Thursday, June 07, 2007

Communications Enabling Business Processes

Alexander Graham Bell. Some of you might recall the name. He unleashed a revolution, making all of us take communications for granted. We cannot imagine a world without a telephone of some sorts - be it your desk phone, home phone, mobile phone, a soft phone on your laptop, or even Skype.

We cannot imagine how business would have been conducted, or at what speed would it have been conducted, but for the phenomenal device known as the telephone that made its advent on this human inhabited space in 1876.

For most of us, this profound 'enablement' of business by the communications technology has been both phenomenal and sufficient. But not any more. With innovations happening all round us in the field of communications, there is yet another phenomenon we all must now witness.

Welcome Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP). Originally attributed to Gartner, and subsequently developed into meaningful Business solutions by Avaya

The human factor has been, and will continue to remain, an inseparable ingredient of any efficient, effective and flexible business process. But the human factor also introduces latencies into the processes. Using automation has been an alternative but never a completely satisfactory solution. By replacing the human factor you may remove the latency, but you cannot introduce enough artificial intelligence to compensate for the resulting loss of effectiveness, flexibility and innovation.

The uniqueness of CEBP lies in its ability to interpret vast streams of data (which is what technology is good at doing) to identify 'events' of interest. These in turn 'trigger' - based on the business process you define - appropriate communications flows within the enterprise to then bring in the right stakeholders together. Thus the human factor is back in the process at just the right time, the latencies of the process having been written off.

We have had process enabled communications for a while (what with a lot of 'call flows' and 'scripting languages' and the likes) but this is time for communications to start enabling processes - Business Processes as a matter of fact.

All it requires is the right motivation, the right technology (either existing or planned), the right partner with the consulting skills and the right executive sponsorship from within the enterprise.
If you are a business leader who happened to stumble on this post, and if you are looking for opportunities of making revolutionary changes to your business processes, I encourage you to consider CEBP as the magic wand.

For more information, visit The Intelligent Communicator Newsletter: CEBP Solutions Slash Latency.

You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

SIP: Leading Contact Centers beyond VoIP

My earlier post Business of Customer Responsiveness was a teaser for the C-level. I hope it continues serving its purpose by propagating and keeping the core message alive.

Now I want to turn your attention to a key relevant topic in that teaser. Enter SIP. Session Initiation Protocol for the technically minded.

But I firmly believe that more importantly, it is really a Simpler IP!

When the art of "packetizing voice and moving the packets over IP networks" was perfected; the industry coined the term VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). You could take it or leave it alone.
By itself VoIP did nothing spectacular:

  • VoIP initially brought the toll costs down
  • when people used it to bypass the toll networks
  • they did so by establishing their own private IP links a.k.a. Leased Lines
  • and then this initial hype died...

  • ...when the long distance communications costs kept moving southwards, partly owing to the fact that Telecom carriers themselves deployed VoIP; and also with the new avatar of many Internet Service Providers donning the hat of Telephony providers.

    But the real power that got unleashed was beyond the "packets" in VoIP. The real power was in "infinitely extending the copper wire". The ability to add voice terminals wherever your IP network could reach. The ability to "convert" your PC's and Laptops into Telephones.

    Of course it came with its caveats, and imposed limits on:

  • round trip delays
  • packet loss
  • jitter
  • the fact that you could not 'resend', or 'send out of order' voice packets the same way as you could do for data packets

  • But as long as these limits were adhered to in the network, and Voice packets appropriately prioritized using Quality Of Service (QOS) techniques; a Communication application could be pretty much "virtualized" the way you wanted.

    You could deliver the Voice AND data packets without bothering about how to converge them. And these were real Applications benefits, that distinguished the "IP Telephony" from mere "VoIP"!
    And the Technocrats (even amongst the C-Levels) understood WHY IP Phones were beneficial, but more importantly WHERE they were not! e.g.: for a Single location Contact Center... where the copper wire itself does the job.

    I suspect something similar is going to be the case in the SIP era. There will be Organizations who are either developing "so called" SIP technologies, or thinking of deploying SIP; just because it seems to be the next wave. I'm afraid these Organizations will not reap any real benefits.

    The real power of SIP is in the Applications space again. Note a few:

  • Interoperability between different vendor applications
  • Ability to add Voice, CTI data, AND Video in a session
  • Ability to start off on one medium (say Instant Messaging a.k.a. Web Chat) and simply switch to; or subsequently ADD another (e.g. Voice channel)
  • Ability to report more comprehensively on the contacts, including the above "multi-media within the same contact"
  • Ability to identify (through Presence) resources with relevant skills to handle the Customers in queue
  • Ability to also additionally identify whether these resources are interruptible at the given moment
  • .. etc. etc.

  • As SIP pervades the Contact Center Applications space, the IP Telephony benefits are going to get greatly enhanced. What VoIP did to the Contact Center Infrastructure through IP Telephony; SIP is going to do for the Applications.

    What do you think?

    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Business of Customer Responsiveness

    Theme: Organizations boast of being responsive to their Customer, but does every part of their organization engage in Customer Responsiveness?

    I am aware that I am broaching a sensitive topic here. No CEO would ever admit that his/her organization is not customer responsive. Yet, when I scan the market; across industry verticals, across geographies, and even across varying business types; I find that the Contact Center is the only department in most organizations, that measures this responsiveness.

    There is no trend yet where organizations as a whole are being responsive to their customers. Metrics like Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Service Level (SL), First Time Right (FTR), Abandon rate, get measured and discussed only on the Contact Center floor.

    Why don't I see a trend where the entire organization answers to the customers?

    When it comes to the Enterprise communications infrastructure, I see two types of organizational communications strategies being initiated.

    • The "Cost Focused" business leaders

    - They believe in 'isolation' tactics

    - The Central office has state-of-the-art communication systems and applications

    - The branches and other parts of the organization have small Key Telephone Systems

    - It is presumed that that is all they require.

    • The "Visionary" C-level

    - They believe in having ONE integrated communication system

    - Offering the same rich functionality to all parts of their organization

    - They are right!

    - And they are reaping the benefits of being able to collaborate with intuitive applications

    Yet, neither the "Cost Focused", nor the "Visionaries" are even thinking of integrating their Contact Center with the Enterprise Communications systems. They continue to work as islands of information and connectivity. One for communicating with the customers; and another to communicate within themselves!

    The "Visionaries" have actually reached a stage where they are poised to leverage and unleash an enormous amount of collaborative energy working for the benefit of their customers. Yet, they are still as far from a true integrated communication system, as their "Cost focused" counterparts of the first type.

    Therein lies the huge opportunity! The opportunity of unleashing collaborated team of internal associates, external partners, as well as the customers. The opportunity of:

    • Making every individual associate capable of contributing to customer queries (Fulfilling the vision of a truly Customer Responsive organization)
    • Giving frontline Contact Center agents the ability to pull Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) right there in real time (increase the FTR ratio)
    • Greatly streamlining many complex processes required for customer fulfilment (Increasing organizational effectiveness)
    • Taking the human latency away from the entire Customer Responsiveness chain (Increasing customer satisfaction)
    • Optimizing enterprise resources (e.g: Tellers in the branch sharing the Contact Center call load, because the footfalls and customer calls peak at completely different times... etc..)
    • Creating the Customer Responsive organization

    A few years ago, these opportunities did not exist, because the underlying technology that makes this possible, has emerged only recently. The Contact Center agents did not know back then, which SME to look for. With a true Presence, agents will instantly know exactly who is available, interruptible, and on what device can they be reached - Desk Phone, Mobile Phone, Instant Messaging, or email.

    Today, I can think of at least one technology leader Avaya, who is ready with innovative solutions to deliver Presence across multi-vendor applications, Unified Communications, and rich Business Intelligence tools.

    But what I find disconcerting is the lack of "Visionary" leaders who are already prepared with their strategy to take advantage of this changed landscape. The precious few who are, are an exception. The good news is that they will be at the forefront of the trend when it comes, and consequently gain tremendous competitive advantage.

    I am now looking forward to that trend - that of organizations moving from their "intent" of being Customer Responsive; to "being" Customer Responsive and fulfilling their promise.

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    Advent of the "Service Game"

    How frequently have you been a "Guest"?

    I don't expect to hear very many responses of the "What's that?" variety. When you are traveling, staying in a hotel, occupying a "guest" house, visiting friends & relatives, or just relaxing in a beach-side resort - you are experiencing what I'm trying to drive at.

    Which really is - you assume the "guest" status when you are not likely to be permanently "there".

    That in other words means that there is a "Host" taking care of your needs. You are being "Managed" well, if you return satisfied wearing your "guest" mantle.

    Now further stretch your imagination to apply this unique and fulfilling personal experience to a business situation. Why would you not want your business to be taken care of thus?
    Especially when it is not "permanently there", it's being set-up, or simply because you want a perfect "Host" to take care of those aspects of your business that you would not rather handle yourself?

    Enter "Managed" Services a.k.a. "Hosted" Services. This is the new mantra currently doing the rounds in the business corridors. Hosted Messaging, Hosted Contact Center, Hosted Security, Hosted Storage, .. the list goes on...

    The benefit to the business is evident -
    a) There are no hassles of setting up those complex technology pieces
    b) Experts will be managing the systems for you
    c) You don't have to invest in the entire technology
    d) You only pay for what services you avail of
    e) You are spared the technology obsolesence because you do not own the technology, it's someone else's problem to keep pace with the new advents being made in the field
    f) The OPerating EXpense model particulary suiting many a industry in a variety of situations....

    The benefits for the Service Provider -
    a) Amortize one time technology investments over a period of time by providing services and getting periodic payments from multiple businesses
    b) This provision of services to multiple businesses indicate a better utilization rate, because of economies of scale (it will cost lesser than setting up different individual platforms to provide services to each business)
    c) Usually the Service Providers are doing this as an allied business, which would usually boost their primary business. e.g: A Telecom Service Provider "Hosting" a Contact Center, would ensure that businesses availing of this Contact Center service will use their bandwidth and 'last mile'. In Business As Usual, these customers might normally have gone to competition
    d) Bring in Technologies ahead of their usual times - by making it affordable, practical, and feasible for many more businesses to "try" them out; instead of a mere handful of early adopters having a go at it, thereby expanding the addressable market

    This last point finally also means that the Technology companies too will benefit as a result of this "Hosted Platforms" syndrome!

    Many regions in the globe have completely imbibed this phenomenon, or are rapidly seeing multiple Service Providers introducing these services. In this regard it's really heartning to see the major Indian Telcos too beginning to open up their bouquet of services, introducing various "Managed Services" offerings to the Indian Corporate sector.

    Their timing could not have been better.
    With the Indian economy looking up, Indian Corporates requiring sophisticated technologies to keep them in the global race, and most importantly, the trends of "Software As A Service" and "Service Oriented Architecture" taking shape to give the "Managed Service" a new fillip; the future seems bright for the "Hosted" party.

    I wish the Indian Telcos all the best.


    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    I Know What You Want

    Today I witnessed something interesting. An experience worth sharing, because it opens up other lines of thinking.

    My 7 year old daughter Nidhi, brought a friend home, and they asked for permission from my wife Varsha to play games on Nidhi's PC. Having secured the permission, Nidhi went about the task of booting the PC, and opening the folder marked "Games for Nidhi". {I still get amazed at her deftness at handling the PC, especially on the way she controls the mouse etc. See her smiling face on My Homepage... I really must update those old photographs....}

    So the duo began exploring, and Nidhi zeroed down on a game, but Varsha intervened and asked them to play Pocket Tanks instead. Her reasoning was pretty sound - there are two of you, so play a game that both of you can enjoy simultaneously.

    That made tempers fly, an argument ensued, and both parties stuck to their stand, not willing to holster their drawn guns. Their swords still pointing at each other, I asked the friends duo what was wrong with the suggestion of Pocket Tanks. "After all, it allows both of you to participate", I preached. "Whereas in other games, only one of you will enjoy, and the other one will be a mere spectator".

    Then our little 'Customers' revealed the following:
    a) they did not know how to play Pocket Tanks very well - at least Nidhi's friend didn't - hence our suggestion that both can participate was actually wrong. Neither of them could, fully!
    b) Nidhi actually wanted to sit back and check out how her friend either excelled at, or bungled on, the games she has become so adept at playing... she 'wanted' to merely 'spectate'... (maybe the English language will officially adopt this word some day)..!

    Fertile that my mind is when it comes to sowing the seeds of imagination, I started drawing parallels to: Senior Management telling other down the line what's good for them; Quality Heads telling Supervisors what their jobs 'should' be; Marketing whizkids on the 39th floor deciding not only on Promotion but also on the Product - on behalf of those illiterate customers loitering on the pavements....

    A real revelation for me - "I Know What You Want"!