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I recently attended an IBM event about its new social business products and services. I was skeptical at first: I have seen another vendor’s “social enterprise” come and go, and although companies need to address customer use of social media, I don’t think “social” is the path businesses should take; it is more to do with collaboration. However, I quickly learned that IBM sees things rather differently. Its starting point is the need for companies to make their workforces smarter – something I agree with. Employees are the heart of a company; for example, according to my research into customer service and the agent desktop, not only do happy, empowered employees twice as often deliver superior customer experiences, but they also meet customer-related targets more often, and deliver or retain more satisfied and more loyal customers who spend more.

IBM joins up the two sides of the equation – a smarter workforce and superior customer experiences – with its platform for social business. Companies can access it through the IBM SmartCloud, a private cloud, on-premises or using a hybrid model. IBM sees SmartCloud for social business as a way to connect business users more efficiently and effectively. It supports business-grade secure messaging in the cloud (mail, calendar and contacts); mobile access to systems and information; file sharing; chat and project management; integration with traditional social media sites; online meetings; the ability to produce, edit, share and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations; and cloud-based mail archiving.

The platform itself consists of four components: social networking, social analytics, social content and social integration. Despite the heavy use of “social,” these components are not about what most of us think of as social media, and they certainly aren’t just about using traditional social media sites to network and analyzing posts on Twitter and Facebook. IBM uses the term in a much wider context, more closely aligned with sharing information, collaboration among employees, managing content to support customer-related activities and analyzing customer-related data (especially about customer interactions). Some of the components in the platform include: IBM Connections, IBM Notes and IBM Domino (Special Edition), IBM Sametime, IBM WebSphere Portal and IBM Web Content Manager.

These components underpin IBM’s Smarter Workforce initiatives and connect them to the exceptional customer experience. Smarter Workforce is made up of two main components: the IBM Employee Experience Suite and talent management applications from IBM Kenexa; the first takes care of strategic talent management and the second focuses on the operational side. Kenexa, which was acquired by IBM early this year, makes products that support end-to-end workforce management, including recruitment, assessment, onboarding, learning, performance management, compensation and employee surveying. The IBM Employee Experience Suite adds the social component to talent management, once more from a collaborative rather than a pure social media perspective. It supports social sourcing of talent, onboarding, learning, performance recognition and performance analytics, and includes mobile and video-based capabilities.

The exceptional customer experience concept involves supporting new vr_inin_types_of_interactions_in_contact_centercapabilities that take into account that customers now want to interact with companies through the channel of their choice and at the time of their choosing, and they expect responses to be personalized, in context and consistent across touch points. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows this is no easy task, as companies now must support an average of seven channels of communication, and almost every business unit except IT now interacts with customers. IBM supports these requirements with its Customer Experience Suite, which includes a range of capabilities focusing on understanding and interacting with the digital customer through mobile and social channels. It enables companies to create rich content, personalize responses, integrate content and applications, and ensure information is consistent across channels. The suite supports the mobile consumer and enables companies to build applications on any smart device and utilize capabilities such as location, connecting with business applications and raising notifications such as offers available near the user’s location. A new addition to the suite is available through IBM’s acquisition of Tealeaf, whereby companies can collect data on website and mobile usage and analyze it to improve the customer’s Web and mobile experiences.

At the event, and indeed at IBM BusinessConnect 2013, there were four constant themes: mobile, data, social and cloud. IBM sees these areas – especially mobile – as the drivers behind companies innovating in the ways they do business going forward. The IBM social business platform brings together several existing products as well as products it has acquired and makes them all more social and mobile. Ventana Research agrees on the importance of the four themes and adds analytics and collaboration to them as key technology trends. My research shows that companies need to provide superior customer service and experiences to increasingly digital and mobile consumers. I am not convinced that the best way to describe this is as social business. I see it more as collaborative business, as companies have to find ways to share data and information, have a better, more complete view of employee performance and customers, connect disconnected processes, and make information-driven decisions. Call it what you want, companies seeking to achieve these objectives should evaluate how this new offering from IBM can help with their efforts.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Two years ago I wrote about communications in the cloud taking over the annual U.K. contact center event Call Centre Expo. Now that dominance is almost complete. At one point at this year’s event I was standing at the center of the show floor and without taking a step I spotted 11 vendors all offering some form of communications in the cloud. This term includes all the systems that manage the various communication vr_inin_types_of_interactions_in_contact_centerchannels companies now support for managing customer interactions: telephone, email, fax, postal mail, corporate websites, chat, mobile text messaging, video and social media. Not long ago these channels would have been bundled into the contact center infrastructure and typically managed by disparate, on-premises, often proprietary systems. Now, as these systems reach the ends of their lives, companies are looking for more cost-effective and integrated ways to support multiple communication channels and increasingly are moving to cloud-based systems, which my last benchmark research on the contact center in the cloud identified as the third-most common response to the challenges of interaction-handling.

As part of that research, I looked at the extent of adoption of cloud-based vr_inin_actions_to_improve_customer_interactioncommunications, applications and analytics supporting contact centers and their likely adoption rates for the next two years. At the time CRM was most widely deployed and had the highest likely adoption rate as well. Communications in the cloud was still relatively new, but it also had a high predicted rate of adoption. Consumers now demand more choices of channels through which they can interact with companies, and if my findings at the Call Centre Expo are anything to go by, vendors are responding. That is not to say that all the exhibitors offer exactly the same capabilities. Each has its own set of features, and many include other core contact center applications such as workforce optimization, an agent desktop and analytics as part of their portfolio. Those that have such capabilities include Altitude Software, Aspect, C3, Ctalk, Enghouse Interactive, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Kana, LiveOps, Mitel, Mplsystems, NewVoiceMediaNoble Systems, Ultra Communications, Vocalcom and VoltDelta. It’s amazing how many vendors were exhibiting products within sight of each other.

I cannot review all of these products in this space, but if you are looking to support multiple channels of communication, these options are worth considering. With so many options available, it is not as easy as many vendors would have you believe to select the one that best fits your requirements. As in any software category, most of the products have many of the same capabilities, so the trick is to find the one that matches your special needs.  And it is not just about choosing features and functions. Ventana Research has developed a process we call the Value Index that compares vendors across seven categories. I recommend you take a similar approach using these criteria:

  • Capability – How many channels does the system support? What other contact center applications does it support? Does the system fully support single-queue interaction routing?  How are the channels and any other applications surfaced on the agent’s desktop?
  • Usability – How easy is the product to use for different types of users?
  • Manageability – How easy is the service to set up from both IT’s and business users’ perspectives? What security capabilities does it support for users, applications and data?
  • Reliability – What performance guarantees does the vendor provide for user, data and server performance? How scalable is the product from the perspectives of user, server and data?
  • Adaptability – How easy is the product to configure for different users? Does the vendor support customization to individual company requirements? How does the system support your existing processes? Is it easy to integrate into your business and technical architecture?
  • TCO and ROI – What services and cases does the vendor provide to show total cost of ownership, return on investment and likely business benefits?
  • Validation – Does the vendor have success stories and a roadmap for future development? What services does it provide before and after the sale, including trials and training?

Our research shows the above criteria typically are important to all companies, with each category weighted in the order listed. In following this process of evaluation, you are likely to find the product and vendor best suited to your requirements.

At Call Centre Expo it was easy to be overwhelmed by the number of vendors in one space, but I did take away one other important observation: Unlike in previous years none of the big workforce optimization (WFO) vendors was present at the show, and although some of the companies I noted above include WFO as part of their product portfolios, there was far less focus on WFO than on multichannel communications. This is not a good trend, as my research into next-generation workforce optimization shows. many companies are still struggling with managing the workforce that handles their customer interactions, so it would have been nice to see more vendors that provide such systems.

My research shows that the number of communication channels a company has to support is still growing, and high customer expectations require them to manage all of these channels in an integrated manner. Otherwise customers will hop across channels until they get the answers they are looking for, and that’s not good for the customer experience nor for holding down operational costs. Taking everything into account, I believe the only way to achieve this objective is to use communications in the cloud. In the near future I will produce a Value Index to help you identify the top vendors in what has become a highly competitive market. Meanwhile, there are many solutions out there, so I wish you well in your efforts to find the one that best fits your needs.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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