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.  

The Importance of Well-Managed Processes for Planning

It’s stating the obvious to say that how well executives manage planning processes has a big impact on how well a business unit or company plans. However, one significant source of the value of our benchmark research is that it establishes hard evidence – the numbers – that transforms mere assertions into proof points. This is particularly important when people within an organization want to improve a process. Change management is facilitated by providing senior executives with facts to back up assertions related to solving a business issue. Our recently completed next-generation business planning research provides insight into the importance of managing the planning process well and identifies some components of good management.

vr_NGBP_04_quality_of_planning_variesWe use the term “business planning” to encompass all of the forward-looking activities in which companies routinely engage. Our research covered 11 of the most common types of planning that go on in businesses, including sales, production and head-count planning as well as budgeting. In the research fewer than half of participants said their organization manages processes well or very well. Overall, the research finds that the best managed plans are those covering capital spending, workforce planning and demand planning. The ones at the bottom the list are sales forecasting, sales and operations planning and supply chain planning. To some degree, these findings reflect the difficulty of having to take into account external factors such as market demand. By contrast, capital spending plans involve mainly internal decisions made by a relatively small group, and the process from planning to execution is highly controllable. And while workforce plans may be subject to changing market conditions, in a stable economic environment staffing needs are relatively predictable.

The research also quantifies the impacts of important ingredients of a well-managed process. For example, communication is an essential element of successful planning. Nearly all (85%) companies in which executives communicate strategy and objective well or very well said their planning process works well or very well. By contrast, only 18 percent of companies in which executive communication is only adequate or poor have a well-functioning process. All aspects of business involve making trade-offs in allocating resources, and clear communication of strategy and objectives works to keep everyone on the same page. When the strategy is not plainly laid out, individuals must rely on tacit understanding of or guesses about it and the trade-offs that support it best. These assumptions may not be accurate or consistent across a company and can prevent concerted effort in the required direction.

Unfortunately half of the participating companies said their management doesn’t communicate strategy and objectives well. Often this is because executives think they’ve made this clear without confirming that is. An email message at the start of the annual budget process isn’t enough. Ambiguity also is inevitable when strategy is laid out are at such an abstract level that the way to achieve results is open to wildly different interpretations.

The solution to the communications issue is consistent repetition of objectives and their strategic context and framing planning and review discussions in that context. The research demonstrates the need to maintain clear, effective messaging. Companies in which executives communicate well the need to adapt plans during the planning period have a planning process that works well or very well (83%) more than three times as often as those that don’t (25%).

I’ve stressed the importance of integrating planning across business silos because it can make all planning processes more effective. One key aspect of integrating planning is having ready access to other business units’ plans. For example, Manufacturing and Operations should be able to see the latest plans of Marketing and Sales either as they create their initial plans or perform periodic revisions to them. Almost two-thirds of organizations in which planners have a good understanding of how decisions they make about their plans will affect other parts of the organization said they have a planning process that works well, compared to just 17 percent that don’t have a good understanding.

Those are some of the ingredients necessary for a well-managed vr_NGBP_05_quality_of_planning_is_criticalplanning process. The research also demonstrates the value of a well-managed process. One of the most important objectives for effective planning is accuracy because correctly anticipating how the business will evolve and perform over time can lead to optimal allocation of resources and coordination of efforts. The research confirms the perhaps obvious assertion that companies that have a well-managed planning process produce plans that are more accurate. The numbers also illustrate the stark consequences of not managing the process well: Most (80%) of those that do it well create plans that are accurate or very accurate, while just one-fourth of those that only adequately manage the process and almost none of those that do a poor job achieve such accuracy.

An important measure of planning efficiency is the appropriateness of the time spent on the process. Spending too much time obviously is wasteful, but so is spending not enough time, since a hastily constructed plan is likely to be subpar. Indeed only 16 percent of companies that spend too little time have plans that are accurate or very accurate, compared to two-thirds of those that spend the right amount of time and one-third that spend too much time.

Using the right software to support the business planning also is a factor in managing the process well. I have noted that desktop spreadsheets work well for individuals who create planning models and work with limited sets of data, but they are not well suited for recurring collaborative enterprise processes. Our research shows that companies that use a dedicated application more often have a process that works well or very well than those that use spreadsheets (60% vs. 47%). To be sure, technology is only one factor and simply buying software designed for planning without changing the people and process elements or failing to address data availability, consistency or timeliness issues makes it difficult to improve results. Still, a dedicated application is an essential component to support a change in planning processes. Companies need software that facilitates access to other business units’ plans, simplifies the collection of data, facilitates analysis and the ability to drill down into detail, offers dashboards that are easy to create and modify as well as supports automated and self-service reporting eliminates many barriers to more effective integrated planning in organizations. We advise them to evaluate such products as part of a comprehensive effort to improve all facets of business planning.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research


VPI Applies Business Intelligence to Customer Experience

VPI is a well-established vendor of workforce optimization systems and rated a Hot Vendor in our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index. It offers a full suite of products for this market. Notable among them is Performance Reporting, which produces reports and dashboards showing a range of analysisVR_WFO_VI_HotVendor_2015 and metrics about telephony, agent performance, coaching and customer success, along with alerts to inform employees of required actions. It combines data from a range of sources, both structured and unstructured, using speech analytics, and works in real or near real time. Performance Reporting is the basis for a new product, Customer Experience BI, which uses many of the same capabilities but focuses more on the customer experience while retaining the contact center capabilities. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer analytics shows this to be an important development as just under two-thirds (63%) of participants said they are considering investing in customer analytics to improve the customer experience.

Achieving this goal is not easy, and the research indicates that data is a major impediment. The foremost issue is the number and variety of data sources that contain customer experience data. The research finds that companies currently use an average of about eight data sources, most commonly data about finance (for 62%), website usage (58%), demographics (58%), customer feedback (56%), interactions (42%), channel usage (41%), social media (24%) and video (19%) – some vr_Customer_Analytics_08_time_spent_in_customer_analyticscompanies use all of 21 of the sources we identified. It shows that for the customer experience the areas of most expected growth areas are customer feedback, metrics derived from business intelligence (BI) and interaction data. To help users overcome data collection issues VPI has built more than 50 standard connectors that support data extraction from common telephony, CRM, call recording and feedback management systems. These capabilities also help address a second and related issue: data management.

However, the research shows that rather than spending time making decisions based on the outputs of analytics, users spend most of their time preparing (47%) and reviewing (43%) data. This is likely a consequence of using spreadsheets as the main analytics tool, which 50 percent do regularly and 32 percent do universally; these tools notoriously require manual effort to prepare and digest data, and are prone to introducing data inconsistencies and errors. The tools available from VPI are designed to make it easier for business users to determine which data to use and thus what outputs are produced. The system comes with packaged reports, scorecards and more than 500 standard metrics, all of which can used as is or customized. VPI hasn’t forgotten its call center heritage so information can be displayed on large screens within a contact center or as tickers on an agent’s desktop. In addition Customer Experience BI includes root-cause analysis and a variety of ways in which alerts and actions can be flagged to make appropriate information available in a timely fashion for users to take action on. VPI is also keeping up with innovative new technology by making the outputs available on mobile devices, something which our various research projects show is increasingly important as more employees work away from their desks but still need access to alerts and information.

At least partly because spreadsheets are so commonly used to producevr_Customer_Analytics_03_key_benefits_of_customer_analytics customer-related and indeed contact center analysis, dashboards and metrics, many companies struggle to make a business case to purchase specialist analytics tools. When it comes to customer experience analysis, our research shows strong reasons to invest emerging, as the users of such tools have seen improvement in customer experience, which our research into next-generation customer engagement shows is the most-often cited benefit, for more than half of companies. The same research shows another customer experience challenge is providing a consistent experience across all touch points because separate business units typically have different customer information. The case for investing in specialist tools is further strengthened in that more than half of users have gained better alignment across business units (52%) and better sharing of information (51%). So if your organization is seeking to improve the customer experience, I recommend evaluating this new tool from VPI.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director


Enghouse Interactive Expands Portfolio of Contact Center Systems

Enghouse Interactive is one of three divisions of Enghouse Systems, a publicly traded Canadian company founded in 1984. The other two divisions provide network technology to telecommunications providers and applications for public and private transportation companies; Enghouse Interactive owns the company’s three contact center systems. The corporate group has a history of growth – it now has a market capitalization of more than US$1 billion - achieved both organically and through an aggressive acquisition policy. The same applies to Enghouse Interactive. Its three core products are built on three acquisitions – Syntellect in 2002, CosmoCom in 2011 and Zeacom in 2012. Each of these has been enhanced by a combination of in-house development and integration with other acquired products. The three products are maintained and developed independently, something Enghouse Interactive says will continue for the foreseeable future. However it is working to integrate its latest acquisitions with all three products, so each will gain new capabilities.

Maintaining three products, while at the same time integrating them with new acquisitions, is a resource-intensive and expensive task, but there is a rationale for it. Unlike some other vendors that target different markets with the same product, Enghouse Interactive markets the three products to different markets. Contact Center: Enterprise, based on the products acquired from Syntellect, is designed for large organizations. It is an adaptable, scalable, high-availability multichannel platform that supports thousands of contact center seats. It is available on private or public clouds. Contact Center: Service Provider, based on the CosmoCom products, aims at telecommunications service providers, which typically use it to provide outsourced contact center services to end-user companies. It is a multitenant cloud system available on public and private clouds. Communications Center is an enhanced version of the Zeacom product. Aimed at contact centers with 100 to 150 seats, it is sold only through approved third parties. Like the other two products it is also available on public or private clouds. Having three products with separate origins requires Enghouse Interactive to support a broad array of capabilities, most of which fall into the category of contact center infrastructure in the cloud; we advise potential customers to carefully assess which product best matches the capabilities they require. This gap is being closed to some extent as all new acquisitions, of which there are several, are being integrated with all three product sets.

Over the last four years Enghouse Interactive has made four significant acquisitions to enhance its products in the areas of knowledge management, quality monitoring and outbound dialing:

  • TELREX was acquired in 2010. Its products include IP-based call recording, desktop usage recording and quality monitoring that supports agent evaluation.
  • Safeharbor was acquired in 2013. Its focus is knowledge management, and it has capabilities to create and manage different types of media-rich content, a search engine to help users find content that best matches their needs, and customizable portables that enable Web-based self-service and customer forums.
  • IT Sonix was acquired in 2013. Its products support historic and real-time speech analytics and agent scripting.
  • IAT SmartDial Solutions was acquired in 2013. Its products support blended inbound and outbound dialing, including predictive dialing.

Along with integrating all these products, Enghouse Interactive continues to enhance the core product sets, notably Enterprise and Communications Center. As well as making the architecture of the enterprise products more resilient, there are two other developments of particular interest. Enghouse Interactive has developed a new control room console user interface especially for the utilities market. This interface is easy to use, makes use of color has point-and-click capabilities and uses icons to display information and alerts. The company also offers new mobile capabilities, which are marketed as Mobile IVR Navigator, a name that doesn’t do justice to its capabilities. Rather than providing interactive voice response per se, it enables users to develop mobile apps for customer self-service and supports seamless transfer to assisted service if customers are not be able to complete interactions in the app.

There is also an update of Communications Center, version 8.1. One of the strengths of the original Zeacom product was integration with Microsoft Lync. These capabilities have been further enhanced to support more devices, automate outbound dialing, enhance call flows, queue up instant messages and escalate between communication channels. The new version also includes enhancements to the user desktops. The agent desktop has added more metrics and again the user interface has been updated to meet today’s user expectations. The operator desktop goes one step further and now supports visualization and animation of call flows so an operator can see which calls are in the queue and the priority of calls; it also has capabilities to manage and view call flows, an active directory of who is available to take calls and a view of transferred calls waiting to be answered – all of these enhance call management.

I have discussed in some of my recent perspectives that improving customer experience is paramount to business success, but it is no easy thing to achieve. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement vr_NGCE_Research_06_changes_to_improve_engagementshows that organizations are anticipating the need to deploy systems to improve engagement, including collaboration, more advanced customer portals, mobile apps and support for social customer service. In addition our research on the contact center in the cloud shows that increasingly organizations are looking to deploy their contact center systems beyond their own premises. And all our research consistently shows that usability - much of which depends on the user interface - is the most important criterion as organizations select new systems. Supporting such a variety of features in one product is hard, and supporting them across several products, especially newly acquired products, is a major task. However, Enghouse Interactive addresses many of these requirements, so I recommend that companies evaluate the product set that suits their market to see how it can help improve customer engagement.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director


 

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