Actuate, which develops commercial versions of the open source Business Intelligence Reporting Tool (BIRT) technology, recently held a one-day event in London. My colleague Mark Smith covers Actuate’s products, but I was impressed by the simplicity of the company’s message, the core of which is that the ActuateOne suite of products allows companies to extract data from multiple data sources, use one product to analyze it and present the results in multiple formats in response to individual user requirements. A key component of this visualization is how easily it can display the results on smartphones and tablets. Actuate presenters demonstrated these capabilities in a lengthy session designed to show that this is “BI for the layman”; that is, after some from help from IT in setting up access to data sources, users can do everything else through the software’s drag-and-drop capabilities. My recent benchmark research into contact center analytics suggests that such simplicity is critical for more business users to adopt BI; if companies are to move away from using spreadsheets to produce their customer and contact center analyses, in addition to being able to do more the new products will have to be as easy to use as spreadsheets.

The company’s ActuateOne X2BIRT product uses another drag-and-drop capability to highlight words in a document and effectively create metadata item that defines the field. This allows users to create a structured definition for documents that can then be used during analysis, for example, where a customer’s name appears on a bill. In the simplest case this allows users to extract the names of customers that appear in PDF files in archived bills. In more complex uses it turns unstructured text-based documents into “structured” data files that can be integrated with and analyzed by other products in the Actuate suite. In this way companies can analyze text-based documents received from and sent to customers in an effort to uncover customer issues and trends to supplement their customer analysis. Actuate is not known for customer analytics, but with the acquisition of Xenos earlier this year it is moving more into this space, especially in the area of customer communications.

During the day there was a lively panel discussion in which the panelists responded to questions from the audience. On one of the key topics companies increasingly have to confront, much was said about “big data,” on which my colleague David Menninger focuses. From my simple perspective this is nothing new. Contact centers have always been awash with data: call records, phone recordings, email, faxes, CRM records and many more; indeed a contact center with a few thousand seats can generate and process millions of records every week. There are obviously issues about where and how to store and process all of this data, but the most important issue is how to make use of it, and a significant portion of data today is unstructured. So it was good to hear Actuate is working to make the analysis of big data simpler, faster and more affordable.

One of the panelists, industry analyst James Governor, put this into the context of what information can be derived from all this data and what that information can be used for. He and I agree that companies have yet to get to grips with two key challenges. First is data consolidation. Customer data sits in multiple places within an organization, and it is key that business units are persuaded to share it so it can be brought together to produce a single source of customer information for use throughout the organization and for different purposes; the same source should contribute to, for example, setting customer-facing strategies, focusing marketing and sales campaigns, helping agents make better decisions as they try to resolve customer contacts and other uses. Second is identifying the kind of metrics and information that are important to companies trying to stay competitive in this tough economy. James put forward the view that companies need to focus more on customer behavior and the likely impact on customer behavior of marketing messages, sales calls, social media content, product features, an agent’s attitude, IVR menus and other sources, or as I recently wrote, how customers are likely to react to moments of truth in their contacts. Understanding this requires analysis of masses of historic and current data, both structured and unstructured. It will be interesting to see what Actuate does in this area as it develops more customer-related solutions.

Do you still use spreadsheets to analyze your customer data? Do you have plans to adopt any of the new analytics products now on the market?


Richard Snow – VP & Research Director