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.  

Aspect Provides Customer Engagement Center in the Cloud

Aspect is a well-established global provider of contact center systems. Its portfolio of products includes applications for contact centers, self-service, workforce optimization and analytics. In May the company announced it has gained clearance for restructuring its debt, which means it is in a better financial position  to invest in its products and global ecosystem of partners, to the benefit of its customers and new prospects. In a recent briefing Aspect’s SVP and general manager of workforce optimization, Mike Burke, asserted that the restructuring will benefit its customers and cited healthy numbers around its pipeline, sales and revenue, including significant recurring revenue from sales of cloud-based products.

One of its flagship products is Aspect EQ, a suite of workforce optimization products that consists of three layers:

  1. An open systems layer includes components that support a universal ADD interface, Web services and multiple APIs, which facilitate integration with third-party products.
  2. An integration and administration layer includes components that support a common HTML5 user interface, multiple dashboards, a workflow engine that runs across the other components, a common data store, administration tools and support for Web, mobile and IVR systems. This technology makes the software easy to administer and use, while centralizing essential capabilities such as data management and workflow.
  3. A top layer includes standard workforce optimization applications such as call recording, quality management, workforce management, e-learning, coaching and performance management plus a number of products not typically associated with workforce optimization, such as surveys, analytics (including desktop and speech), and support for managing back-office employees involved in customer-related tasks.

To support Aspect EQ the company offers a set of professional services to bundle the products to suit individual organizations’ requirements and deploy them quickly.

Mike Burke articulated Aspect’s product strategy, which is  based on six principles:

  • enabling additional integration of all workforce optimization components, including a common user interface and administration capabilities
  • keeping the product up-to-date technically and functionally
  • supporting all cloud models: private, public and hybrid
  • enhancing agent engagement by adding capabilities such as gamification, mobile access to key features and reporting
  • supporting management of employee-related tasks associated with handling multiple engagement channels in both in the front and back offices
  • providing advanced analytics including predictive and prescriptive analytics and real-time advice through analytics-driven actions.

The 8.2 release of Aspect EQ includes advances in each of these areas. In particular, there are functional improvements to quality management, speech analytics, workforce management and performance management. There is also a new desktop analytics product, Aspect EQ Activity Insight, which captures desktop usage and produces various analysis of actions such as idle time, time spent on various tasks, compliance with regulations, process issues, and redundant and erroneous data entry; such analyses can be used to improve interaction handling processes and agent performance. A complementary application, Aspect EQ Activity Automation is a “smart desktop” system that enables single sign-on and automates data entry across applications, looking up of customer information and completion of forms. In total the suite offers a comprehensive suite of workforce optimization capabilities.

Combined with the other applications, enhanced workforce optimization can help produce superior customer experiences. In addition, Aspect recently announced Aspect Via, which will be on general release as of October 2016. It brings together the underlying platform of services, workforce optimization, communication channel management – assisted and self-service – and analytics to enable organizations to manage all aspects of the customer experience. It has a common, customizable user interface and both real-time and historical reporting that utilizes data from all applications. It is designed and available only in the cloud, but even so, the platform services provide capabilities to integrate with third-party data sources and applications.

I believe that Aspect Via is a key development for the company. Customer experience and the need to provide omnichannel customervr_ngce_15_supporting_multiple_channels engagement are on many companies’ agendas, but in our benchmark research into next-generation contact center in the cloud fewer than half (48%) of companies said they provide such experiences. Our research into next-generation customer engagement identifies five key challenges organizations face as they try to move from multichannel to omnichannel customer engagement: integrating systems (cited by 49%), channels managed as silos (47%), inconsistent response (33%), high cost of implementation (30%) and the need for skilled resources (29%). To overcome these challenges, organizations need complete views of interaction handling; effective employee training, coaching and support; integrated channels of engagement; and integration with applications agents need to resolve interactions. Furthermore, these systems must be connected so data can flow between systems and processes, for example, using analysis of customer feedback in agent training and coaching. Aspect Via is one of the few suites that connect all these component parts, so I recommend that organizations looking to improve agent and customer experiences assess how it can help those efforts and keep track of how it develops, as I will be doing.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director, Customer

Follow Me on Twitter and Connect with me on LinkedIn


ERP Can Help Transform Finance

Like many other industry observers I’ve heard overblown claims for information technology for decades. However, I’ve also observed that – eventually – reality catches up with vision. Finance and accounting departments are particularly resistant to change, yet because almost no corporations use adding machines or typewriters any more, it’s clear that transformative change can happen. Nonetheless, because users of business computing systems are inundated with “it’s better than ever” promotions by vendors, journalists and industry analysts, may have grown jaded and disbelieving. In the case of ERP systems that help run many organizations, that is too bad because we are finally at the point of a fundamental change in this business-critical software category.

ERP systems themselves have been undergoing transformation, enabled by the growing availability of technologies that can address the shortcomings of established systems and an increasing appetite for multitenant, cloud-based ERP systems. As I noted in my research agenda for the Office of Finance, the demographic shift taking place in the ranks of senior executives and managers – from the baby-boom generation to those who grew up with computer technology – will create demand for more capable software. ERP systems are evolving to deliver a better user experience, greater flexibility and agility, as well as an optimized mobile experience and lower total cost of ownership. The transformation has already started for some vendors and to some degree. The pace of change will increase over the next two years as new releases become available. However, I don’t expect companies to buy a brand-new ERP system just to acquire next-generation features. Our Office of Finance benchmark research finds that on average companies replace their ERP systems only every 6.4 years, mainly because of the cost and difficulty of implementing the software. Moreover, many of these capabilities will be available under maintenance contracts for on-premises systems and incorporated automatically in upgrades of cloud-based systems.

The new generation of ERP systems will be vr_office_of_finance_05_finance_should_take_strategic_roleable to support a more effective approach to managing the functions I call continuous accounting that will benefit finance and accounting departments. By eliminating batch data processing and by supporting analytic as well as transactional operations in a unified system, the next generation of ERP systems will enable companies to provide executives and managers with immediate information, alerts and guidance. It will enable departments to spread workloads more evenly across months and quarters, rather than having to wait until the end of the period. In so doing, many companies will be able to accelerate their close, as I have discussed. Continuous accounting can contribute to providing a strategic focus for the finance organization – a change that organizations will welcome. In our research on finance innovation, nine out of 10 participants said that it’s important or very important for finance departments to take a strategic role in running their company.

In many respects, today’s ERP systems are exactly what people don’t want any more. They are notoriously time-consuming and expensive to set up, maintain and modify. In our ERP research only 21 percent of larger companies said that implementing new capabilities in ERP systems is easy or very easy while one-third characterized it as difficult. For this and other reasons, the current generation of ERP software acts a barrier to innovation and improvement.

To be sure, more than any other type of enterprise software, ERP systems are a challenge because of the complexities of business organizations. This isn’t going to change. I’ve spent decades examining all sorts of businesses from multiple perspectives – from strategic, high-level business models to footnotes in financial statements and the execution of specific manufacturing and financial processes. To the uninitiated, everything about business appears simple until they get into the details. Then, even when you strip out inessential elements, it’s still complicated. ERP is complicated because the underlying business requirements are complicated. For example, in any organization there are competing demands and priorities at work when an ERP system is set up.

Although some aspects of ERP will always be complex and require experienced assistance to design and maintain, techniques for mass customization can make it easier to implement and change, thereby eliminating a significant portion of the cost of ownership. To be sure, software companies have tried to minimize deployment costs. For a couple of decades, ERP vendors have offered packages aimed at specific industries such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals. Those addressing midsize companies, which have tighter budgets than large ones, offer out-of-the-box configurations aimed at even more specific types of business, such as steel service centers, manufacturing job shops or brewers. For more generic businesses, today’s cloud-based ERP systems are one solution to the problem of costly updates and reconfiguration. However, this option still may not be attractive if an organization is in a business that has very specific customization requirements that more generic ERP systems cannot support well (for instance, process-manufacturing industries such as specialty chemicals manufacturing).

One positive development in the ERP category is the increasing attention vendors have been paying to the user experience in the design of screens and workflows. The dull, cluttered and difficult-to-navigate interfaces that have been the norm up to now were the result of inexperience in design and constrained computing resources. The next generation of ERP systems is being designed with decades of experience and far more powerful computing platforms and tools than the current ones. In the 1930s, Raymond Loewy and others revolutionized the design of everyday objects, from soda fountains to locomotives and automobiles so that form and function combined to produce a better product. Today, it’s even more important to apply basic concepts of industrial design and ergonomics to creating user interfaces. This goes beyond making old code bases pretty. Largely because of tablets and mobile computing platforms, people now work with multiple types of interfaces and use a wider range of methods and gestures to interact with their devices. The next generation of ERP software must incorporate these advances and ensure that the screens and their flows are optimized for the device. The emerging generation of finance executives and ERP users won’t put up with the inconveniences and awkwardness that their predecessors reconciled themselves to.

It’s also clear that ERP systems will be faster in the future, as redesigning the software’s underlying data structure and utilizing technology such as in-memory processing will eliminate nearly all batch routines. Faster systems enable shorter cycle times, which promote corporate agility because up-to-date information is available sooner. Another important change that is already under way is the ability to do analytics in real time or near real time on data held in an ERP system. The business intelligence (BI) software category was invented two decades ago to enable companies to get useful information from newly implemented ERP software. While BI addressed this shortcoming, it also added to the cost and complexity of a company’s IT operations.

Another focus of new ERP systems will be collaboration. In-context collaboration provides an important set of capabilities that can improve performance. Rather than following a general broadcast model, social collaboration capabilities in ERP and other business applications understand that individuals belong to multiple groups. For example, people in a company typically have a general role (“I’m in Finance”) and one or more task-specific ones (“I’m the director of financial planning and analysis”). Some relationships are persistent while others begin and end with a project. Issues that arise may be open to all or confined to specific groups, subsets of groups or a private dialogue. Queries or comments may be general, specific or anywhere in between. Some conversations, especially in finance and tax departments, must be tightly controlled. Software that understands the context of the work performed and automates the process of managing the who, what and when of communications will support more effective collaboration, faster completion of tasks, greater situational awareness within the organization and as a result better decision-making. Over the past three years, ERP vendors have been introducing more in-context collaboration capabilities in their software.

Mobile enablement is already an important capability of some ERP systems. However, it’s important that ERP vendors focus on those elements where mobility is important and optimize the user experience for the task and platform. Unlike CRM and sales force automation systems, where sales and service information must be accessible anytime and anywhere, mobility’s importance in ERP depends on who uses it and why. Certain tasks such as data entry are not well suited to mobile devices, while routine reviews and approvals are. These must be simple to configure and deploy as well as use.

vr_erpi_01_implementing_new_capabilities_in_erpMore generally I am convinced that the worst aspect of today’s ERP systems is that they inhibit change in corporations. The lack of adaptability in these systems has infused a “set it and forget it” mindset that inhibits companies from making necessary changes in processes and stifles innovation. The inability to make changes easily to an ERP system inhibits improvements in corporate functions that run on ERP. This is ironic, since one of the factors driving corporations to buy the first ERP systems in the 1990s was their desire to do business process re-engineering, a business strategy of the time. More useful is developing a culture of continuous process improvement, one of the pillars of continuous accounting, in the finance organization. Making ERP more easily configurable by business users supports continuous process improvement efforts.

As the business software market, including ERP, increasingly moves to the cloud, a major challenge facing software vendors is designing their applications for maximum configurability. By this I don’t mean offering the ability to select modules from a menu, but enabling only moderately trained line-of-business users to make granular adjustments to process flow and data structures in a multitenant setting. This lack of flexibility is an important barrier inhibiting adoption of cloud-based ERP. Although user organizations that are more able to adapt to an as-is version of an ERP system are more likely to take the cloud-based option, this covers only some of the potential market. The cloud ERP vendors that offer greater flexibility in allowing individual customers to modify their implementation to suit their specific needs will have a competitive advantage. Multitenant cloud ERP vendors already have had to pay attention to configurability, and on-premises ERP vendors also would benefit from enhancing the configurability of their systems.

Today’s corporations have been willing to put up with the deficiencies in their ERP systems because everyone was in the same boat. That won’t be the case much longer. The cost and complexity of ERP systems has meant that IT departments, not business users, have had the fullest involvement in managing them. This, too, will change. Business users and finance departments in particular will need to be involved in periodic assessments of how well their ERP system supports their responsibilities and objectives. Finance executives in particular should begin this process now by understanding how the application of new technologies can drive fundamental changes in the way they manage their department. Vendors that offer ERP systems that are much easier to configure, use and update, support in-context collaboration and mobility and provide timely, reliable analysis and reporting will survive. Those that excel in these areas will win market share.

Regards,

Robert Kugel

Senior Vice President Research

Follow Me on Twitter @rdkugelVR and

Connect with me on LinkedIn


Teradata Takes On Cloud and Developers with Big Data & Analytics

Teradata recently held its annual Partners conference, at which gather several thousand customers and partners from around the world. This was the first Partners event since Vic Lund was appointed president and CEO in May. Year on year, Teradata’s revenues are down about 5 percent, which likely prompted some changes at the company. Over the past few years Teradata made several technology acquisitions and perhaps spread its resources too thin. At the event, Lund committed the company to a focus on customers, which was a significant part of Teradata’s success in the past. This commitment was well received by customers I spoke with at the event.

I also had a chance to talk with Oliver Ratzesberger, Teradata’s EVP and chief product officer, about the company’s focus and product direction. For the near term, Ratzesberger said, its focus remains on selling to and supporting new and existing customers in the largest 1,000 global enterprises, but in the longer term Teradata wants to win over the development community, too. As a large-scale provider of databases and big data management tools, Teradata competes to some extent with the Hadoop ecosystem I have written about. Teradata likely has encountered new challenges in growing revenue since the advent of Hadoop, but the company also embraces Hadoop. Its Aster Analytics product now runs on Hadoop (and AWS), the company offers a Hadoop appliance as well as Presto for SQL on Hadoop, and Think Big, its analytics consulting group helps design, implement and manage Hadoop-based systems. Management took these steps after recognizing that the company needs to coexist with the growing Hadoop ecosystem.

Ratzesberger pointed to other developer-friendly changes as well. Teradata Query Grid 2.0 has become a platform for monitoring and managing a heterogeneous combination of data sources, not just a tool for routing queries. Workload management has always been a strength of Teradata, and it is now seeking to extend those capabilities to non-Teradata systems via Query Grid. Teradata Listener, for ingesting streams of information such as Internet of Things (IoT) device data, allows developers to simply register the service, get an API key and develop in their language of choice using a RESTful API and JSON data structures.

Concurrently with the event Teradata announced vr_dac_03_use_of_cloud_for_data_storagenew cloud-based offerings including for AWS and Azure. These options should make it easier for developers to get started with Teradata since there is no hardware to acquire and install. The company has been moving in the direction of embracing the cloud for several years and now offers a full range of private cloud, managed cloud and public cloud options. As part of the conference, I gave a presentation entitle Why Your Data and Analytics Should Live in the Cloud. Among the most significant findings from our benchmark research that I shared is that 40 percent of organizations reported that they expect the majority of their data to be in the cloud within 12 months and twice as many (86%) said they expect the majority of their data to be in the cloud eventually.

My key takeaway from the conference is that while we may not see changes overnight, there are signs that Teradata is seeking to extend its influence beyond the largest organizations in the world. Much of new development emanates from smaller companies that seek to embrace open source, low cost and easy-to-adopt technologies. The announcements Teradata made at the Partners conference help to move the company in that direction. If you are evaluating cloud-based analytical databases, I recommend that you consider Teradata as one of the options.

Regards,

David Menninger

SVP & Research Director

Follow Me on Twitter @dmenningerVR and Connect with me on LinkedIn.


 

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