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I have been involved in the call center and customer engagement market for more than 25 years, first as a consultant and systems integrator and for the past 11 years as an industry analyst. There have been lots of changes in that time but never as many as in the last 12 to 18 months. A simple illustration of the change is how I group vendors.

In the early days I used three categories: telephony management, customer relationship management and workforce optimization. Telephony management included the on-premises ACD and PBX vendors such as Alcatel/Lucent, Avaya, Cisco and Nortel along with Genesys, which at the time was a specialist in computer/telephony integration and routing with products to receive calls from an ACD or a PBX and route them to a telephone extension based on predefined rules, and pop up predefined screens onto the agent’s desktop. CRM was dominated by three big vendors, Oracle, SAP and Siebel, plus some niche vendors such as Clarify and SugarCRM. WFO was emerging and was dominated by Aspect, NICE and Verint, which were building their portfolios through acquisitions and in-house development. All these vendors (except Siebel, acquired by Oracle) still exist but have added applications to their portfolios, expanded the scope of their original applications and/or have acquired other vendors.

Alongside these changes, the overall IT market has been disrupted by the emergence of new supply models, the need to support mobile devices and the advent of big data. In the first case the emergence and acceptance of cloud computing has forced vendors to adapt their product architectures and sometimes develop new products to offer services “in the cloud.” Mobile devices have become so ubiquitous that vendors have to support access to their systems through them, including text-based communications, and many have developed platforms that enable organizations to develop their own mobile apps. In the third major change, vendors developed systems that can process big data, including the vast volumes of unstructured data that organizations are generating in their new interaction channels, and some also developed analytics capabilities to make sense of all types of data. To reflect these changes, I expanded my vendor categories to five: contact center in the cloud, self-service, marketing, sales and services clouds, WFO and analytics.

The contact center in the cloud group includes vendors that developed telephony management systems (ACD and PBX, routing, CTI, IVR, call recording and interaction analytics) as software systems and moved to providing them as cloud-based services. Several evolved their products also to support other communication channels (email, text, chat, social media and mobile platforms). Thus began the transition to multichannel interactions and the potential for omnichannel engagement. Self-service includes vendors that support customer engagement that does not involve employees, such as visual IVR, advanced Q&A-style Web-based self-service, mobile apps, social customer service and social forums. The third group includes large CRM vendors that have split their previous on-premises, integrated CRM systems into marketing, sales and service clouds, and some niche vendors that supply integrated CRM as cloud-based services. In the fourth group, WFO also includes some niche and suite vendors that offer various combinations of interaction recording, quality management, workforce management, coaching and training, agent compensation management and agent-related analytics. In perhaps the biggest change, several specialist analytics vendors introduced analytics on structured data, voice recordings, text-based data, events and combinations of them. This has allowed organizations to get closer to having a “360 degree” view of the customer, journey maps, root-cause analysis and predictive capabilities. These groupings are not necessarily exclusive – many vendors have products that fall into more than one group, especially analytics. And of course, not all products include the same capabilities and may be delivered through different cloud models (private, public and hybrid). There are also some niche vendors that don’t fit in these groups, vr_ngccc_01_customer_self_service_will_increaseoffering products such as stand-alone agent desktop systems, customer feedback (which is beginning to be included with WFO) and gamification (also being included in WFO). Please visit our website to see a full list of the vendors we cover.

In recent times the market has undergone even more disruption as vendors try to support customer experience management, both through acquisitions and realigning their product portfolios. Our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud shows that customer experience has become the number-one way organizations expect to compete for customers, and increasingly businesses attempt to do this by providing more channels of engagement and innovative self-service. The research shows that to help them, organizations are looking to vendors that have integrated portfolios of products. The bigger vendors are thus investing in more internal product development, greater integration of existing products, more support for cloud computing and mobility, and acquiring vendors that have complementary systems. For example, Aspect seems to have sorted out its financial situation and recently announced a new product, Aspect Via, that brings together previously disconnected channel management, self-service, WFO and analytics into a platform to support omnichannel engagement. Genesys also seems to have sorted out its finances and having already expanded from CTI and call routing to offer a multichannel contact center in the cloud, WFO and analytics, it recently announced the acquisition of Interactive Intelligence, which will add more contact center in the cloud options, such as ININ’s PureCloud Engage, to its portfolio. NICE has taken probably the boldest move by its acquisitions of Nexidia and inContact, which when brought together will support in my view a complete customer engagement suite of multichannel interaction management, self-service, advanced WFO, multidimensional analytics and integration with on-premises and cloud-based third-party applications. It has also expanded its portfolio by developing two new products aimed at organizations with smaller contact centers, a packaged WFO product and a packaged performance management product, thus allowing smaller centers to have access to similar but slightly more limited capabilities to larger centers. Verint has also continued its acquisitions, including Kana and Contact Solutions, giving it a portfolio of self-service, WFO, multidimensional analytics and integration with third-party CRM and contact centers in the cloud. All of these developments provide options that help organizations advance toward omnichannel customer engagement, through improved integration between systems and thus the ability to connect what have been disconnected processes.

Alongside these developments, it is hard to ignore what is happening in the CRM market. Oracle has split CRM into three clouds (marketing, sales and service), built them on a common platform for integration and data management, and supports them with customer and interaction analytics. However, in an illustration of just how fast this market is changing, at its recent OpenWorld event, Oracle provided a sneak preview of its new Engagement Cloud, which brings customer engagement onto a single platform. Salesforce has done the same CRM split, developed several other clouds, included self-service capabilities and analytics, and placed them on a platform that supports application development, integration and data management. SAP has been the quietest of the three but has moved CRM to the cloud and has a complete though hidden set of contact center capabilities. These moves change the CRM market, giving more support to three key business groups but potentially losing a single source and view of the customer. Some of the niche vendors such as SugarCRM have bucked this trend by keeping a single cloud product and adding capabilities to it.

Many vendors, in several categories and with highly variable capabilities, now market their services and products under the brand  Customer Experience. So the question becomes what is customer experience and what systems do organizations need to support it? I believe that consumers’ expectations of customer experience in engaging with an organization are that it must be easy, personalized, in-context, consistent and accessible regardless of the channel, time of day or point of engagement. I have said before that no one system can deliver all of this. A complete experience requires a combination of channel management (assisted and digital), employee management (using WFO systems) and business applications, as well as analytics to tell users what is going on, possible consequences of actions and decisions, and what should be changed going forward. In their different ways the vendors in the customer experience market are striving to provide such capabilities, but it is an open question as to which of them will succeed. So far 2016 has been a year of major change, and there is more to come. As yet few vendors have taken the next steps to incorporate the Internet of Things (IoT) or Artificial Intelligence into their portfolios.  I believe both of these technologies will impact customer experience: IoT allows organizations to collect even more customer data through a range of devices, and AI is used to make processes smarter, more efficient and more effective. So please stay tuned as I do my best to keep you informed of developments that will help you meet the ever increasing expectations of your customers.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director, Customer

Follow Me on Twitter and Connect with me on LinkedIn

Ventana Research has published its Workforce Optimization 2016 Value Index. The Value Index provides a comprehensive evaluation ofvr_wfo_vi_2016 contact center workforce optimization vendors based on responses to our RFP-like questionnaire, which was constructed using insights gained from our recent benchmark research into workforce optimization and our knowledge of the market. In our definition workforce optimization systems include interaction recording, agent quality management, workforce management, agent compensation management, training and coaching, and interaction-handling analytics. The research shows that organizations have deployed many of these applications and by doing so have achieved efficiencies in handling interactions, improved outcomes of those interactions and improved both customer and employee satisfaction.

Managing the tasks associated with handling customer interactions has become more challenging. Organizations now handle large volumes of interactions through more channels of engagement; our benchmark research into contact centers in the cloud finds that the average number of channels supported by organizations has risen to eight. At the same time the interactions themselves have become more complex, and customer expectations of how well interactions are handled have risen. In addition, more employees throughout the organization – in all business units except IT – now handle interactions.

Workforce optimization technology is increasingly widely deployed. The types of systems in widest use are call recording (by 70% of organizations), quality monitoring (64%) and e-learning (44%); the systems most often planned to be deployed in the next two years are e-learning (36%), workforce management (32%) and coaching (30%). This contact center in the cloud research shows that companies now see analytics as a key tool for improving interaction handling and employee and customer satisfaction. To support decisions about interactions they seek comprehensive views of customers and use more customer-related metrics. They also attempt to link employee performance and customer satisfaction, track employee performance using operational metrics and develop customer journey maps showing the transition from one channel to another and from one employee to another. Vendors of workforce optimization systems and tools are under pressure to support all these capabilities.

The research shows that companies of all sizes increasingly are open to using cloud-based systems and that this trend is likely to accelerate as more small and midsize businesses choose to deploy workforce optimization technology. This trend is especially true for advanced analytics systems; more companies intend to deploy speech, text and event analytics in the cloud than on-premises. Mobility also is having an impact in supporting managers and team leaders working away from their desks, such as when walking a contact center floor to provide real-time coaching, and in supporting home-based agents. Advanced workforce optimization systems therefore need to provide access to key capabilities through smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. We connect these preferences to another research finding, that usability is a key factor for organizations evaluating software for workforce optimization. In this regard, organizations want a user interface that matches the expectations of modern users – for example, by providing visualization and point-and-click capabilities.

The research also shows the growing importance of systems integration; almost half of organizations said that integration between workforce optimization applications is important. Such integration has a dual impact, making it easier to manage all applications “as one” as well as to share data between systems to automate what have been disconnected manual processes – for example, to connect analytics that identify needed training and workforce management to automatically schedule that training.

Using these and other insights and responses to the detailed questions enabled us to construct the 2016 Workforce Optimization Value Index questionnaire, in which we divided the questions into seven categories: adaptability, capability, usability, manageability, reliability, vendor validation and support for developing TCO-ROI. We invited 13 vendors to complete this based on the products they had in general release as of March 2016. Six decided not to respond due tovr_wfo_vi_2016_weighted_overall resource issues or because the company had been acquired, putting the future of its products into question. Thus the 2016 Workforce Optimization Value Index report includes seven vendors: Calabrio, dvsAnalytics, Envision, NICE, OnviSource, TelStrat and Verint. The findings of our analyses demonstrate the maturity of this market. All seven companies received our Hot rating, and first and last places are separated by fewer than five percentage points. The analysis shows that currently Verint is the top supplier, followed by NICE in second place. This mirrors our 2015 Value Index in which Verint ranked first and NICE third; since then NICE has acquired the 2015 second-place finisher, VPI.

Both Verint and NICE are well-established global vendors of workforce optimization systems and provide tools for capturing multiple forms of interaction, agent quality management, workforce management, agent compensation management, coaching, training, performance management and analytics. Each of the two built its suite through a combination of in-house development and acquisition, and each has invested to improve integration between the products, build a modern user interface for all modules, and centralize setup, administration and management of them. Each also has invested in providing cloud-based versions of the existing products.

The other five vendors – Envision, OnviSource, Calabrio, dvsAnalytics and TelStrat, in order of rank – are smaller companies that focus predominantly on the U.S. market, although all are expanding to international markets. Their systems were developed largely in-house and thus have the advantages of being tightly integrated, having a common user interface and being managed centrally. Each of these vendors also has developed cloud-based services based on its products.

We urge organizations to do a thorough job of evaluating workforce optimization systems and dig deeper than just the overall rankings as individual company requirements will differ and each will have its own priorities. We offer this Value Index as both the results of our in-depth analysis of these vendors and as an evaluation methodology. The Value Index can be used to evaluate existing suppliers and also provides evaluation criteria for new projects. Applying it this way can shorten the RFP cycle time and enable your organization to optimize its contact center workforce optimization efforts. To learn more and receive a complimentary copy of the report, please visit


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director, Customer

Follow Me on Twitter  and Connect with me on LinkedIn

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