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Sunday 31 May 2009

Funnel shaped mashups

An interesting conversation on freedom vs control at the desktop in call centres, in conjunction with much recent speculation as to the "shape" of the economic downturn and recovery, made me wonder what “shape” a mashup solution needs to be, and what that would tell us about its design and delivery.
In a situation like a call centre you give the agent a job to do because you want him or her to do two types of things within a call which can appear quite inconsistent. First there is the need to analyse a situation based on “conversational” interactions with the customer and the systems on the desktop. This involves relatively unstructured interactions with the applications and customer, drilling into different information sources and exploring options with the customer. However, as quickly as possibly, a path needs to be chosen. The agent then must switch mode and move into a much more structured, regular approach to ensure no mistakes are made, all details are captured, and frequently that regulatory compliance requirements are met.
So it seems to me that for these types of activities, mashups are funnel shaped! The cone represents the user working in an unstructured, conversational way before moving into the spout and being constrained and guided through a defined process. So, if enterprise mashups are to support this type of interaction, then they need to support both modes of working in a single solution, and to get through the spout as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Taking the analogy further, not all funnels need to be the same shape. In fact many factors can determine the shape of funnel needed. For example
  • experienced agents need to be able to work in a less constrained way compared to rookies, and will find constraints demotivating and frustrating
  • new products are often trialled and launched with very broad cones while the organization learns using highly skilled agents. As the products mature and the agent base grows, processes then need to become more constrained and more “spout heavy”.
  • knowledge management solutions can be used to narrow the cone sooner by reducing the up-front analysis work for service desktops
  • sophisticated propensity-to-buy and segmentation based intelligence can help to move to the spout quicker and optimize outcomes
One thing is clear though, whatever funnel shape you start with, being able to change it and experiment is essential. The shape of the funnel is a key “lever” for call centre managers as they struggle to find the optimum balance between allowing initiative and empowerment and enforcing process repeatability. That’s where the flexibility and control provided by enterprise mashups are invaluable.

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Friday 15 May 2009

Integration without customization for Oracle E-Business Suite

I repeatedly hear from our customers about the challenges they face in creating integrated user experiences around their investments in CRM and ERP applications.  They find themselves constrained by long release cycles, full workstacks and the expense and scarcity of skilled resources.  As a result, users have to carry on “swiveling” between applications on the desktop – bad news for the reputation of the applications and for efficiency, accuracy and costs.

Fixing this problem is a great use case for enterprise mashups, replacing complex customization projects with the much more lightweight and portable mashup process.  We call it “integration without customization”.  A while ago we announced a toolkit to be able to easily embed our mashups in the user workflow of Siebel applications; this week we have followed this up with our “extension pack” for Oracle E-Business Suite.  The pack overcomes the challenge of embedding web UI in the EBS forms UI.  By providing everything an EBS developer would need to be able to get a mashup deployed and launched within the EBS application, it cuts a task that could take many days into hours.   As a result EBS owners can extend and integrate user desktops with minimal cost and effort.

We believe integration without customisation is a killer “mashup pattern”, especially in a economy where the focus is on getting more from existing investments like major enterprise applications.  Through the rest of 2009 we will be working with our customers and partners to understand where else pre-built capabilities of this sort can smooth the process, so let us know where you see the clearest need.

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Tuesday 5 May 2009

Contact centres are ripe for enterprise mashups

Spending time recently in a contact centre reminded me of a quip I heard from Lord Saatchi. He was talking to a senior director of a well know consumer brand and saying: “do you know the old saying about half of your marketing budget does not deliver but the issue is which half? Well for your company, I have worked it out: neither!”

So which half of your IT budget works in the call centre? Neither. You just have to look at how many applications call centre agents have to deal with during a call! Research shows on average 6 but in our experience the number is usually much higher. This is despite years of investment in technology in call centres. The reason for the failure? Each time a new requirement for the agent emerged, a new application would be built or an existing one would be modified. This lead to a proliferation of applications on the desktop, making the job of maintaining them (and integrating them) harder and harder for IT. No wonder release cycle of enterprise applications on the desktop can now be measure in months or years! This results in inefficient processes with dramatic economic consequences: high cost to serve customers while delivering, in a majority of cases, a poor customer experience. No wonder so many companies decided to give up on call centres and outsourced them despite the fact they are one of the most important (and inescapable) windows to customers.

This is why call centre is such a ripe environment for the deployment of enterprise mashups. By changing the economics of building and maintaining integrated solutions to call centre agents, they address the application proliferation issue, reduce dramatically the cost to serve customers by making agents more efficient and deliver clearly measurable ROI in short time frames. This is where we think the real value of enterprise mashup can be realized: in delivering real composite applications to address immediate business needs but in a way that is repeatable and complements modern architectures. A theme I will come back to regularly in this blog.

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