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After this summer’s SAS European analyst event, I wrote that I came away less than convinced SAS was truly committed to the cloud, based largely on the fact that most other vendors are blowing their cloud trumpets much louder than SAS. It seemed developments in and around customer intelligence and its other products were higher priority to the company than its cloud strategy. However, after a recent update, I was left with no doubt that the cloud is important to SAS and that the company has a well–thought-through strategy based around two services that Ventana Research touched on earlier this year.

SAS provides a subscription-based service from its data centers so that users can access capabilities on demand through a variety of browsers. It also provides support for both private and public cloud deployments, which enable organizations to mix and match between on-premises and cloud-based. The multitenant architecture provides an organization the ability to revert to on-premises deployment. A subscriber portal lets organizations manage subscriptions to the service, manage authorized users, set up and configure the application, and monitor, audit and receive SLA reports about the service. A separate provider portal allows providers to manage their assets and tenants, manage contracts, billing and SLAs and provision integration with internal systems. Developers can use provided tools to build custom extensions and customize the applications. As it goes forward, SAS will provide an application marketplace, so that organizations can if they want share developments, further reducing the potential cost of building specific capabilities. As with all offerings from SAS, an exhaustive development program is planned for the next few years, which will see more options and capabilities being offered in the cloud.

With all the hype about the cloud, customers are still confused about differences between hosted services, software as a service and cloud computing. Nevertheless, cloud computing is one of six technology developments that Ventana Research has identified as having a major impact on organizations’ IT strategy – the other four being big data, mobility, collaboration, social media and analytics. Our research into the contact center in the cloud shows that organizations are increasingly looking to utilize contact center systems in the cloud to help provide customers with excellent experiences across multiple communication channels. It however also shows, as indeed does our research in customer analytics and contact center analytics, that companies are slower at adopting analytics than other business applications. Some of the underlying reasons are the cost and complexity of setting up and running on-premises analytics. Cloud-based services such as those offered by SAS are a way to help organizations address these issues. We recommend organizations looking to improve their customer-facing activities investigate how cloud-based computing and gaining faster insight to customer interactions can add value to their operations.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

The product page for Interactive Intelligence highlights what the company is best known for – IP-based business communications. This image is further strengthened by its flagship Customer Interaction Center platform, which offers organizations a fully featured multimedia contact center in the cloud. This offering includes multimedia communications in the cloud along with many of the capabilities that Ventana Research terms agent performance management. However, the company also offers a third set of products, which support business process automation. On first examination these seem somewhat tangential to the other products, but my research into customer relationship maturity shows the product sets are likely to converge more and more as organizations address the challenges of providing customers with excellent experiences.

The research shows:

  • Customers interact with many business units within an organization, but companies often don’t have processes that cross business-unit boundaries.
  • Customer data often resides in business-unit-specific applications, so data is not shared between systems.
  • Customers interact through multiple communication channels, but these are often managed by different business units, so the information provided to customers is not consistent.

The research shows that while many companies either have not recognized these issues or are prepared to live with them, the most customer-centric organizations sort out ways to mitigate them. These approaches often rely on email communication between business units, a workflow system that generates actions across business-unit boundaries, or a standalone business process management system. Each of these methods has strengths and weaknesses, but what they lack is integration with customer communications; for example, capabilities where a contact center agent might take a call, be unable to resolve an issue, so send email to a knowledge worker to take action. The Interactive Intelligence business process automation product, IPA, overcomes this issue because it lets users initiate actions with a process as the result of an interaction; for example, a claims clerk might make an outbound call to a customer, and this could trigger another action within the claims settlement process.

The IPA product includes capabilities that allow users to define, execute and monitor a closed-loop series of processes. The designer tool allows users to use drag and drop capabilities to build process maps. Users can pre-build tasks and decision points and simply drag these items into maps to create end-to-end processes. In a further attempt to simplify the generation of process maps, Interactive Intelligence plans to launch an AppExchange-like capability so users can share pre-built processes. Users can also build personalized forms and work items so that each user is presented with tasks in a format specific to his responsibilities. After the maps are built they are operationalized – the system monitors defined trigger points, and once a trigger has been activated, the next task or tasks are set into motion. One of the differentiators from standard BPM tools is that these triggers can take multiple forms; a communication occurs (a call or email is received or sent), a web form is completed, an alert or message is received from a mobile app, or a transaction occurs within a business application (an address is updated, a payment is posted): all of these can be used individually or in combination to set one or more tasks into action. To reduce the effort required to extract triggers or information from business applications, the system supports multiple ways to integrate with applications: web services, purpose-built interfaces to several email servers, browser-based applications and database actions to access ODBC-compliant databases. The system monitors whether actions occur as they should, or, conversely, whether an action that should have happened has not. The systems monitor itself in real time and produces reports and analyses that show how processes are performing, allowing users to intervene if necessary.

The latest release of the product includes the capability to build complex data types that can be used in triggers or reports; for example, an address can be defined to mean the combination of house number, road, city, state and ZIP code. More integration tools let users define a data source and data items in that source that can be accessed or upgraded using point and click capabilities. Integration with SharePoint means updating of a SharePoint document can be used as a trigger, and items can be written or extracted from SharePoint.

All this is good news for companies that want to automate processes, and especially those dependent on communication events. The bad news is that the product is currently only available to CIC customers; a standalone version is planned but not anticipated until mid-2013. For the same timeframe, the product is available only as a premises-based deployment.

Only the most mature, customer-centric companies have begun to address the issue of managing communication-centric processes across all business units and channels. As an organization begins to get to grips with these issues, it should investigate IPA, whether or not it is already an Interactive Intelligence client.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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