Ventana Research Analyst Perspectives provide unique fact-based insights and education on business, industry and technology vendor trends. Each Analyst Perspective presents the voice of the analyst, typically a practice leader and established subject matter expert,  reporting on new developments, the findings of benchmark research, market shifts and best practice insights. Each Analyst Perspective is prepared in accordance with Ventana Research’s strict standards for accuracy and objectivity and reviewed to ensure it delivers reliable, actionable news and insights.  

Research Agenda: Business Analytics Trends and Possibilities in 2015

Our benchmark research into business technology innovation shows that analytics ranks first or second as a business technology innovation priority in 59 percent of organizations. Businesses are moving budgets and responsibilities for analytics closer to the sales operations, often in the form of so-calledvr_Big_Data_Analytics_15_new_technologies_enhance_analytics shadow IT organizations that report into decentralized and autonomous business units rather than a central IT organization. New technologies such as in-memory systems (50%), Hadoop (42%) and data warehouse appliances (33%) are top back-end technologies being used to acquire a new generation of analytic capabilities. They are enabling new possibilities including self-service analytics, mobile access, more collaborative interaction and real-time analytics. In 2014, Ventana Research helped lead the discussion around topics such as information optimization, data preparation, big data analytics and mobile business intelligence. In 2015, we will continue to cover these topics while adding new areas of innovation as they emerge.

 

Three key topics lead our 2015 business analytics research agenda. The first focuses on cloud-based analytics. In our benchmark research on information optimization, nearly all (97%) organizations said it is important or very important to Ventana_Research_Benchmark_Research_Logosimplify informa­tion access for both their business and their customers. Part of the challenge in optimizing an organization’s use of information is to integrate and analyze data that originates in the cloud or has been moved there. This issue has important implications for information presentation, where analytics are executed and whether business intelligence will continue to move to the cloud in more than a piecemeal fashion. We are currently exploring these topics in our new benchmark research called analytics and data in the cloud Coupled with the issue of cloud use is the proliferation of embedded analytics and the imperative for organizations to provide scalable analytics within the workflow of applications. A key question we’ll try to answer this year is whether companies that have focused primarily on operational cloud applications at the expense of developing their analytics portfolio or those that have focused more on analytics will gain a competitive advantage.

The second research agenda item is advanced analytics. It may be useful to divide this category into machine learning and predictive analytics, which I have discussed and covered in vr_predanalytics_benefits_of_predictive_analytics_updatedour benchmark research on big data analytics. Predictive analytics has long been available in some sectors of the business world, and two-thirds (68%) of organizations as found in our research that use it said it provides a competitive advantage. Programming languages such as R, the use of Predictive Model Markup Language (PMML), inclusion of social media data in prediction, massive scale simulation, and right-time integration of scoring at the point of decision-making are all important advances in this area. Machine learning also been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until the instrumentation of big data sources and advances in technology that it made sense to use in more than academic environments. At the same time as the technology landscape is evolving, it is getting more fragmented and complex; in order to simplify it, software designers will need innovative uses of machine learning to mask the underlying complexity through layers of abstraction. A technology such as Spark out of Amp-Lab at Berkeley is still immature, but it promises to enable increasing uses of machine learning on big data. Areas such as sourcing data and preparing data for analysis must be simplified so analysts are not overwhelmed by big data.

Our third area of focus is the user experience in business intelligence tools. Simplification and optimization of information in a context-sensitive manner are paramount. An intuitive user experience can advance the people and process dimensions VR_Value_Index_Logoof business, which have lagged technology innovation according to our research in multiple areas. New approaches coming from business end-users, especially in the tech-savvy millennial generation, are pushing the envelope here. In particular, mobility and collaboration are enabling new user experiences in both business organizations and society at large. Adding to it is data collected in more forms, such as location analytics (which we have done research on), individual and societal relationships, information and popular brands. How business intelligence tools incorporate such information and make it easy to prepare, design and consume for different organizational personas is not just an agenda focus but also one focus of our 2015 Analytics and Business Intelligence Value Index to be published in the first quarter of the year.

This shapes up as an exciting year. I welcome any feedback you have on this research agenda and look forward to providing research, collaborating and educating with you in 2015.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director


Genesys and Workforce Optimization

Genesys is best known as a provider of contact center management systems and has long provided computer/telephony integration (CTI) and single-queue call routing systems. Over the pastVR_WFO_VI_2015 few years it has had changes of ownership and now is a stand-alone company focused on providing systems to improve the customer experience. To do this its combines contact center infrastructure systems and a suite of workforce optimization applications. We included the suite in our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index, which evaluates workforce optimization vendors against the requirements of companies as found in our benchmark research into next-generation workforce optimization. Genesys is rated a Warm vendor in the Value Index as a consequence of not actively participating with our process forcing us to base the evaluation on publicly available information including product documentation, presentation and briefings, which although comprehensive does not address all aspects included in the Value Index. During a recent briefing I learned more about Genesys’ software and services that I can provide more depth on some key areas of their workforce optimization offering.

Its workforce optimization suite consists of five of the six components we assessed in the Value Index: interaction recording, quality management, workforce management, training and coaching (part of workforce management) and analytics. The missing component is agent compensation management; like many of the other vendors, Genesys provides no more than input for third-party systems. Each of the five components in the suite supports capabilities similar to those of most of the other vendors that took part in the Value Index, with a few notable exceptions. Interaction recording records both calls and the screens agents use to resolve interactions and supports random sampling and  quality monitoring driven by speech analytics. Companies can use it to score agents’ handling of interactions and to identify coaching needs. Quality monitoring includes a form builder that helps users evaluate performance in different types of interactions. It integrates with recording so that coaching sessions can be scheduled based on analysis of the forms. Workforce management works across all communication channels and forecasts agent schedules based on data from all channels and tasks. It tracks what agents actually do and compares that to their schedules, and it automates identification of training agents need based on their evaluations. Workforce management also schedules time for back-office workers to handle tasks related to resolving interactions. The fourth component, analytics, ingests data from multiple sources, including transaction and interaction data, to produce an analysis of the end-to-end interaction-handling process. It includes speech analytics that analyzes words and phrases used during interactions that can automatically trigger workflows to ensure action is taken based on actual conversations. The performance management component provides a real-time view of agent-related activities that is linked with customer feedback and business outcomes, and which drills down to root causes so actions can be taken anywhere across the organization.

vr_NGWO2_06_use_of_agent_workforce_applicationsOverall the workforce optimization suite thus includes the core applications and capabilities identified in my workforce optimization research. Our research finds plans to go beyond call recording and quality management and expand into other areas like coaching and learning systems where less than a fifth of organizations have indicated. I also learned three other key facts. There is close integration between the applications to support cross-functional processes; Genesys has been investing in a common user interface for all the applications; and the systems are available in the cloud, which the research shows is of growing importance to organizations.

As well as product capabilities Our Value Index evaluates Usability, Manageability, Reliability, Adaptability, Vendor Validation and TCO/ROI, none of which most vendors, including Genesys, cover on their websites; as noted, this held down Genesys’ scores. I was pleased to learn in the recent discussion that Genesys is investing in three innovation areas that Ventana Research sees as having great impact on users’ adoption of systems and use of modern technology. The first is usability. Genesys now offers a common look-and-feel across all applications and is moving the interface toward a task-oriented approach whereby users have single sign-on to all apps, role-based access control and point-and-click capabilities to activate task-oriented capabilities such as answering calls. The second area is mobility, in which apps run on any device so users can access systems and key information while on the move, including modern visualization of information and dashboards. The third area looks even further ahead by adding capabilities such as additional APIs to support wearable devices.

Genesys has also enhanced its support services, which our research and the Value Index find to be crucial. The company markets them as Genesys Guru. It is a portfolio of managed services designed to help customers realize the maximum benefit from investing in the company’s customer experience technology. Its planning services help companies identify problem areas and hidden costs so they can use the systems to maximum effect and thus concentrate on customers rather than the technology. Interaction analysis services help companies use speech and text analytics to best effect, especially to link customer feedback to quality monitoring and thus to improve agent performance. It also helps set up the system to deliver key analysis and metrics, supporting continuous improvement. Business performance services takes this one step further and provides services to collect, analyze and interpret all performance and workforce management data so it can recommend people, process and system improvements to improve the end-to-end customer journey. My research shows that organizations are relatively immature in their use of such technologies, so these services should help them gain benefits from their investments.

Taking this information into account, there are areas where Genesys could have scored higher but they need to be engaged into assessments like RFI/RFP can help them be considered further in workforce optimization. If the company continues developments in the seven categories by which we judge and win new clients it may well rank higher in our next Value Index assessment. I suspect its biggest challenge will be to convince potential customers that it can be successful over the long term as a stand-alone company. From a product point of view it will also need to convince the market it has moved on from being a CTI company and now has a broad portfolio that supports customer engagement. In this respect it has the advantage of being one of only a few vendors that combines communication channel management and workforce optimization products, both of which I believe are core to improving customer engagement. I therefore recommend that companies seeking to improve the end-to-end customer experience assess how Genesys can help in those efforts.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director


Make Automating the Office of Finance and Accounting a Priority

Our recent Office of Finance benchmark research demonstrates the importance of using automation to execute finance department functions. Information technology systems do at least two things very well that make better use of people’s time, and both of them can substantially improve organizational performance. First, they eliminate the need for people to do repetitive tasks, which frees them to spend time on more valuable work that requires judgment and skill. IT systems also can be programmed to focus only on relevant information while eliminating the need to get immersed in detail. The latter capability supports a “management by exception” approach, which enables executives and managers to better allocate how and where they spend their time.

Our research shows that in finance operations many companiesvr_Office_of_Finance_11_automation_speeds_the_financial_close don’t take advantage of these capabilities. Only half of participating organizations have automated a significant percentage of their finance processes. In particular, just 11 percent have nearly or fully automated their financial close, while almost half (48%) apply some automation and 36 percent little or none. It also reveals automation’s positive impact on performance: 71 percent of companies that nearly or fully automate their close process are able to close their quarterly books in six or fewer business days whereas 43 percent those that have only partially automated are able to do so and just 23 percent that use little or no automation have this ability. Another example is the automation of reconciliation, which is an essential element of the close process. It’s a repetitive task that lends itself to automation, and affordable software for managing the task is mature. Yet just 37 percent of companies have applied automation to their reconciliation process. Automation of reconciliation also correlates with how quickly a company closes its books: 57 percent of companies that use software for this purpose close their quarters within six business days and 30 percent do it in four business days. By contrast, 73 percent of the companies that do not automate reconciliation take seven or more working days to close.

Spreadsheets are a valuable tool for many finance department tasks, but they are out of place when used for repetitive, collaborative enterprise-wide processes. Indeed, they are both a symptom and a cause of dysfunctional processes, systems and data. A symptom because they frequently become the default option to put a bandage over, for example, vr_Office_of_Finance_04_spreadsheets_are_the_tool_of_choiceissues that arise because systems are not properly integrated or a process is not supported by the appropriate technology such as a dedicated application. But spreadsheets remain the tool of choice for a variety of finance department tasks. Almost all midsize and larger companies (those with 100 or more employees) use them for management accounting analysis and nine out of 10 use them to manage their long-range and strategic planning process and to do financial analysis. More than eight in 10 use spreadsheets for direct and indirect tax provisioning as well as treasury management. Spreadsheets have their place, but our research demonstrates that they are frequently misused.

The close is a useful process to benchmark because almost every company does it and there’s a measurable outcome: the number of days after the period’s end in which the company completes the process. To be sure, this metric does not represent the full amount of time companies spend on executing the close. Corporations that close their books the day after the period ends usually have already started parts of the process before the end of the period, and some of these processes are performed weekly or even daily in order to balance workloads over the month. Yet to focus on the total hours spent is to miss the point: Managing to a faster close is not just about efficiency, it’s also about getting the numbers to executives and managers so they can react quickly to issues and opportunities. The research demonstrates a close correlation between when the close is completed and the timeliness of communicating that information to the rest of the company.

Time is the critical ingredient that determines the overallvr_Office_of_Finance_09_fast_closers_have_more_timely_information performance of finance and accounting departments. Poorly performing organizations usually are mired in an endless cycle of fighting fires – for example, dealing with the impact of processes that are poorly designed or not properly executed. These departments are constantly contending with the impact of information sources that are unreliable, difficult to access or both. Poorly designed systems add to the problem, generating hours of work in the form of manual reconciliations done in spreadsheets. Think of a finance department that does not apply automation and that has poorly designed or executed processes and systems as a caged hamster running on a wheel. It expends a great deal of effort on repetitive manual processes that are only marginally productive.

Software automation by itself will not address all of the challenges of a finance and accounting organization. To optimize performance companies almost always must deal with an interrelated combination of people, process, technology and data issues in a holistic fashion. Yet confronted with the day-to-day struggle of meeting deadlines, many finance executives put off addressing their productivity and effectiveness issues. They shouldn’t, because a continuous improvement process involving a steady set of small advances can yield impressive results over time. Identifying the biggest time sinks that can be readily eliminated and then eliminating them can free up the resources needed to address the next set of significant problems. Even something as straightforward as uncovering unnecessary work or replacing the worst spreadsheets with better technology (for instance, implementing automated or self-service reporting) will be beneficial. For this to happen, though, senior finance and accounting executives must make automation a priority.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research


 

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