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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, salesforce.com, 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.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

My recent benchmark into the unified customer service agent desktop showsvr_db_impact_of_agents_accessing_multiple_systems how critical the agent desktop is to improving agent satisfaction, meeting key customer-related metrics and enhancing the customer experience. The typical agent desktop contains multiple systems that allow agents access to multiple communication channels, business applications, messages and performance dashboards. The result is that the desktop is cluttered with systems, frustrating agents, driving up average interaction handling times, and impacting the customer experience as agents search for the information to resolve interactions. The research shows a direct correlation between implementing a unified or smart agent desktop and agent satisfaction, with the direct result that more satisfied agents are twice as likely to meet key metrics such as customer satisfaction, net promoter and customer effort.

Cisco is best known in the contact center space for its systems that manage multiple channels of communication, routing of interactions to agents, and unified communications (presence and collaboration). It offered a basic agent desktop system that focused mainly on telephony, but the latest version of its Cisco Finesse adds a new level of innovative capabilities that allow companies to build broader-based, smarter agent desktops. Cisco describes Finesse as a web gadget container. The simplest way I can describe it is a development toolkit that allows companies to build a customized desktop that includes mini web windows into different systems and information. It allows developers to build gadgets that can access multiple communication channels, business applications, collaboration tools and dashboards and bring these together in a single agent desktop. The gadgets can be developed to access any system, and display any data in a format suitable for the user, and the environment makes them work together. Agents or supervisors or other users can thus be given a desktop that meets their needs and has a look and feel that suits them. Cisco aims to provide its partners, other vendors and end users with the tools to build diverse gadgets and to create a market place for them, thereby allowing other users to benefit from prebuilt gadgets. For example, Upstream Works, a provider of multichannel contact systems, has announced a version of its product that utilizes Finesse as the desktop.

Desktops developed using Finesses are 100-percent browser-based and are implemented through a so-called Web 2.0 interface. The toolkit includes a software development kit (SDK) to make it easy for developers to access and create gadgets. It provides APIs that allow developers to build gadgets that access most systems. This adds up to an easy–to-use development environment and final desktop systems that are available through a web browser on any machine, and thus at any location. This is important, as my research into the contact center in the cloud shows organizations now distribute the handling of interactions to more sites, home agents, knowledge workers in other business units and mobile workers, making location independence key.

Early in my career I realized that the agent desktop has a major impact on agent performance, and thus overall contact center performance. My research into the unified agent desktop shows that organizations are slowly latching onto the benefits a unified or smart desktop can deliver. As interactions become ever more complex, I recommend organizations evaluate how Finesse can make their agents’ lives easier, and the impact this can have on key metrics.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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