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Ventana Research has just released its 2013 Value Index for Agent Desktop Management, in which we evaluate the competency and maturity of vendors and products that support the management of the AD_VentanaResearchValueIndex_2013desktop systems that agents use to handle customer interactions. Our firm has researched this software category for many years, and our benchmark research into customer service and the agent desktop shows the impact the agent desktop has on agent satisfaction and efficiency and the business outcome of such interactions. Because of its increasing importance, we have taken agent desktop management out of our Customer Experience Value Index and created a separate category for it.

I am excited to provide research and education on this critical software. It is essential in every contact center and industry, but its importance is often not recognized by businesses or other analyst firms. Our research on organizations using this software not only uncovered best practices and trends but also highlighted what businesses can do to improve competencies across their workforce and processes. The new Value Index for Agent Desktop Management assesses vendors and their products and whether they meet companies’ needs, based on what participants in our agent desktop benchmark research told us was important to them.

The Ventana Research methodology utilizes a request for proposal and assessment based approach looking more closely at the software than just a vendor’s vision or ability to sell software. Each Value Index takes six months to complete; unlike other analyst firms, we look at the product details that have the most importance in terms of successful use and benefits. We evaluate agent desktop vendors on seven categories that are essential for achieving expected benefits: usability, reliability, manageability, adaptability and capability of the products, as well as the customer assurance areas of validation and TCO and ROI. We assign weight to each category according to its priority to buyers, and total the results to 100 percent for scoring purposes. In the process, we identify best and worst practices to further refine how we assess technology vendors in each category. For instance, this year we placed a heavier emphasis on usability, a factor that organizations in our 2013 benchmark research indicated is becoming more important to the value of software used. You can read the details on our methodology and process in the 2013 Agent Desktop Management Value Index market report.

Our Value Index analysis for agent desktop management looks at a range of needs across industries and across companies and contact centers of all sizes. The Value Index examines requirements by job role, including management, contact center managers, supervisors and agents, and IT groups that support contact center systems. We also examine whether a system provides in-depth capabilities and features such as easy-to-use interfaces to optimize desktop use; workflow alerts and triggers to align operations; access to multiple channels of communication; the ability to find customer information easily so agents can provide personalized responses and complete after-call tasks; agent access to training information and dashboards; optimization of back-office processes; data capture and analysis; integration with communication systems and other business applications; analysis of interaction handling performance; and administrative capabilities to help create agent-specific desktops and manage use of the software.

Our analysis this year rates eight vendors Hot, which, as the highest value level, demonstrates product maturity. Upstream Works ranks at the top, followed by Cicero, OpenSpan, Jacada,, Cincom, AD_Weighted_OverallAltitude Software and KANA. Upstream Works retains the top position it achieved last year, while Altitude Software significantly improves its position and KANA enters as a Hot vendor. NICE Systems enters as a Warm vendor with a product that focuses more on optimizing agent performance and less on supporting multiple communication channels and integration with other systems. Genesys remains a Warm vendor, as its product focuses on telephony and  lacks sophisticated integration capabilities. SmartPoint and RiverStar dropped out of the analysis, declining to participate.

In line with the increasing importance of the agent desktop and its impact on the agent and overall customer experiences, the agent desktop management market has become highly competitive. Much has changed since companies such as Jacada and Genesys released their early systems, which focused on telephony and, in the case of Jacada, hid all systems from the user behind a replacement user interface. Today’s most advanced systems allow companies to choose the style of interface they want, support more channels of communication, guide users on the next best action, offer point-and-click capabilities to support ease of integration with other systems, and support more advanced analysis and presentation of performance information. All of the Hot vendors have released updated versions of their products in an effort to keep up with these requirements. As we note in the report, Upstream Works has released a new product, based on Cisco’s new offering, that changes the user interface and mode of operation, and Enghouse Interactive has entered the market with a system that focuses on optimizing access to multiple communication channels. The agent desktop management category thus is maturing rapidly, with new vendors entering the market and new capabilities to support emerging requirements, such as social customer service and mobility. This Value Index offers a guide to which vendors are in the market and their products’ maturity levels, providing a good starting point as companies evaluate how to improve customer interaction performance.

We take pride in our Value Index, and we believe it’s cool to be a Hot vendor. Unlike other analyst firms, we recognize the impact the agent desktop has on agent satisfaction and thus the customer experience. If you look at our research or talk to contact center managers, you will see that the agent desktop is becoming more complex as agents need to access more channels of communication and applications. Today’s desktop systems can therefore play a part in not only making processes easier and more efficient, but also ensuring that more agents follow best practices and achieve the best outcomes. To different degrees, our Hot vendors demonstrate capabilities that support these objectives, and each should be recognized for its efforts.

Congratulations to the vendors that stood up to our detailed assessment processes and granular analysis, which represent how organizations assess and select vendors. We’re proud of our objective and in-depth analysis, which we publish without review or editing by the technology vendors, unlike other analyst firms. While some vendors may object to the results, our independence provides the basis for the most trusted research in the industry. If you want further information, please download the executive summary and let us know if you need help selecting the right vendor for your agent desktop needs. We look forward to continuing to offer guidance to buyers in this critical application category, and to helping business and IT professionals who need to run the most efficient, results-oriented and profitable organizations.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Back in July I wrote about Kana’s acquisition of Ciboodle and its previous acquisition of Overtone and what seemed to be its ambitious plans to release an integrated version of the products. I went so far as to say Kana would have “something unique to offer” if it pulled off this effort. Now, almost nine months to the day, it has launched a new version of Kana Enterprise, and from what I saw in a prelaunch briefing it does seem to be something unique. Billed as “the first omni-channel customer service suite,” the new product brings together the original Kana customer self-service and knowledge management products, the Ciboodle desktop and several new developments.

Kana CMO Jim Norwood asserted that much of the product’s code has been redeveloped into a single code set that integrates all the functionality; he insisted that this was done to achieve the primary objective of providing seamless integration of the customer experience and the agent experience, across all communication channels. Kana chose not to develop a middleware layer that simply makes such integration possible; instead it developed a platform of service modules that support all the business applications. The Kana Enterprise platform includes a common knowledge base to support interactions through the phone, email, chat, the Web, postal mail, kiosks, mobile devices and social media. It also includes common master data, messaging, knowledge management, adaptive case management and business process management and integration services tools to support a new user interface that can be adapted for each user, tools to support personalization and customization of responses to interactions, and a new reporting and analytics framework. These tools support a range of business applications for case management, campaign management, email management, postal mail management, knowledge management, chat and co-browsing a desktop that can be customized by user role, an application to support capturing, analyzing and responding to social media, and analytics provide reports and analysis about the business, customers and agents. Each of these applications makes the agent’s work easier, as well as providing consistent, contextual and personalized customer experiences across traditional channels (such as phone, email and postal mail) as well as web-based self-service, social media, and mobile apps.

This is an impressive list of capabilities, and I’ll comment on a few that are particularly useful. One of the fundamental issues companies face before they can provide consistent, in-context, personalized customer experiences across multiple channels is to reconcile various customer IDs – to determine whether a name, phone number, mobile number, email address, web login, Twitter handle, Facebook ID and customer account number all belong to the same person. Kana addresses this challenge through an in-product customer database that over time captures and stores these IDs in a single customer record, which can be become the record of customer information or can feed from and to other applications. This means that as an interaction is processed, the system can identify the individual customer and thus put the current interaction into the context of that person’s profile and previous interactions. Kana intends to enhance this capability in future releases to include additional information such as the customer’s preferred channel of communication.

Another innovative tool in Kana Enterprise allows users to use a common tool to define how different types of interactions are to be handled, including cases where an interaction crosses channels of communication. The product also supports mobility both for agents and other users accessing the system from their smart devices, and through a series of APIs for interfacing with the smart mobile customer service apps now available.

The new release further supports consistency through a smart or unifiedvr_db_benefits_realized_from_unified_desktop desktop. My research into the agent desktop shows that many of the problems companies face in providing efficient and effective responses are due to outmoded agent desktops and most treat communication channels as silos for agents according to 21 percent of organizations. To handle interactions agents often have multiple applications open on their desktop (8% of them in our research must access more than five applications to resolve a single interaction),as well as multiple communication systems for the different types of channels, message boards and performance dashboards; this mix of technologies slows down and distracts agents from their primary role of resolving customers’ issues. In contrast, the enhanced desktop included in the new Kana Enterprise overcomes many of these issues and extends to advising agents on what to do next. Our research shows that such a desktop can provide several customer service benefits such as more employees to handle interactions, better collaboration between employees, and most importantly for many contact center managers, reducing average handling times.. The results also show that such a desktop has a major impact on agent satisfaction – agents with such a desktop are twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs as those that don’t have one; in turn, those agents are twice as likely as others to be on target for key metrics such as customer satisfaction, first-contact resolution, and net promoter and customer effort scores. Having a desktop embedded in the product gives Kana a key differentiator from many other vendors.

I must admit I have trouble with the term “omni-channel customer experience” as it implies that customers in the future will interact through a single channel of communication and the experience will feel the same regardless of channel. My research into contact centers in the cloud dispels this belief, showing that companies are likely to have to go on supporting all the channels they now support plus new ones such as social and mobile, and that each will look and feel slightly different. On the other hand, my research into customer experience shows that customers expect responses to be personalized, in-context and consistent across channels; indeed if they don’t find they are consistent, they will channel-hop until they get the answer they want. From what I have seen so far, Kana’s new release lives up to the expectations it set out at the time of the Ciboodle acquisition and could provide many of the benefits of what our research in agent desktop that I have already communicated. As they try to improve the quality and consistency of customer experience regardless of channel, I advise companies to evaluate it.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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