Avaya CTO Brett Shockley: 100% Focused on Solving Today's Key Business Problems

Brett Shockley is Senior Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer at Avaya. I spoke to Brett at the Avaya Evolutions San Francisco show last week. Below is a transcript of our conversation, where we talked about how Avaya’s Big Data technology is helping businesses solve their problems faster than before, and how its cloud-enabled developer platform, Collaboration Environment, is attracting fresh crops of young developers:

brett shockley avaya evolutions sf feb 2014

Avaya CTO Brett Shockley keynoting at Avaya Evolutions San Francisco.

Photo by Andres Larranaga

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Fletch: I always love coming to Avaya Evolutions because they’re really intimate settings, and you can have a lot of great conversations with customers.

Shockley: You’re absolutely right. I mean, we have an opportunity here to talk to over a thousand customers. We’re able to talk to our partners. And it’s a great opportunity to have conversations about what’s happening in our businesses, in our industry, and a number of different verticals.

I had a great conversation with a healthcare provider over lunch. They’re really on the leading edge of delivering video for telemedicine. They’re using Scopia video conferencing to deliver it. They have told us that it works better than any other technology on the planet that they’ve ever tried, including all of our major competitors because of the way we focused on this virtualized conference room infrastructure and ease with bringing lots of people in from different places on different devices.

Fletch: That’s a product with an incredible use case across a huge number of industries, like public safety, which I’m very involved with. Scopia is really going to change the way that we communicate.

Shockley: Our industry is changing at a very rapid pace. Mobile, video, cloud, big data analytics, the impact of consumer communication applications, they’re driving what is expected from an enterprise experience. For the first time in our history, our employees are telling us what device they’re going to use at work. We have our customers telling us how they’re going to communicate with us. This changes the nature of our business and changes the nature of conversations that we’re having. What it really means is that we can’t just focus on the traditional world of communications, but instead need to think about the business outcomes from improved communication, improved collaboration. Leveraging what we’re seeing work in the consumer world in the use of things like mobile and video. It means that we have to deliver much better and more tailored experiences.

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Also read ‘The Entrepreneurial CTO’ Q&A in December’s Avaya Innovations.

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You know, one of the things that I’m having a lot of fun talking to folks about is the customer journey and the ability to identify that customer from the first time you’re prospecting with them all the way through the work that you’re doing with them in acquiring, delivering and managing the account, and carrying it on through the lifecycle to when they buy from you again. New technologies are being used to do that, and they’re technologies that Avaya is very much a leader in. Things like data grid technology for Big Data analytics. We have an application called the Context Store that we’ve started delivering for some of our larger customers. It’s the same kind of technology that’s being used in financial trading applications. You can imagine they have to have very low latency, very large scale, and we’re applying that same technology to the Contact Center. One of the things that it does is provide a real-time store of information about the customer, sort of a 360-degree view of that customer. And think about it like a cache: it could live for a minute, an hour, or a week, and all the different applications that are being used to interact with the customer are reading and writing their information to this Context Store.

What that does is it lets us tie all those touch points together into one comprehensive experience regardless of whether they email you today, instant message you tomorrow, or call you the day after that. So we’re really tying all these things together, and what’s exciting about it is that it’s a different kind of conversation with the customer to achieve this. It’s not about, “Do you want to upgrade your phone system?” It’s not about adding to sort of traditional technology, speeds and feeds, features, etc. It’s about business use cases. You take a step back. You talk to a health care provider about how it can do an effective job of delivering health care through a community outreach service. Things like telemedicine become key there. How do they deliver a specialist to someone who has a chronic health care problem? It’s a single mother who unfortunately might have a child with cancer. You start thinking about solving those kinds of problems and bringing our technology to the table to be able to solve those problems. That’s a really different kind of conversation, and it’s an opportunity for us to really change not only the business of our customer, but the relationship that they have with their customers. And at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make the difference in their business success.

Fletch: I think that’s a really noble thought, and I think that’s what’s driving the change that I see. I’ve been in this industry for two or three decades. I’ve seen a lot of different things come and go. I see this whole new Avaya emerging right now that just has been building and building and building. It’s just the time that it finally came out.

Shockley: Absolutely. We have been a leader in the unified communication and contact center space, the services that surround that, absolutely undisputed. Take a look at any analyst’s report. We’re in the upper right hand corner of the quadrant – thought leader, we deliver. But as we really grow the company we have to think beyond that. Some of the core areas of strategy for us this year: rapid growth in applications, both in terms of delivering end applications to customers that support the kinds of things I was just talking about, as well as the tools for people to create their own applications. So the work we’re doing with Collaboration Environment, as an example, that allows ISVs, VARs, our customers’ developers to quickly create very meaningful applications that are connected directly to the infrastructure associated with Avaya Aura. So you’ve got this ability to create scalable applications without really having to understand a lot of about communications. If you’re someone who’s recently out of school and you have some great web programming skills, you’re going to be able to step right into it and be able to do that. And if you think about why does that matter. Well, in our industry, forever we’ve had this challenge that if you want to program with our products or any of our competitors, to be honest, using technologies like CTI (Computer-Telephony Integration), it requires some very specialized and unique tools to be able to do that and it’s complex.

As a result, three kids out of college can’t go start a company and start selling to large enterprise customers. They have to basically go buy a half-million dollars worth of equipment, train themselves on new things that they didn’t learn in school. They have to hire some sales people that are going to convince our sales people that they’re worthy of being introduced to our enterprise accounts. A lot of barriers to growth, as compared to web world, for example, or the app world on mobile devices where a couple of guys can go create some amazing new application and they can get it distributed in a frictionless way. Well, you think about something like Collaboration Environment and now we have a world, especially where we have these cloud-based collaboratories, sand boxes in the sky, if you will, where, small groups of developers can come together. They can create applications that are meaningful in a business sense, and not worry so much about the underlying technology infrastructure. And because they can create them in the cloud-based collaboratory, they don’t have to go buy that half-million dollars worth of equipment to get started in writing applications.

The cloud provides a way for us to allow people to try new things, test new things, it’s much easier for us to connect that developer that created some cool new small application with a large enterprise, for example, or a mid-market enterprise that needs an application like that. And the technology allows you to string applications together. So this group creates one application, this other group creates another, we string them together and now we’re doing something totally different and very meaningful. So imagine bringing together workflow, SMS and text, notification of people, video, all of these things that are powerful, powerful collaboration tools. But in the past you sort of had to be really specialized to do it. Now we’re putting it into the hands of not just thousands but literally hundreds of thousands of developers potentially.

Fletch: So you’re taking the collaboratory and you’re changing BYOD from “Bring Your Own Device” to “Build Your Own Device”.

Shockley: Absolutely.

Fletch: I think that’s kind of cool. That’s really cool. It’s just another example of the innovation that Avaya brings to it that quite frankly makes me proud to be an Avaya employee. As our technology leader, thank you. It’s incredible vision and strategy.

Related Articles:

Personalizing the CX Requires Blood, Sweat, Time and Passion

Research undeniably proves that personalization is key for delivering amazing customer experiences. (After all, companies can’t provide just one customer experience—rather, they need to provide ongoing experiences that adapt and evolve as technology and customer needs change.) For example, a recent study found that nearly one third of customers desire higher levels of personalization when shopping. At the same time, 96% of businesses believe that personalization is what influences key purchasing decisions and inspires and strengthens customer loyalty. Personalization done right means customers are with you for the long haul.

Customers are hungry for more personalized experiences, and businesses understand the benefits in providing them. So why is it that 20% of companies have no plans to improve their personalization efforts?

As a consumer, I find this sort of inaction unacceptable. As a business leader, I’m perplexed why any company wouldn’t immediately begin to make the shift. The experiences a company offers its customers are its best chance at substantial differentiation. Differentiation means growth. More importantly, differentiation means survival. Organizations need to make customer experiences more personalized, and they have no time to waste. But this isn’t a simple undertaking. Personalization is more than just a buzzword. It’s a mentality, a company culture, a lifetime commitment. Above all, it’s something that’s expected by consumers today and generations to come.

What is a Personalized Customer Experience?

To deliver the personalization that customers desire, businesses must first understand what this really means. Personalization can be summed up into two words: contextual and predictive. Customers must be served in such a way that companies already know who they’re dealing with and how they want to be treated.

Let me give you a personal example to illustrate this. Anyone who knows me knows I love fashion, and I have a favorite retailer. Based on my shopping history and engagement with that brand, the company knows what size I am, what my color palates are, and what styles most appeal to me. They have every piece of relevant information about me to ensure my experiences are contextual and meaningful. So much so that the company can anticipate what products I’d like and dislike. For instance, they know to never suggest to me products from St. John (Vince, on the other hand, I’ll go all out for!).

By having this relevant information at the right time and by leveraging it the right way, companies can quickly create a contextual experience that’s tailored to their customers’ personalities. At the same time, they’ll be able to increase the amount of revenue they generate. In fact, according to the abovementioned study, nearly 60% of customers who have experienced personalization say it’s a notable impact on their purchasing. In my case, this is great for that favorite retailer (and perhaps not so great for my husband!).

The Only Way to Deliver True Personalization: Are You Ready?

The key to delivering this level of personalization is to find the most relevant information about each customer and use it to service them in a way that’s relevant to them.

How can businesses find this relevant information? Think of all of the data that exists about you on the web. Every action and transaction you’ve ever made lives online somewhere as part of your digital footprint. The information is out there. Companies need to be able to mine this information in such a way that it makes the customer feel special and attended to. But this can lead to a big problem: having too much information.

This is where the blood, sweat and tears happen. I wish there was a simple way to resolve this issue, but there isn’t. The only way to effectively work through this is to identify how large your customers’ digital footprints are and sift through that data to find what’s most relevant to them. The goal is to build customer profiles that reflect each individual’s preferences, behaviors and habits. After all, what every customer considers relevant is unique to them as an individual.

The good news is that there are technologies available to help minimize this grueling process. For example:

A customer engagement solution: But not just any solution. You need a platform that is truly multi-touch, enabling you to easily create, innovate, optimize and future-proof customer experiences. You must find a top-shelf platform with a proven ability to generate customer loyalty, retention, and repeat spending at the individual consumer level. Here are a few tips for finding your best solution—invest in a software-based platform that:

  • Supports easy drag-and-drop visual workflow capabilities
  • Supports multiple customer devices and operating systems
  • Identifies and preserves contextual data from every customer touch point to enrich all future interactions

Analytics: Again, not just any solution will do. You need a platform that will provide a powerful, contextual visualization of the customer journey across all touch points, enabling employees to make real-time decisions that will drive positive business outcomes. My tip for finding your best analytics solution: make sure the platform is truly integrated and that there are no silos. This integration enables businesses to flexibly collect, process, and analyze data across all real-time and historical systems to provide rich data visualization. To learn more about the power of a leading analytics solution, I encourage you to read this blog recently written by Avaya’s David Chavez. In it, he brilliantly breaks down how Avaya’s cloud-based analytics software platform, Fanalytics, transforms fan experiences at smart stadiums.

The goal is to know your customers so well that you can anticipate what they’ll want. If customers don’t know what they want, the contextual visualization you’ll have of them will show suggestions to make. As Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Two Things That Must Go Hand in Hand

Leaders in personalization understand the critical role that both technology and personal commitment play in driving success. On one hand, advanced technology helps breakdown silos, streamline the user experience, and personalize the customer’s journey across every touch point in their interaction.

At the same time, the way that companies actually use this information is just as important for coming out on top. We must care about our customers. We must be passionate about helping them. We must be their biggest advocates in order for them to become ours.

At the end of the day, customer experiences will always be human experiences. Personalization isn’t something that can be bought. It’s a belief that’s promoted and enacted organization-wide. Companies that have the right technology, supported by this belief, will go far.

New Age, New Requirements, More Innovation: Three Ways to Keep Up (Part 3)

The 2016 Rio Olympics may be over, but the excitement is still palpable. As I watched the performances from some of today’s most gifted athletes, I couldn’t help but think about this blog series on business innovation and the need to push further.

Think about it: U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, yet she succeeded in smashing even her own world record in the 400m freestyle competition. Meanwhile, Simone Biles—the most decorated female gymnast in World Championships history—has a floor move named after her called “the Biles.”

My point here is that the very best in the world don’t become so without continually innovating and pushing themselves. In this same vein, businesses today must excel in an environment where not only keeping current but driving innovation is mandatory. In fact, nearly 60% of CIOs surveyed by IDG this year said that innovation is a top business mandate. If you take away only one key point from this series, I hope it’s related to this need to continually innovate within your business.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series outlined how companies can evolve their contact centers and networking strategies to keep up with today’s rapid pace of innovation. But these are only two parts of a massive puzzle that companies must piece together.

As I mentioned earlier, it feels near impossible to cover everything that has changed within the last 25 years in technology and business. What I can tell you is this: the innumerable changes that have happened have led to what we here at Avaya call “digital transformation.”

Digital Transformation: A Mindset Fueled by Technology
Digital transformation is a belief that the greatest innovation is driven through digitization and simplification. By automating information, simplifying processes and connecting more objects through the Internet of Things (IoT), businesses can transform from the inside out.

It’s critical that business leaders understand the importance of reengineering their organizations in this way. Why? Because 75% of CIOs surveyed by Deloitte last year said that digital technologies will significantly impact their business. Because IDG’s survey found that more businesses are scrambling to prioritize budgets as a result of this deep focus on digital transformation. Because research shows that the IoT will consist of more than 34 billion connected devices by 2020.

This digital transformation isn’t just happening at the enterprise level, though. Take a look and you’ll see the changes that are happening all around you. For example, you may notice a smart meter on the side of your neighbor’s house that allows them to view real-time energy usage on their smart device. You may see cars parallel parking themselves on the side of the road. We’re seeing everyday objects, cities, campuses and hospitals becoming Internet-enabled in ways that were incomprehensible decades ago. I even tweeted recently about Wilson Sporting Goods getting in on the action with the “Smart Football,” which will quite possibly change the game of American football.

The Greatest Challenge of Digitization (and How to Overcome It)
Digital transformation opens the door to a smart new world where outcomes and possibilities are constantly being reimagined. At the same time, however, it’s creating more unique, industry-specific needs than ever before. These needs drastically vary and can be challenging to meet.

For example, healthcare organizations need to efficiently connect doctors with care teams via cutting-edge medical devices and communication capabilities. All of this needs to be done while remaining compliant with industry regulations.

On the other hand, financial organizations need to securely deliver anywhere/anytime/any-device account access to customers while ensuring fraud prevention. Meanwhile, educational directors need to deliver a next-generation learning experience as well as a safe campus environment for students. You see where I’m going with this? The list of vertical-specific needs goes on and on.

The problem we’re seeing is that many companies don’t understand that there is no cookie-cutter framework for digitization. Just like every Olympian’s tools and training are different, every company’s digital transformation will look different depending on its vertical-specific needs.

So, in a world where business needs are getting more granular by the minute, how can organizations keep up? How can they stay on top as true innovators and change seekers?

I can’t tell you in good conscience that there’s an end-all solution here, because there’s isn’t. At Avaya, we believe the key to mastering digital transformation begins with the right support. In other words, you need to find the right strategic partner/integrator who will work with you to determine your vertical-specific needs and how you can meet and exceed them. Better yet, find a partner/integrator who can also deliver the solutions you require to quickly adapt to your customers’ needs and capitalize on new opportunities. This way, you can avoid most of the leg work while keeping a leg up on the competition.

Your partner/integrator of choice should have a deep focus on such things as analytics, automation, networking, security and IoT. Above all, seek a partner/integrator that has a solid understanding of and passion for smart vertical solutions.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the possibilities today for businesses are limited only by the imagination. Find a partner/integrator who’s ready to step into your world and come along for the ride.

New Age, New Requirements, More Innovation: 3 Ways to Keep Up (Part 1)

When we talk about what has changed within the last 25 years in technology, communications and business, it feels only possible to scratch the surface.

25 years ago, the World Wide Web became publicly available. The first iPhone would be brought to market 16 years later, bringing to extinction dozens of devices that took decades to invent. If you really want to see the stark difference a quarter century can make, take a look at this Radio Shack ad from 1991: portable CD players, PCs, handheld cassette tape recorders … man, those were the days.

Today, we live in a new age filled with new business requirements—the greatest being to effectively keep up with today’s rapid pace of innovation. How rapid? The fact that it took 75 years for the telephone to reach 50 million users and Angry Birds just 35 days should say it all.

The bottom line is that today’s businesses are operating in a more complex and changing environment than ever before. People are interacting with one another in exciting new ways. New platforms are being created every day for customers to uniquely engage with the brands they love. Regardless of what industry you operate in, I can tell you right now that it has changed—and your company needs to substantially change if it wants to keep up.

So, where do you start? This series will explore three distinct ways that business is evolving in this new age of innovation and how leaders can stay ahead of the curve. Let’s start with what many businesses consider the beating heart of their CX strategy: the contact center.

The Call Center vs. The Contact Center

96% of businesses surveyed last year by Deloitte are expecting call center growth within the next two years in order to support new CX demands. At the same time, 85% view CX provided through the contact center as a competitive differentiator.

Customers today have greater autonomy and higher expectations than ever regarding their service experience. To keep up with these demands, we’ve been seeing call centers across the globe evolving into more comprehensive contact centers. The former depends on a single channel of communication to service customers: audio. In this environment, customers are required to dial an 800 number and navigate through an IVR. Usually they are transferred among multiple service reps and must repeat specific information or re-explain their inquiry or issue.

The latter offers customers a more 360-degree service approach, which promotes a multi-channel environment. In this environment, it’s not uncommon for a customer interaction to begin in one place and end in another. For example, a customer interaction may begin with a Web interface and elevate to live chat and then elevate to a live agent if the problem hasn’t been resolved. This can be taken even further by moving the interaction from a live agent to a co-browsing experience, where subject matter experts can show customers in a more interactive way how to handle problems or answer questions. Finally, this can elevate to a one- or two-way video conferencing experience, similar to what Amazon’s Kindle Fire “Mayday” button is intended for.

With the rapid adoption of advanced channels like video, chat and mobile, it’s not surprising that 72% of businesses plan to transform their call centers into new contact centers within the next two years.

The Key to Mastering New CX Demands

Leading technology will give you the contact center of your dreams, but the whistles and bells alone won’t get you anywhere. Winning companies understand the need to pair their technology with personal best practices in order to keep the customer experience contextual, relevant and consistent. In fact, 96% of business leaders believe that personalization is key for increasing revenue flow and improving long-term customer relationships.

So, what do we mean by “contextual information?” Imagine Rob has been visiting Tesla’s website contemplating investing in either a new Model S or Model X. In the past, he’s engaged in live chat (interacting with artificial intelligence) and has asked a few questions. Finally, he one day requests to be transferred to a live agent for further assistance.

At this stage, Tesla should have every piece of relevant, meaningful information about Rob in order to provide him with the most contextual and personalized experience possible. Once Rob is transferred the agent can say, “I noticed you’ve been hopping between the S and X models. Which one are you leaning towards?” If for any reason Rob needs to be transferred, the next agent he speaks with should pick up right where he and the last agent left off. This kind of engagement is game-changing.

There’s no doubt that contextual information combined with real-time analytics will drive the customer experience to new levels. Over the last 40 or 50 years, the market has evolved from basic call centers to multi-faceted contact centers that offer full transparency into customers’ preferences, behaviors and habits. Companies must embrace change within the contact center to ensure the heart of their CX strategy is pumping strong.

Coming up: Part 2 of this series explores the evolution of networking. Learn how business leaders can ensure their networking infrastructure—the backbone of their organization—stays up to par.