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Infor is a vendor I haven’t covered much in the past, but after attending the recent Infor on the Road day in the U.K. that is about to change. I viewed Infor as basically a CRM vendor, and I don’t believe such systems have much impact on customer engagement and the customer experience. Indeed if you view Infor website’s product page, it features several product categories focused on internal processes: CRM, Asset Management, Financial Management, Resource Planning, Human Capital Management and Product Management. (By the way, my colleague Robert Kugel wrote about some of these after his visit to Inforum.) If like me you are not technically minded, you might skip the technology section, which is where Infor showcases innovation in business applications.

In the opening keynote at the event I attended, Stephan Scholl and Duncan Angove, co-presidents of Infor, highlighted this in a dramatic way. They made it clear that Infor wants to open up a new order for business applications in which applications are much easier to use, the architecture takes full advantage of the Internet and other new ways of working, and mobile, social and analytics technologies come together to improve collaboration across the enterprise, generate better customer engagement, and enable better-informed decisions based on all available data. From what I saw and heard, the latest version of its products, Infor 10x, delivers on many of these promises.

It all starts with the user interface, which makes the products easier to use and thus more likely to be adopted and accepted. Our business technology innovation benchmark research shows that this is a vr_bti_br_whats_important_in_choosing_technologycritical factor: Usability is the primary factor impacting organizational decisions on software purchases. Infor sees that devices such as smartphones and tablets have changed the way almost everyone expects to access applications and information, and indeed what we expect applications to do; on the consumer side this includes a well-defined set of tasks such as paying bills, finding locations, and comparing prices of products. And people are carrying those expectations into what they expect of business applications; in this context hierarchical lists, screens full of irrelevant data fields, navigation across multiple screens to complete a simple task, and having to search for information and metrics are unacceptable. Users want to point and click to find and access different functions, data and information, they want to see only relevant information, and many of them don’t think in terms of end-to-end processes any more but want to focus on a well-defined task such as create new customer, close an opportunity or schedule a meeting. In this context Infor has created Hook & Loop, its “internal creative agency,” which I believe is a radical but sensible way to redesign the user experience. The team doesn’t include typical software engineers but rather people who look at computing from a user perspective and create a user experience that matches those expectations. Then the software engineers get involved to turn these concepts into a user interface. This is the sort of approach I suggest to companies in designing mobile apps or virtual agent scripts. In both cases it is a big mistake to have internal business users and IT design them; they should enlist customers in the design and respond to their demands. (Maybe if companies took the same approach with their IVR and Web self-service systems, those would be more successful.) In Infor’s case, I was impressed by the new user experience and look forward to seeing it develop further.

Infor is developing individual applications on ION, which it describes as a “purpose-built middleware platform.” ION is in essence a software suite that enables integration, both for Infor applications and third-party systems. The concept is straightforward: If you define a common format for inbound and outbound transactions and events and build applications and interfaces that conform to those definitions, transactions and data can flow from one to component to another without much development effort. Such a platform enables different operational applications to be integrated, eases administration and creates a scalable, distributed architecture. Transactions can be routed based on built-in rules, allowing, for example, data to be routed to Infor’s analytics tools so users can create analyses, reports and dashboards. The rules can also be programmed to spot exceptions and thus raise alerts in another system; for example, if a machine generates readings indicating a possible impending breakdown, an engineer will be told to take a closer look at it.

The reinvention of business applications continues with another product called Ming.le. Like certain other vendors, Infor positions this as its product to support social business, which is a classification I don’t believe in. Nevertheless Ming.leprovides Facebook-like capabilities that help employees collaborate using wall-based discussions, share information and raise actions. Our research consistently shows that organizational silos are one of the biggest barriers to providing customers with superior service and experiences, and greater collaboration is a way to break them down. Viewed from that perspective,Ming.le met my expectations and so I recommend that companies evaluate it, to improve not just customer service but all customer-focused activities.

The final piece of technology I saw was Infor Motion. It supports mobility in two ways, by providing employees with access to systems and information on the move and by providing a platform on which to build mobile customer service apps. In the latter case, Infor has created a service similar to Hook & Loop that works with organizations to design mobile apps that will appeal to customers and again drive greater adoption and use.

Addressing the audience at the road show, Peter and Duncan were adamant that they will continue to enhance all product lines and support all their micro-vertical products (customized versions of the applications to support granular vertical business sections, for example not just transportation but businesses in different type of transportation). All products, including the micro-verticals, will be available for deployment on premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid environment. Commitment to the last is re-enforced by packaged pricing and services intended to make it attractive for old and new customers to move to the cloud.

It was clear to me that Infor has added customer engagement to traditional CRM in its portfolio. It continues to develop an application called Customer Interaction Hub. This brings together the marketing products, CRM, Interaction Advisor, ION, Ming.le and an interaction data store to support multichannel engagement. Interaction Advisor is the key to this packaged solution as it uses customer and interaction data and rules-based logic to determine the best response, which might be the best up-sell offer, personalized responses or putting the response into the context of the overall customer relationship. It was built for the financial services and telecommunications industries, but as customer experience management becomes the focal point for more companies, I expect to see it extended into other industries.

All together this is an ambitious program; Infor seems to bevr_bti_br_technology_innovation_priorities succeeding with it because its financial results have improved, numbers of customers have grown and the company is adding internal resources. The Infor 10x product release addresses all the six innovative technologies our business technology innovation benchmark shows are important to companies. For my research practice the new user experience and the customer information hub are most significant. For as long as I can remember companies, consultants and analysts have derided CRM for not delivering to companies’ expectations. This has had a lot to do with complexity of use and functionality not focused on the customer and the customer experience. Infor is addressing both issues, so I will watch it more closely in the future, and I recommend you do, too.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director – Customer Engagement

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

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