CIC suites are not so sweet

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Vendors are beginning to market the benefits of building customer interaction centre (CIC) infrastructure within the suite framework products they are currently developing. The benefits are becoming clearer, but the challenges are numerous for both vendors and customers alike.

META Trend: Customer contact centre emphasis will be on cost containment, shifting from outsourcing as a cost-reduction strategy to investments in self-service and agent productivity. Customer interaction centre (CIC) vendors will enhance suite-centric offerings, but enterprises will continue to prioritize best-of-breed components with suites applied toward non-core or price-sensitive activities. Reporting will improve, but extension via business intelligence applications will be required to deliver needed analytics through 2007. IP telephony will remain niche in the CIC until reliability and integration issues are resolved (through at least 2005).

During 2004/05, CIC vendors will attempt to sell customers on the benefits of pre-integrated CIC technology components under a single homogeneous administrative environment across the entire technology function set. Vendors seek to guarantee functionality within the CIC suite that is comparable to best-of-breed products, with easier upgrades and fewer integration risks (see Deltas 2693 and 2855). The two types of CIC suite vendors — customer interaction management (CIM – e.g., Alcatel/Genesys, Aspect, Interactive Intelligence) and production value management (PVM – e.g., Blue Pumpkin, Witness Systems) — will each execute on their version of this challenging product road map. Although marketing (2004/05) the benefits of a single-vendor suite for continuous process automation and total-cost-of-ownership reduction is compelling, no single vendor will deliver a product (2005/06) to effectively cover CIM and PVM functions within a single framework. Two vendors are required.

CIC suite marketing and product development efforts are full of challenges that will impact individual vendors differently. The organization considering CIC suite benefits must have answers to its specific issues as part of a due diligence selection process. It makes no sense to replace fully functioning products with suite equivalents unless additional value is created. This particularly applies to organizations interested in consolidating CIC technologies from multiple vendors down to two single-vendor suites.

Volumes Drive Best-of-Breed Investments

The 80+ CIC vendors differentiate themselves with a few distinct features that ultimately result in savings when call volumes are large. For example, a best-of-breed “user friendly” graphical user interface (GUI) could (and has) saved supervisors and agents a great deal of time. User friendliness is delivered because the process logic under the GUI aligns well with the CIC’s business, abbreviating time-intensive training. Best-of-breed vendors by definition will study a vertical industry and design product that fits well into business processes common to that industry. They will develop new product functions first and will predominantly be ahead of the product that may be offered by the CIC suite vendor. Considering that CIC suites are being built within newer technology frameworks such as application servers (e.g., BEA WebLogic, IBM WebSphere) and Web services (e.g., SOAP, WSDL, XML), CIC suite vendors should technically be able to implement customer product feature requests faster.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The reluctance to upgrade CIC infrastructure remains a legitimate concern due to budget and the fact that current systems adequately meet business needs. The complexities that must be addressed when integrating multiple technologies are expensive and painful enough that the enterprise is reluctant to re-address the challenge. This is likely due to underestimating time and costs of projects and vendors unskilled at tackling a myriad of corporate infrastructure standards. Eventually, a mandatory upgrade (e.g., vendor discontinues support, additional business requirements) creates a chain of events that leads to potentially long, risky, and expensive upgrade projects. For example, a mandatory interactive voice response (IVR) upgrade could require an automatic call distributor software upgrade that will impact interoperability of workforce management, computer telephony integration, and a quality-monitoring system. Such cases are not uncommon and lead to extensive regression testing, extra costs for interoperability testing, and negotiating to support “unsupported” technology.

The ad hoc approach to integrating the multiples of CIC technology has not been a pleasant experience. CIC suite software architecture must be scrutinized for upgradability of all the functions that are slotted to be in the suite. Organization-specific application logic created within any of these functions should be exportable to the new software version and similar to the portability objectives of VXML-developed speech applications. CIC suite functions should be modules that interwork with each other to support older versions with flexibility to upgrade a function at a time to avoid “big bang” changes going forward.

Creating a Single Service Creation Environment

A service creation environment is a single administrative interface to create point-of-interaction (e.g., telephone, e-mail, Web) inquiry process flows based on the firm’s rules and policies. For example, if the first step in the flow of an incoming call is to be routed to the IVR for identification, then to a self-service application, and finally to the appropriately skilled agent, a few days later an outbound call could be scheduled to ascertain callers’ satisfaction. The interface would configure this flow, including changes in the logic of speech-enabled self-applications and the outbound dialing campaign. For many organizations, this process flow would be manually tied together and configured across three different systems. CIC suites must clearly stipulate when the different phases of a single service creation environment are available. Concurrently, the CIC organization must determine the operational cost savings of defining business process flows with one employee skill type versus three.

Scheduling Maintenance Cost Reductions

By definition, the CIC suite should lower maintenance costs. However, many vendors generate up to 50 per cent of their revenues from maintenance and support services. Therefore, CIC organizations should not expect a sudden drop in maintenance charges, but rather should negotiate a schedule of reductions over time as many best-in-class CICs currently do with multiple single-purpose systems.

Migrating and Consolidating to Suites

Attractive license pricing is the initial lure for CIC firms to consolidate into the suite. Few CICs will be successful in getting capital budgets approved for like technology replacement, forcing aggressive vendors to “buy the business.” In addition, price pressure will be acute for new functional additions, because firms will use best-of-breed vendors’ offers to drive pricing down. CIC organizations should explicitly benefit from this pricing pressure.

Avoiding Vendor Lock-In

The CIC for many organizations has been a collection of best-of-breed products, and consolidating to a single vendor is a concern. Established vendors could be very slow in migrating legacy product functionality to the suite. Charges for licenses, maintenance, and support services could be increased with little recourse available to the buyer. The product of a failing vendor could require complete replacement. CIC organizations must reduce risks and select vendors with a profitable track record and market share. This will require CIC vendors to disclose more of their CIC operations, including sales, development, and shipments separate from other products. This data has historically not been available.

Colliding Forces

Large CIM suite vendors are closely observing the smaller and emerging PVM market, because several of them have a “foot in the door” with forecasting and scheduling (a.k.a. workforce management) software (e.g., Alcatel/Genesys, Aspect). Such vendors must invest in professional services and channels that help organizations transform business operations. This is an entirely different business model than the current focus on infrastructure sales. CIC organizations currently using CIM vendor workforce management software must have and maintain greater internal skills to compensate for limited CIM vendor operational support in comparison to PVM vendors.

Bottom Line: New contact centre purchases are being made to benefit from technology and call flow process consolidation within a product suite. Advantages and challenges alike will persist through 2005/06.

Business Impact: Customer-facing operations will increase productivity by streamlining the infrastructure on which business processes can be implemented and changed more quickly.


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