5 Things You Must Do When Supplementing Your Team With Managed Services

There has never been a more important time for IT managers to seek the assistance of outside partners.

Increasingly, IT managers are turning to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to help fill the talent pool gap that prevents many from implementing helpful but increasingly complex apps and technologies.

Among the challenges are those found in December 17, 2013 blog “The Rise of the 7 Communications Trends for 2014.”

As the forward-looking 2014 trends paper stated:

“Vendors are continuously creating new applications, some of which are transforming how organizations deploy and capitalize on technology. While this innovation can help boost business growth and improve efficiency, new solutions can further burden IT organizations that are already being compelled to handle growing service demand with shrinking staff resources.

“New applications and business-consulting demands may also require skill sets beyond those of existing staff. This imbalance between requirements and resources could prompt organizations to explore staff augmentation options beyond the typical ‘manage my switch’ arrangements. They will also seek help from technology management tools that smoothly integrate into their existing operations.”

So many factors, including cloud-based solutions, demand for leveraging Big Data, mobile solution integration, a surging economy that is leading to limited talent pools, etc. have come together to create the perfect storm for overwhelmed IT managers.

While many IT managers may be motivated to replace antiquated networks that have been in use since before the Great Recession, they may be hindered by the inability to find skilled resources to define and implement a roadmap and the tools to simplify the evolution.

In some cases, even if the talent can be acquired, the costs may be unreasonable.

Related article: Blind Spots in Your CEM will Kill Your Profits

The Rise of Out-Tasking

Instead of complete “out-sourcing,” many IT managers are turning to MSPs to “out-task” certain projects or management functions that require a particular expertise not readily available on staff or in today’s job marketplace. By out-tasking the IT organization can spend their valuable time on the core business goals and projects that drive additional competitive advantage at a business level.

Great examples of projects that are easy to “out-task” are release management, and legacy communication solution management. In both cases, the function is well defined but can free up significant time and remove unnecessary distractions from IT.

In this economy, moving from old to new solutions can leave a company in a lurch as they try to find the right personnel to help transform infrastructure and then ensure they maintain their skills. Out-tasking is a great solution to reduce the risk of transformation leveraging an MSP can help evolve the infrastructure much easier and faster. Working with a virtual staff and/or leveraging a cloud-based solution without having to bring people on board is likely to be the best solution for many businesses in 2014 and beyond.

The Top 5 DO’s and DON’T’s to Ensure You Make the Best Choice in MSPs

Do:

  • Prepare a statement of work with clear goals, metrics, timing and fixed budget costs so that the MSP staff can make a best bid for the project. Don’t forget to focus on Performance and Growth initiatives
  • Ask about the management capabilities of the MSP employees and the team mix. How many engineers and employees are dedicated to Managed Services and how many will be assigned to you. What is their level of expertise? How many employees are on the company’s Help Desk? How many other clients leverage the Managed Services practice? Is staff available around the globe on a 24/7 basis? What types of tools are you provided to assess how your applications are being handled? Is there a portal to you can use to view your application status in real time?
  • Question how the MSP employees and solutions can help mitigate risk, reduce cost of ownership and improve overall performance. Does the MSP leverage industry standard processes and tools?
  • Ask if the MSP can offer integrated solutions that include operations, professional services, and equipment maintenance. Are the MSP offers structured to enable you to flexibly choose what you need while still maintaining full accountability?
  • Investigate what each MSP specializes in. Many companies are now realizing that to get the most out of their investment they need to leverage MSPs with specific application specialties (Collaboration/communications, ERP, CRM, marketing automation, etc.).

Don’t assume:

  • A potential partner with IT experience can enable an easy transformation or can fix the problem. New apps and technologies can require expertise that is not always readily available. Ask about related experience.
  • That the team has backup plans or that adequate security measures are being taken at all times.
  • The MSP team complies with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to optimize efficiency. Don’t be surprised.
  • The potential partner owns their own data center. Data centers are forever being updated and tested, which is a considerable cost that many outsource (Not necessarily a big issue). Also, don’t assume that personnel and systems are in geo-politically safe areas. Ask!
  • All MSPs can provide the full spectrum of services, from private, public and hybrid clouds to co-location. Most say they can, but dig to ensure it is more than lip service.

What have been your experiences with a Managed Service Provider?

What do’s and don’ts are missing from our list?

Follow Me on Twitter @Pat_Patterson_V

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Leveraging Big Data to Fine Tune Customer Experiences

Whether you realize it or not, big data is at the heart of practically everything we do today. Billboard companies, for example, are now leveraging eye tracking and traffic pattern analysis to gauge interest among drivers. Chances are one of those drivers owns a 4G-enabled vehicle that can track such things as performance and maintenance history. That person can also now record and analyze their utility usage via smart home solutions—anywhere, anytime. On a more critical level, doctors can now record and analyze patients’ heartbeats and breathing patterns to develop life-saving predictive algorithms.

In today’s smart, digital world, big data has opened the floodgates to never-before-seen possibilities. It has the power to course-correct potentially devastating outcomes, and it’s become a necessity for continually refining the customer experience. If you ask us, though, the best customer experiences today are supported by customer journey analytics.

The Need for Customer Journey Analytics

Customer journey analytics is a process that requires tracking and analyzing the way customers use a combination of available channels to interact with an organization. These channels range from human interaction (like speaking with a contact center agent) to fully automated interactions to assisted service (like live chat and co-browsing).

The need for customer journey analytics is simple: data solutions of the past simply won’t meet the next-generation customer needs of today and the future. Consider that just 10 years ago, channels like Web chat and social media were in their infancy (Facebook had only been around for two years). At the same time, the world’s first smartphone had only been on the market for one year. A lot has happened to transform the customer experience in a very short amount of time. As companies move forward in today’s age of rapid tech innovation, they must be armed with the right data strategy.

As mentioned, customers today use a vast number of channels and devices to interact with the brands they love. Each channel and device offers its own set of diverse scenarios for linking to other channels and devices, making no two customer experiences the same. Companies must be able to understand customers’ actions on any given channel or device in order to infer insights and create anticipatory engagement at the individual account level. For instance, why did one customer choose to purchase a product in a retail store verses online? Or, why did a customer end a live chat session before his or her inquiry was handled?

This level of understanding requires a comprehensive view of the data gathered from all channels and interactions that proceeded the moment in question. Customer journey analytics is a process designed to provide this comprehensive view and deliver deep benefits organization-wide—so much so that 60% of all large organizations are expected to develop customer journey mapping capabilities by 2018, according to Gartner.

Making Customer Journey Analytics Work for You

Companies need a data-driven customer approach to survive—and it needs to be effective to thrive. Many companies, however, struggle with taking their customer data and turning it into actionable results. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by PwC found that 43% of companies obtain little tangible benefit from their data, while 23% derive no benefit whatsoever.

To effectively apply your data, you must first determine what you wish to achieve with your data in the first place. In other words, what key objectives do you hope to achieve or improve upon by using big data (or specifically, customer journey analytics)?

Not sure? Here are four core initiatives to start you on a path to maximize your customer journey analysis efforts:

  1. Enable self-service.

    Self-service options—especially mobile—are rapidly increasing in popularity. Just consider that in 2015, Apple users downloaded over 51,000 mobile apps per minute. Also last year, 90% of customers used their smartphones in stores to make price comparisons, research specific products, and check online reviews.

    In today’s mobile-first world, businesses should leverage customer journey analytics to develop a sophisticated and integrated mobile experience—one that seamlessly integrates self service into their mobile app via visual, in-app self-service options. Conversely, this experience should offer customers callback options (either immediate or scheduled), as well as mobile chat (automated or agent-assisted) and video service. In addition to offering a stellar mobile UX, businesses should ensure backend capabilities that intelligently route customers to agents based on available context in order to drive relevant, meaningful interactions.

  2. Improve resource matching. We live in a world today where cars can park themselves and doctors can 3D print new organs, yet we still struggle with routing callers to the right subject matter experts. The time for next-generation routing is now, and it all starts with improved resource matching—specifically, attribute-based matching. This means matching customers with agents based on rich context, business KPIs, and organizational goals across all work items, channels, and resources to drive segmentation, increase prioritization, and determine the best course of action per customer.

    This also means choosing the right resources for each customer, regardless of where the resources reside within the organization. The right subject matter expert, for example, could be a contact center agent, a supervisor in your billing department, or your VP of sales. Customer journey analytics provides a 360-degree view of available resources organization-wide to support this level of attribute-based matching.

  3. Increase agent awareness. Not only is it important to collect the right information, but it must also be presented in a way that is visually understandable and easily accessible for agents. Imagine, for example, an agent being able to see where a customer has been on the company’s website over the last month, as well as that person’s live chat interactions last week. Imagine an agent being able to quickly see that a customer sent an email two days ago regarding a recent bill, or reached out via SMS because the company’s mobile app wasn’t working properly. Imagine if agents could gain this 360-degree, comprehensive view all in just one or two clicks of a mouse.

    Data is continuously generated in different ways, and is consumed by different people across different processes and applications. Having the right information at the right time empowers agents to focus on customers’ needs without having to ask for the same information multiple times (which, as we all know, is one of today’s greatest customer frustrations).

  4. Ensure continuous improvement.

    When it comes to big data, businesses can’t manage what they can’t measure. Therefore, it’s important that companies measure their data both in real-time and historically to help improve systems, processes, and applications over time. This is what will enable them to consistently deliver on key business objectives, operate within budget, and maximize every customer experience. Here are four key technologies for ensuring continuous improvement:

    • A data collector that can collect, standardize and normalize raw data across any data source so it can be used for enterprise-wide reporting and analytics.
    • A processing engine that can correlate, translate, calculate and publish normalized data into meaningful business measures.
    • A visual presentation platform that provides unified, real-time and historical reporting and analytics dashboards that can be used to visualize, analyze and explore key business measures.
    • Predictive analytics to discover new trends, apply changes based on insights, and continuously improve applications, workflows, self service and routing decisions.

So, how can you succeed with these four objectives to fine tune your customer experiences? That’s an entirely new discussion—however, we can tell you this: invest in a customer engagement platform that:

  • Provides a single view of customer interactions across all systems
  • Allows you to add data sources quickly
  • Can correlate data across both real-time and historical systems
  • Boasts an open and extensible reporting and analytics framework

Experience is everything. Learn How Avaya Oceana Works.

Is Big Data in the Financial Sector Just a Numbers Game?

Banking has historically been a very data-oriented industry, but there has recently been a significant push toward implementing “big data” strategies to refine processes and better understand customers.

I was fortunate enough to attend a recent IDC webinar that talked about this very topic, with a particular focus on how banks can adopt big data analytics and how this newfound surplus of information can be used in innovative ways.

Omni-channel interaction, hyper-personalization, and single-customer view are among the areas where data and analytics are enabling innovation.

“In-market adoption of big data and analytics has reached the point where the capabilities and applications these technologies enable are becoming mainstream for a growing number of financial services firms,” said Michael Versace, Global Research Director at IDC Financial Insights.

Big data analytics can help banking executives deal with a variety of business issues such as customer engagement, risk management, productivity, and shareholder profitability. This can provide banks a potential competitive advantage, which–let’s face it–is always well received in such a tough market.

Without doubt, mobility and big data are leading the technology needs in banking. When it comes to technology enablers, we tend to make a beeline to the CTO office.

In addressing some of the business imperatives mentioned above, and specifically relating to big data, we need to look beyond the world of IT executives. Why? Because data impacts beyond IT, and line of businesses in this sector are incredibly varied, very influential and need to be considered in bids.

With a coordinated technology lens we can help support global banks and enable them to “know their customer better.” Who wouldn’t want that?

If you are an IDC customer, watch the replay of the webcast here.

Click here to learn more about Avaya’s banking solutions.

How Unified Communications Can Make Multitasking Work for You

multitasking man

I sometimes feel as if interruptions define my work life. My days are an endless stream of emails, instant messages, SMS text messages, telephone calls, and voicemails.  They are all like doorbells that won’t stop ringing.  As soon as I respond to the first, the next visitor is at the door demanding my attention.  I could ignore the bells and knocks, but how would I know that I wasn’t missing something extremely important?

I’ve come to realize that unless I quit my job and sit at home watching soap operas, this deluge isn’t going to change.  So, instead of constantly complaining, or allowing my productivity to come to a grinding halt, I do what I can to make those interruptions meaningful.  In other words, I allow the important interruptions to capture my time and energy and I send the less meaningful, or meaningless interruptions to the back of the line.

The trick to adding meaning to interruptions is finding the relevant context of those interruptions.  This allows me to categorize, prioritize, and appropriately manage the barrage of communications mediums that fill my day.

We already do this to some extent with email today.  First, there is the subject line that may help me decide at a glance whether this email is important or not.  Next, there is the preview pane that gives me the first couple of lines.  There are also the disposition indicators such as forward or reply.  All of these allow me to discern the context of an email without having to actually read it.

Those same categorization aspects can be applied to other forms of communications.  Imagine knowing why your phone is ringing before answering it.  We already have calling line and calling name identification, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.  Knowing that Mary Smith is calling is important, but it doesn’t tell me why she is calling.  Did she pick up the phone and simply dial my number?  Did she do a click-to-call from an email I previously sent?  Was it the email that asked for last month’s sales reports or the one asking if she wanted to do lunch on Friday?

Let’s take this further.  Would it help me better categorize the call if I knew that she was calling from within a document I posted on a SharePoint site?  What difference might it make if I knew the exact document?  Would I be more apt to answer her call if I knew that it was placed from the parking lot of our biggest customer?   The more I know about the context of the phone call, the better prepared I am to determine the meaning of the interruption.

Here in the age of multimodal communications you can be reached in many different ways and context can and should be applied to every one of them.  If context is important to an email, it’s more important to real-time forms of communication where time to answer and reply are more critical.  The more information you are provided at the time of the interruption the better – for you and the caller.

This kind of context processing is important to me, the desk jockey, but imagine someone who works in a high stress, life critical job.  Imagine a doctor being able to tell exactly why her phone is buzzing before responding to the phone call, text message, email, or voicemail.  Imagine how the quality of her care would go up if she were able to intelligently ignore the unimportant interruptions and spend her time responding to critical matters.

Now, before you start making calls to your favorite systems integrator, it’s important to know that not every one of these context classifications are possible with today’s unified communications products.  As far as I know, there is no system that can tell you that a call is being made from a parking lot.  However, it’s not that farfetched to imagine a time when that feature exists.  The goal of this blog is not to tell you what you can buy today, but rather what is possible and may be on the market tomorrow.

Think of how context allows you to make better decisions.  Think of how much more productive you are when you are able to sort interruptions by importance.   This is the future of communications.  This is what makes unified communications “workflow relevant.”

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This article originally appeared on Andrew Prokop’s unified communications blog, SIP Adventures, and is reprinted with permission.