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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Why are contact centre desktops so broken?

My colleague, Toby Baker has created this guest posting based on his observations from working with Corizon's customers and partners applying enterprise mashups to integration problems in contact centres.

I spend a lot of time in contact centres, analyzing applications in use on the desktop, and see the same challenges and issues again and again. This is my top ten:
  1. Too many applications, each with their own login, UI and screen layout
  2. Applications that time out when they are used, forcing another login
  3. Applications with too many screens, each in a tab, sub-tab or sub-sub-tab
  4. Applications that require way too many clicks to get the job done
  5. Applications that show you the customer name on the first screen, only to not show it on all subsequent screens, forcing the user to write it down on paper
  6. Applications that perform so badly the agent has to become an expert in ad-libbing
  7. Screens where the information is way down below the bottom of the screen, or all the way across to the right
  8. Screens that are so crowded with information, it’s hard to pick out what you need
  9. Screens that are so visually unappealing it makes them hard to use
  10. “Customer Records” that are split across many applications and so require a large amount of copy/alt-tab/paste to see the whole picture
Everyone knows that a unified desktop is a good idea, and fixing the ten problems above is a good thing. So why is it so hard to do? Let’s look at the problem in more detail:

First of all, the applications - why are there so many of them?
  1. Companies merge, acquire and get acquired. Technology stacks don’t get integrated quickly, or at all.
  2. Core CRM applications have huge programmes associated with them to implement front- and back-end CRM processes. It takes years to get round to doing “the other apps” so we end up with original apps as well as a new CRM front end.
  3. To stay ahead of the competition, enterprises launch new products and services before the core applications can really support them, so new applications are built.
  4. Agents build their own applications to help navigate through the complex desktop. These are known as “Shadow IT” or “Guerrilla” applications.
  5. Technology is “improving” all the time. There are new widgets and frameworks and standards and approaches that IT tries to keep up with.
Secondly, why is the data all over the place? Why is the thing that I want buried deep, across multiple screens or a few scrolls away? Why are apps so hard to use?
  1. Databases organize information in a way that works for databases. Customers have orders, addresses, contact details. Orders have statuses, products, dates. Products have prices, catalogue entries. All too often, applications use the structure of the database to drive the structure of the screens. Mostly, users don’t look at information in the same way as computers, and nor do customers when they are asking for it.
  2. The tools used to create applications make it easy to use the data layout to drive the screen layout.
  3. Tabs, tabs, tabs. It seems like the right way to organize information, but demands change, so it rapidly becomes the wrong way to organize information.
  4. It’s sometimes easier to add something to a screen than it is to create a new screen. You then get a crowded screen with loads of unnecessary fields on it.
  5. The people designing the applications understand about data. The people who use the applications understand about the servicing of customers and their products. There is a mis-match here!
  6. The people building applications don’t sit down with call centre advisors enough. If they did, they would not build apps in the way that they do!

Thirdly, why do I have to look in lots of places? Why aren’t the sequences of activities I need to go through - the "user processes" - catered for?
  1. User processes change faster than apps do. Customer service organizations manage sales processes, retention processes, diagnostic and fix processes. They need to learn based on what works and what does not work. They need respond to market conditions, competition, regulations. Importantly, they need to do this without changing systems. Unfortunately, as user processes are all too often wired in to applications (or on paper), this is too hard to do.
  2. Sometimes it’s easier to create a new application than modify an existing one.
  3. “One size fits all” does not work in a customer service organization where you have a variation in process across each user group. Maybe you have retention, inbound, outbound, first line and second line. Maybe you have organized teams based on product specialty. Either way, using traditional development techniques, it’s almost impossible – or very costly – to create applications that are tailored to the needs of each user group.

Any more thoughts? Please leave a comment. Toby will be back with more on addressing these problems in a future blog.

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Friday, 16 October 2009

Quick thoughts from Oracle OpenWorld

Just come back from Oracle Open World 2009, where the atmosphere was very different from last year: the key focus was on making things works with a lot less hype. Most of the Oracle keynotes I attended insisted, demo after demo, on the progress made in integrating different applications from the portfolio with fusion middleware. The CRM team did a great job in demonstrating new features and functionality delivered in the latest releases. Fusion Apps were announced but remained relatively low key. One key differentiation from the existing apps seem the clear focus on user experience. Early analyst feedback seem to confirm the success achieved there ( see Ray Wang or Paul Hammerman)

The feedback from customers was also focused on integration and innovation to take costs out. One key theme was "instant gratification": looking for technology and projects that would deliver very short term benefits at low risks but without building new legacy. Retiring legacy applications seem high on the agenda as well.

In walking the Exhibition Floor, it seemed less product companies were exhibiting than last year with SIs and other specialist consulting firms having replaced them. One exception was the presence of with a large booth and keynote to boot. Talk about extreme coopetition! The scale of OOW was as impressive as last year and the organization flawless which was no small achievement considering that more than 40,000 people attended. The power of OOW remained in the great potential for networking and meeting customers, partners and analysts. We had many very productive conversations in a few packed days which made the trip more than worthwhile.

Many good reviews were written about OOW. I have selected a few below that I thought were particularly worthwhile reading:

- Paul Greenberg
- Denis Pombriant
- Esteban Ekolski
- Michael Fauscette

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Thoughts on Forrester Business Technology conference: lean times and enterprise mashups

Last week David and I attended the Forrester Business Technology Forum in Chicago. The main theme of the conference was adopting “lean” approaches to IT – which seems a particularly appropriate term for the lean times we find ourselves in.

The lean concept applies across the full range of activities performed by an IT department, but I was particularly struck by the discussion on its use in application development in John Rymer and Dave West's session*. Four key ingredients were seen as essential to lean software:
• Making sure deliverables are “fit for purpose” for the business problem at hand
• A clear focus on hard, measured value
• Simplifying the delivery platform – moving away from overbloated infrastructure stacks if they aren’t needed
• Allowing efficient evolution – avoiding stovepipes without creating undue overhead

Overall, this combination of getting quickly to the right, “just enough” solution and then improving and reusing, while measuring all the time is both powerful, and with the benefit of hindsight obvious! However, it is sobering to remember how far from this approach so many enterprise application development and integration projects are.

Much of “getting to lean” is about methodologies, management techniques and people. However, the right technology for the right problem can provide powerful enablers if chosen appropriately – another key point from the sessions. Discussions at the conference confirmed that - when it comes to integrating applications for people - process based enterprise mashups can provide a key to a leaner approach:
• Encouraging building directly from the desired user requirements under the control of the business and process owners
• Allowing user and process execution to be clearly benchmarked and measured to show improvements
• Pragmatic, light-touch, standards based integration
• A first, “just good enough to make a different solution” in days, followed by iterative improvements and spinning out reusable “building blocks” as a natural by-product

Lean is an important theme. Using enterprise mashups won’t get you there by itself, but it encourages and helps you to work in a lean way – which can’t be a bad thing!

* How can lean software enable you to better serve the business by John Rymer and Dave West, Thursday 8 October 2009, #BTF09

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Thursday, 8 October 2009

The contact centre dilemna

Recent studies have highlighted the current dilemma most companies have with contact centres: they are both critical in maximising customer value and considered poor in meeting customer expectations. A YouGov survey conducted in the UK showed that phone and email were by a significant margin the most likely channels used by customers to contact a company for customer service (75% and 70% respectively). Self service comes third with 43%. At the same time, consumers were unhappy with the quality of service provided: 83% were frustrated with the interaction and 60% of agents agreed with them!

This matters enormously because “on average, 40% of customers who suffer through bad experiences stop doing business with the offending company” according to a recent survey published in the Harvard Business Review by Dave Dougherty and Ajay Murthy from Convergys. They go on to define the same reasons for the frustration as identified in the YouGov survey: lack of knowledge of the agent and incapacity to resolve the query on the first call. With increasing access to relevant information online through the internet and social networks, I expect customers to become more and more demanding of the contact centre agent in the future. With the simpler queries being increasingly resolved thorugh self-serivice, interactions will become more complex and more critical and the cost of failure will increase.

So what stops contact centres providing the right customer interaction? The main reason is the proliferation of applications on the desktop. The Corizon Contact Centre survey of 90 Contact Centre Managers shows that agents have to use on average 5 different applications during a call. It is not uncommon to find more than 20 on each desktop. In such an environment, it is proving very difficult to provide to the agent, cost effectively, the right information at the right time and, crucially, the tools that allow them to resolve the query in a fast and efficient way and stop customers needing to call back.

Fixing this problem has proved very difficult as demonstrated by the generations of legacy applications one can find by walking in a contact centres, from ancient green screen applications to the most recent CRM systems. Resolving this issue cost effectively requires a new approach. This is where process mashups come in. They deliver a step change in agent productivity by providing a dynamic UI that guides the process and gives agents the right information at the right time. Agent desktops can be integrated using a step by step approach, fixing the most broken processes first and delivering immediate improvement. The process mashup approach enables the easy creation of fit for purpose desktops, changing the economics of integrating applications for people by extracting “mashable” components from existing systems to deliver an initial solution in days. Once initial process hotspots have been fixed the business can iteratively work towards delivering the ‘perfect’ application for the contact centre agent that can constantly evolve with the business needs, all within a governed and secure IT infrastructure.

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Thursday, 17 September 2009

Mashup solution patterns

Enterprise mashups transform the way organisations combine IT applications to make people and processes more effective. However, in common with most new ideas, if they remain an abstract concept, or if people form preconceptions based on isolated examples (such as the ubiquitous map based mashup), then those who stand to benefit most may find it hard to get a feel for their power or relevance. In my experience, the missing link is a set of examples or usage patterns that make these possibilities concrete.

Gartner have taken a step in this direction by setting out “Five Mashup Application Types”:
  1. Personal dashboards – allowing individual users to choose the gadgets they need
  2. Packaged application extension – providing a flexible alternative to application customisation
  3. Location awareness – allowing spatial distribution of data and assets to be visualized and explored
  4. Panoramic awareness – bringing together a single view of an “object” of interest from different sources (such as a customer, competitor or place).
  5. Situational awareness – allowing events and data relevant to a “situation”, to be tracked and responded to.
While these are helpful (and Corizon supports all these categories, most frequently being used in categories 2 and 4) – they don’t go far enough to bring real-life use cases to life. Likewise, the patterns recently set out by Michale Ogrinz offer a great set of possibilities – but almost too many and slanted towards the developer.

Specific examples of how the mashup can be deployed to increase user productivity in the context of known integration and development challenges are required to bring the potential of mashups to life for both the line of business and IT.

As a result we have developed some key deployment patterns that we see again and again. We find that these (1) really help to explain how enterprise mashups deliver fast payback in familiar situations and (2) get over what you can do with a mashup platform that creates streamlined process based applications (vs one that is focused on combining data and creating dashboards and would not be suitable for these patterns).

Here are some examples – let us know what you think and what else can be added:

New web application: Rapidly build and easily change “standalone mashup” that combines enterprise applications and services to deliver new streamlined, process-based application

"Integration without customization" Embed mashups to extend packaged enterprise applications – on premise or SAAS – with new, integrated user activities. Avoids delays, overhead and upgrade problems of customisation.

Extend legacy application UI. Rapid, reusable alternative to trying to change unsupported or end of life applications to support integrated user activities.

Extending interaction management and CTI applications Create interaction based desktops for call centre agents that streamline and simplify customer service processes.

Self service expansion. Expand scope of self service portals for employees, customers and partners with integrated, process-based applications.

Support interactive activities in BPMS solutions: Add streamlined, integrated UI to support and simplify human steps in long running business processes.

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Friday, 7 August 2009

How do contact centres adapt to the Big Shift?

I have just experienced two very different contact centre interactions. In the first, the contact centre agent was able to address my questions and resolve my issue in a personable dialogue, making decisions along the way and accessing information easily and rapidly to make these decisions. The result was successful and my perception of the company enhanced. In fact, this was a better experience than resolving the same issue online. I can clearly see how this contact centre could engage in social CRM and graduate to a two way relationships world, interacting on multiple platforms.

In the second experience, with a different company, the agent followed an inflexible script in an impersonal manner and was unable to resolve the query (systems too slow, needed to swivel between several applications, and ultimately the key data required was on a system the agent did not have access to). The result was a highly frustrating experience and need for a second call. Argh...

These two experiences made me realise how tough the job of a contact centre agent is. On very little pay and in a pressurised environment, these guys deal day in day out with often angry customers and are supposed to resolve all their issues rapidly and pleasantly. And we are increasingly expecting more from them: issues are getting more difficult to resolve because the simpler tasks are now done online, we expect a higher standard of service from the agent because we get already so much from self-service, and finally we expect them to make decisions there and then. In some industries, contact centre interactions are becoming a key driver of customer churn.

I can only see this trend accelerating. Younger generations are not willing to deal with companies in one way, push type relationships. They expect two-way relationships across multiple platforms where they take control of the relationship with the brand. This will put even more responsibility on contact centres agents and will fundamentally alter the role of the contact centre:

1. Contact centre agents’ value will increase as they to take on greater responsibilities and capacity to make decisions. Talent retention will become more important, compensation will increase and the role will shift from transaction to relationship management;

2. The contact centre itself will become a strategic asset essential for customer relationships. Investment decisions will shift from minimizing costs of interaction to maximising interaction value;

3. Off shoring decisions will need to include whether the processes and/or customer interactions require complex interactions where local knowledge is important to build the customer relationship;

4. Systems supporting contact centres will need to be more integrated (social media, self-service etc.) to enable support of customer interactions across platforms and at different steps of the interaction process (e.g. interaction initiated in self-service and completed with an agent);

5. Flexible, dynamic and user centric systems will become essential to ensure fit for purpose IT that empowers agents to do their jobs in ever changing environment.

I believe this is part of the Big Shift described by John Hagel in his latest blog. In a further blog, I will develop our thoughts on the implications of this type of shift for organizations processes and supporting IT systems. But first off on holidays!

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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Making BrITain Great

Micro Focus have just launched an interesting and needed campaign to promote the technology sector in the UK, which I fully support (here). The manifesto makes five directional recommendations for fiscal, entrepreneurial and academic action to promote a more vibrant and stronger technology sector:
1. Increase the availability of world-class technology talent in the UK;
2. Harness the expertise and goodwill of technology leaders of UK origin around the world to coach leaders of UK-founded, emerging technology businesses;
3. Radically change the tax incentives available to companies and individuals who want to invest in growing technology businesses;
4. Implement specific fiscal incentives for UK-founded tech companies seeking to accelerate world-leading R&D;
5. Proactively encourage international technology companies to invest in a UK hub.

One of the ways for government to help I found is often undervalued and which could have a dramatic impact in supporting new, innovative technologies, is the relaxing of the procurement process for technology start-ups. This would not only help in developing a vibrant, start-up environment in the UK (let’s not forget the key role played by government, in particular defence, in helping establish Silicon Valley), it would also help in improving government’s productivity.

A recent article from McKinsey highlights the need for improvement of e-government for example:
progress on the e-government front appears to have plateaued over the past few years. Many new e-government initiatives have neither generated the anticipated interest among users nor enabled clear gains in operational efficiency. In the face of unprecedented fiscal constraints, as well as users’ heightened expectations based on the integration of the Internet into their daily life and work, it is imperative that the public sector refine its approach to e-government to ensure that these initiatives achieve maximum impact.

One of the reasons indentified by McKinsey is the lack of Web-related capabilities. This means recruiting teams with the right skills to drive these initiatives and to leverage the new, innovative technologies out there to drive for more efficient government.

Relaxing procurement processes to allow innovative, tech start-ups without (yet) the balance sheet required to sell to government, would not only help in establishing world class companies, it would also allow for better government.


Thursday, 23 July 2009

Enterprise mashups – kick-starting adoption

Recent blogs from the worlds of enterprise mashups and CRM have reinforced my impression that a lot of people are struggling with the dilemma of how to move to the flexible IT and business architectures they know they need for future success when the investment environment is focused on short term returns.

A posting by Susan Bouchard at Cisco kicked off a discussion that led to Stefan Andreasen from Kapow asking (in respect of mashups)
Companies traditionally only purchase IT products as part of building a dedicated business application with a defined ROI and timeline.
So the big question is how to resolve this?`
It seems identical to the "Long tail economy", selling many low-price items. It makes no economic sense before you start selling a lot, but then it's hugely profitable.
It's the same with mashups, but how do we get over that initial barrier?

Meanwhile, Colin Beasty, blogging on CRM Outsiders wrote
… whenever you add new channels to a CRM process you add complexities, and it seems businesses are struggling with fostering and tying all these new channels into that seamless experience that the customer can pick up on. I think the contact center industry in general is trending towards the delivery of these channels in a more service-oriented approach.
Breaking down the silos has always been and will continue to remain a key driver of industry software and best practices. Web services, standards-based software, and open source seems to be taking the lead in tackling a lot of these issues, but on the flipside the economy isn’t leaving businesses with a whole lot of cash to pursue these interests.
For the short term future, I think businesses remain in a Catch-22 situation: the economy demands that customer retention and experience is a priority…and thus consolidating these channels into a single experience…while lack of revenue and profits doesn’t leave the financial vehicle by which to accomplish these goals

It seems to me that this pair of postings ask questions that a lot of people are thinking about at the moment. They also illustrate the challenge and the opportunity for enterprise mashups. On the one hand, when enterprise mashups are simply seen as addressing long tail “micro-requirements”, many of which need satisfying to justify investment in a mashup infrastructure, the business case “initial barrier” is a real one. On the other hand, there are many requirements for process based integration for end users – such as combining allowing agents to work across multiple channels in the contact centre – that are further up the long tail – slightly more complex, still out of reach economically from traditional SOA and application integration but offering much more substantial payback. The trick is to bring the two together – using mashups to build process-based applications for users one at a time, with each generating payback quickly, and creating lightweight reusable services (“mashables”) as a result. That way the need to minimize cash outlay is achieved, operational improvements are delivered and the organization is left with a flexible, service based approach to build on further.

For some people who have only seen mashups as simple “dashboard” type applications, this requires a broadening of how they think of mashup technology. However, we are seeing that this approach is essential to resolving the dilemma faced by apparently contradictory short and long term pressures.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Gartner SOA summit – pragmatism and innovation

I spent a great couple of days last week at the Gartner SOA and Application Development and Integration Summit in London, emerging encouraged by the combination of pragmatism and innovation that I heard discussed.

Inevitably, much discussion centred on the economy and its implications. While technology –as Massimo Pezzini pointed out - might be seen as having helped the problem happen by “providing the infrastructure to enable the financial services sector to get into trouble faster than anyone expected”, I didn’t hear much discussion about what could (or should) be done to prevent that happening again! On the other hand there was lots of debate on how IT can help companies survive and reinvent themselves for the future. The (not surprising) prescription was to focus on strict cost control and alignment of IT projects with clear business cases, while keeping sufficient investment to foster innovation in key areas. In the short term for example, organizations need to use their resources to rapidly adapt sales and marketing patterns in response to changed customer behaviours. Longer term, much discussion centred on anticipated structural changes to industries (especially financial services) requiring better support for complex inter-company relationships and networks.

SOA adoption
The message I took on SOA – from both Paolo Malinverno’s opening keynote and much that followed - is that it has clearly taken root, especially in Europe and N. America. However there also seems no doubt that the recession is having a Darwinian effect, culling the projects without well-defined short term business benefits. Long term strategic business cases for SOA programmes are “out”, pragmatism in the form of prioritizing rapid payback from fixing business problems is “in”. As a result, lots of initiatives that have started bottom up with no focus on business problems (service enablement rather than SOA) risk being cut – one figure floated (and hotly disputed) was that this could kill up to 80% of the projects started thus far!

Enterprise mashups?
Given this background, where are enterprise mashups? Well there was certainly plenty of interest, with David Gootzit from Gartner talking about their having a key role to play as the “face of SOA” and becoming an important way to build composite applications. However, listening to talks and speaking with attendees confirmed to me that while a lot of vendors and users have focused on using enterprise mahups to build simple “dashboard” type single page applications, there is a huge need and interest in using them to address the new integration agenda of business focused pragmatism and innovation. The idea of using the mashup approach to rapidly build process based applications for different user groups and tasks, leveraging a wide range of enterprise IT assets is – to judge from the response we had – just the capability that many organizations need. It seems that there are many cases where business process improvements and flexibility are needed but custom application development is seen as too slow, expensive and hard to maintain, and full blown WS-* and BPM are not appropriate.

Conclusion? SOA isn’t dead, just growing up in a rather more austere environment than the one it was borne into. And enterprise mashups can make a massive contribution, so long as they focus on really changing the economics of building and using business applications.

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