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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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