Educating Enterprise Markets About Converging Business Telecommunications Through Technology Conferences
By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View
September marks the return to business for technology conferences and with enterprise telephony technology migrating to converged IP networking infrastructures and wireless devices, there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about its impact on traditional telephony applications. One of the most obvious targets for the benefits of IP telephony is the enterprise call center, but there is more to that than simply replacing legacy TDM networks with lower cost VoIP transport and consolidating IP telephony application servers.
Labor costs traditionally account for 70-80% of call center operational costs, so if we expect to reduce communication usage and support costs with VoIP networking and consolidation, guess what? That 70-80% labor figure will probably jump to 90% or more!
So the spotlight on contact center operations will intensify in terms of more efficient use of people within the enterprise organization, as well as outside the organization from outsourced and offshore resources. The ICCM 2005 show in Las Vegas reflected this emphasis on managing call center staff by sharing its venue and keynotes with a sister conference, TechLearn 2005, which was focused on new technology and tools for training and learning management. Although the program sessions were not merged this time, call center operations have always had a need for training and evaluating agent performance. With the migration to the complexities of multi-modal (“multichannel”) customer contacts, the need for better training and management tools for contact center staffing will only increase.
Where Were the Buyers?
According to the conference producers, there were almost 2000 middle management attendees for the ICCM conference and another 1000 registrants for the Techlearn show. Each had their own exhibit areas, but I only had time to cruise the ICCM exhibits. There was not much traffic there, partly due to the fact that the extensive conference program competed for the attendees’ time. However, the big players in contact center technology weren’t represented at this show, because they know that contact center operations management is not that interested in technology infrastructures and are not the decision-makers in moving to IP telephony. Until that move has been made within the enterprise, the contact center managers have to make do with their current application technologies.
So, the show was a means for educating call center management and raising their awareness of what will be coming in the future. Until they understand how telephony is changing and how customer contacts will change accordingly, they cannot intelligently contribute to the migration planning that has just started taking place within the enterprise telecommunications markets. Very few organizations know enough to do any buying at this point, nor do they feel they have to yet.
Collapsing Customer Contact Decision-Making for Efficiency
One of the ICCM 2005 conference’s most repeated themes for staffing efficiency was the notion that contact center agents should be authorized to make immediate decisions to resolve a customer’s problem or request. This would obviously result in staffing efficiencies for “first call resolution” (FCR) and also improve customer satisfaction. To enable such capability, agents would not only have to have access to all necessary information for decision-making, but would also have to be skilled in using such information. That, of course, would mean more training investments for first-line agents.
This trend, in turn, will increase the demand for more self-service applications to take care of the simple informational requests, making live assistance available primarily to well trained, decision-making staff personnel. However, since all agents can’t be expert in everything, accessibility to available second-level “experts” for consultative participation will become a critical capability for many situations. This will be an area where new, SIP-based presence and multi-modal communication technologies will play strategic and tactical roles in enabling FCR benefits. The ICCM program did not address the coming role of such IP technology for such operational strategies in any significant way.
Focusing on the Application: IP-Based Contact Centers
Although most of the program sessions dealt with traditional telephone-oriented call center operations and technology solutions, a useful view of what is coming and how to get there was presented by long-time industry technology expert, Don Van Doren, of Vanguard Communications. His audience poll showed that about 12% were already implementing some form of IP infrastructure within their organizations, another 12% were seriously looking into it, but only 6% were using IP telephony for contact center operations.
Don’s presentation was devoid of the confusing hype that has flooded the market from IP network technology providers (who don’t necessarily understand “communication application” requirements) and focused realistically on the operational ROI benefits and implementation alternatives for “virtual” contact center operations. Unlike a lot of the ICCM program focus on the traditional use of the telephone for customer contacts, Don included “multi-modal” contacts, e.g., online customer contacts, “click to talk,” and all forms of customer messaging.
A key issue that came up during his Q&A was the practical use of “home agents,” a highly touted benefit of VoIP and IP telephony. Planning and managing “virtual” enterprise contact center activities is one of the challenges that IP networking will bring to operational management that will exploit the benefits of IP telephony and VoIP.
Comments From the Analysts
Some of the leading contact center industry analysts that attended the ICCM show had comments to make about it within the context of the seismic shifts taking place in the industry.
Many were surprised to find that ICCM 2005 was joined at the hip with the TechLearn conference simply because it had not been announced to them in advance. But, they didn’t think it was a bad thing. In general, all felt that the emphasis on managing people resources vs. managing technology was an appropriate focus for the conference. What was missing, said Joe Outlaw, from Current Analysis, was a “converged” view of the relationship between new technologies for managing customer contacts and those for managing contact center personnel.
Art Schoeller’s Yankee Group research shows a significant increase in the use of home agents and distributed groups, based on migrating to VoIP networking, which would require the new technologies for remote training and performance management incorporated in the ICCM conference. “I think that folks are getting it that it isn’t necessarily cheaper. The average of the (survey) responses was 6%-15% savings, but a very high deviation, with many stating up to 20% MORE expensive!”
Paul Stockford, from Saddletree Research, sees the industry changing because of the IP network infrastructure shift that enables centralized software to support greater functional innovation and management controls. The industry is also consolidating into fewer big players, who will be changing their product and service offerings for the new, IP-enabled environment. Finally, he observed that hosted services will tie in nicely with outsourced staffing, to enable enterprise organizations to minimize their staffing and capex costs, while still retaining operational management control of their customer interactions.
“Different Educational Strokes for Different Enterprise Folks!”
The telecommunications industry is undergoing humongous change in moving traditional telephony products and services to a mobile and multi-modal IP network environment. Because it is traditional voice communications that has to do most of the changing, it will affect everyone in the enterprise in different ways.
Now that IP telephony technology has started to become real and deliverable, the enterprise markets are starting to take a serious interest in the future of heir business communications. The education of enterprise management must cover a spectrum of:
IT technology management responsible for supporting the applications in a network environment,
Operational business management responsible for effectively using converged communication applications, and
Executive management responsible for understanding all the organizational impacts and the different ROI benefits from investing in IP telephony and wireless mobility.
It will also be useful to provide more targeted information to the different levels of enterprise management mentioned above, and the ICCM 2005 showed its focus on operations management of contact center agents, making it a smaller event than the more technology-oriented ACCE show that took place the week before. CPM Media’s new “IP4IT” coming to Las Vegas in November will educate IT folks about IP telephony and business communication applications. These focused conferences can also offer training and certification options in the skills that the new technologies will require as an added incentive for attending.
However, we also need specialized conferences for educating executive management in different vertical markets about the “why” of converged communications, not the technological “how.” This will focus on management perspectives for both operational productivity and reducing costs at the business level. (We really should stop expecting technology middle managers in the enterprise to make the whole business case for new technology!)
“Bringing the Mountain to Mohammed”
It is painfully clear that all enterprise management has to become more “educated” about the coming new implications of converged business telecommunications and technology conferences are one way that the market has traditionally learned what is going on in the industry. However, it is also time for the industry to “practice what it preaches” in terms of virtual access to information, conference presentations, and even product/service demonstrations. We have already started to see a few purely “virtual” conference events take place this year, along with a proliferation of vendor-sponsored, product-oriented webcasts and webinars. It is time however, to converge the old and the new, by providing objective conferences and shows for those who want to and can attend, while extending remote participation to the much larger audience that doesn’t. (See the IAMP-Messaging Forum conference announcement for converged enterprise messaging below.)
More focused, “birds of a feather” conferences may well be a better way to do the heavy lifting education for the enterprise markets than having a humungous and confusing program that competes for attendees’ time. Such events can be especially useful (and more successful) if key physical conference sessions can also be made “virtual” in real time to the vast majority of people who are only interested in certain issues and topics and won’t make the effort to come to a conference venue just for that.
What Do You Think?
What will the future be for technology shows and conferences for contact center managers - is it for buying, education, or both? What will the impact of “virtual” conferences have on such traditional shows, particularly for “education?” Will “distance learning” technologies obviate the benefit of piggybacking training sessions on to industry conferences? With online e-commerce, will the voice-only telephone diminish in importance for customer interactions and change the emphasis for “call center” operations? Will increasing multi-modal customer contacts increase requirements for a “universal” agent?
Let us know your opinion by sending them to [email protected]
Heads Up for All Enterprise Messaging Managers!
There is an opportunity for enterprise technology managers to focus on the directions that business messaging will be taking. The convergence of voice and text messaging (including instant messaging and wireless text messaging), sometimes labeled as "unified messaging," means that enterprise organizations will soon have to integrate both their communication application technologies, as well as their internal user support for email, IM, voice messaging, and fax with wired and wireless telephony activities.
The International Association of Messaging Professionals (IAMP), formerly the Octel user's group, and the Open Group's Messaging Forum, formerly the Electronic Messaging Association (EMA) will be meeting in Houston, TX on October 16-20. For the first time in the industry, two independent enterprise associations, one originally focused on voice messaging and telephony, the other on email, have scheduled their conferences at the same time and location. This will enable them to conduct joint program sessions of mutual interest, including three "virtual" highlight sessions that will be open to the online public.
The “virtual” sessions will have leading messaging technology providers discussing key issues of technology and market direction, including:
Provider Industry Visions - The messaging industry’s vision for where and how multi-modal communication convergence is really going and how enterprise messaging will interoperate with IP telephony.
Contact Mobility – The impact that wireless handheld devices and presence management will have on multi-modal communications efficiencies.
Migration and Administration – This session will focus on migration planning and changes in organizational support of converged, multi-modal communications.
Participating messaging provider panelists include:
For further details on the conference program and how to register for free access to the “virtual” session, go to the IAMP web site at www.iampro.org . If you are an enterprise email manager, you might want to check out their conference program at the Messaging Forum’s web site at http://www.opengroup.org/messagingforum
Coming to L.A. for the Internet Telephony Conference? Attend my panel discussions!
If you are coming to TMC’s Internet Telephony show in L.A. (October 24-27), you will be interested in hearing my industry panelists answer some hard questions about the future of enterprise “communication applications” and the role of presence in unified communications. (Sorry, no “virtual” participation yet!)
For details on the conference, go to www.itexpo.com
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