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Tuesday 23 June 2009

What’s the call centre industry telling us?

Given that Corizon works with many customer service organizations to streamline and simplify the use of applications for agents and customers, we take a keen interest in what the industry is saying and how it is responding to the economic environment. One organization that collects and analyses this kind of information in the UK is the Customer Contact Association, and I thought some of the findings they presented at a briefing this week worth sharing more broadly, along with relevant insights from our own work with customers.

Impact of the recession
When asked about changes being made in response to the recession, the results from organizations are interesting. It seems that they are not rushing to outsource calls and contacts, but are more likely now to outsource back office processes. However, by far the biggest shift is in consolidation, accelerating moved from multiple smaller sites to fewer, large and more economic centres. Based on our experience, the former is perhaps an encouraging sign for the contact centre, evidence of recognition that they are not just cost centres, but can be the key to keeping customers happy and buying more – both essential success factors in the current climate. The latter clearly makes economic sense, but gaining even greater economies of scale will require an increase in mutliskilling, something that has been a problem in many of the call centres we visit due to the learning associated with different roles and the IT systems they require.

Role of technology
The demand for technology solutions seems to be running strong. 58% of those surveyed by CCA felt that performance was being hampered by out of date legacy systems, while 47% felt that new technology would be a better investment for improving performance than training and upskilling their teams; 57% said that they would invest in unified desktop solutions.
However, there is also a sting in the tail for technology vendors, with about half the respondents feeling they repeatedly had to fight off attempts to sell them unnecessary technology, and a significant number demanding that new applications are created with more user input than happens at the moment. While the first point probably needs no comment, the latter point resonates strongly with our experience. It seems obvious that adoption, productivity and process improvements all strongly correlate with making sure applications are actually fit for purpose and built around the users, but the evidence suggests it is too often forgotten.
It was also intriguing (not to mention counter to many stereotypes) to hear that the CCA found that women managers are more interested in adopting new technologies, and develop better relationships with technology vendors than their male counterparts.

Moving to multiple channels
Perhaps not surprisingly, the need to embrace and move to new channels is prominent in CCA’s research. 88% of respondents saw increasing self-service on the web as a key enabler of cost reduction in response to the downturn. In principle, this frees agents for more complex, “value added” tasks, but the reality at the moment seems to be that the volume of inbound calls is not reducing. Why this should be is not clear, but there is increased awareness that integration across channels is essential if the result is not to be increased, rather than reduced frustration.
Finally, although there is obviously awareness that social networking and social media represent an important shift in the environment and are impacting service providers, it seems that the full implications are still being digested before conclusions are drawn.

Interesting times
Conclusion? It seems that if anything the recession is crystallising the debate on the role and value of the contact centre, self-service and the technologies that underpin them, and is driving change in interesting directions.

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Thursday 11 June 2009

Are mashups lipstick on a pig?

One of the debates currently going on is regarding the lifespan and role of mashups (cpettey/Gartner). Are mashups just tactical, throw away applications for short lived micro-requirements that come and go in the business (aka situational requirements) with the associated business case challenges? Are they just good to temporarily paper over a gap while your systems catch up with user requirements? In other words, are enterprise mashups short lived either for the simplest of “applications” or simply as lipstick on a pig as suggested to me recently by the CIO of a very large telco?

One of the great values of enterprise mashups is that they can deliver in very quick time frames by leveraging exiting systems and applications to streamline processes for people. This can be to address a “situational requirement” such as a dashboard, combining RSS feeds for data reporting etc. They can also help mop up legacy applications before retirement i.e. provide lipstick on your old architecture while you deliver the new one. They can prepare for the deployment of packaged application such as CRM or ERP. This provides the value of quickly testing in real time, with real users the required “user process” (i.e. the set of steps a user need to go through to complete a task). This can even be implemented in the look and feel of the enterprise application. Users will then not be disrupted by the deployment of the enterprise app while deployment will be speeded up by “learning” from the tested user process implemented in the mashup. Once the enterprise application catches up, then the mashup can evolve to do less, be retired itself or remain to provide the flexible, process driven UI that would continuously require updating. This will depend on architectural decision.

It is in the flexible delivery of process driven UI that enterprise mashup become a key part of modern architectures and are destined to power solutions that will remain in use for a long time. Why? Because modern architectures need lipstick as much as the old ones! With WOA, SOA or any component based approach, user-centric applications are still required when a business process need surfacing to a user and those end up being built bespoke for each user group. This is because user interfaces are not service enabled, not turned into re-usable components. This is where enterprise mashups play a key part: with the creation of visual, mashable components that can easily and quickly be mashed up into user centric solutions, they provide a “face” to web services and deliver the flexibility and process adaptation required at the user level to deliver flexible architectures from top to bottom.

The answer to the lifespan and role is that enterprise mashups provide real value when they address real process pain point, have a role to play in legacy and modern architectures and can endure for considerable periods of time while the content and function continually evolve.

What do you think? Do you see the same trends?

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Thursday 4 June 2009

Enterprise Mashups and Cloud Applications

Corizon’s recent launch of mashup extension packs for Siebel and eBusiness suite has prompted a number of conversations with journalists on the extent to which this value proposition transferred to enterprises adopting SAAS applications. I was surprised by the initial perception that enterprise mashups were required because of the difficulty of deploying applications on premise. Conversely there seem to be preconceptions that the need would be much less with on demand applications.

Enterprise mashup adoption is driven by the need to transform the economics of integrating applications to make people more efficient. The deployment of new applications, whether they are on-premise or in the cloud,increases the requirements for integration. The more new SAAS business applications are adopted, the more such integration will be required. This is exactly the experience reported by GE CIO Gary Reiner: implementation costs for applications:
“...they're largely around interfacing with existing systems, process changes and data cleansing, those three costs exist regardless of whether GE hosts that application or whether the supplier hosts that application.”
As a matter of fact, cloud computing is even more adapted to enterprise mashups. The key reason for this is that they promote the concept of keeping each functional application as vanilla as possible to reduce costs. Why re-invent a CRM package and not just adopt best industry practice? Differentiation is not gained by modifying each application but by integrating them to streamline your desired processes. For example superior end to end customer experience delivery is more likely to be achieved by seamlessly integrating the different applications required to support a particular customer journey (trouble ticketing, service diagnostics etc.) rather than customizing each application. This is where enterprise mashups play a critical role: by providing a quick and non intrusive way to create mashable components from existing applications and easily combining them to mashup a fit for purpose solutions that guide users to complete a task, they are perfectly suited to integrate your cloud with your on premise applications.

We are big proponent of service based applications at Corizon – this is where the company started! We also happen to believe they will be one of the key drivers to accelerate adoption of enterprise mashups. As enterprises adopt SAAS, they will be looking for new approaches to quickly, flexibly and cost effectively integrate their new cloud applications to allow people to do their jobs better. In the same way that enterprise mashups transform the economics of owning on premise enterprise applications, they will transform the economics of integrating cloud applications.

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