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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Continuous Learning: Propelling Forward in a Rapidly and Inevitably Changing World

Whether we realize it or not, advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT) have transformed the way we think about the world around us. From how we protect our schools to the way we navigate our streets to how we shop for groceries, such technology now lies at the heart of practically everything we do today.

Just as these technologies have changed the way we live, they have changed the way we work. Today’s rapid pace of innovation has transformed nearly every business task, process, and workflow imaginable—so much so that industry analysts estimate that up to 45% of activities that employees are paid to perform can now be automated.

This digital disruption—or what many are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution—without question redefines traditional roles and responsibilities. In fact, research shows that in five years, more than one third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. Even more, analysts estimate that 65% of children today will grow up to work in roles that don’t yet exist.

While we do still see employees that specialize in one skill or expertise, we’ve mostly moved away from the days of hiring an employee for just one job. As technology evolves, so too do the skills required to innovate and propel forward. Looking ahead, employees must have a propensity for continuous learning and adopting new skills to be able to recognize and respond to today’s speed of digital change.

Consider how technology has changed the marketing paradigm. As recently as 10 years ago, marketing platforms like Marketo and HubSpot had only just been founded, Facebook was still in its infancy, and the first iPhone had newly hit the market. As technologies like cloud, social, mobile and big data evolved, however, we suddenly began seeing new tools specifically designed to enhance digital media, social media marketing, and mobile marketing. As a result, companies began searching to fill roles for social media coordinators, digital campaign managers and integrated marketing planners—jobs that were unfathomable 15 to 20 years prior.

Fast forward to today and we’re seeing the emergence of new technology for marketing, such as augmented reality, geofencing, and emotion detection. The continual emergence of new technology perpetually creates skills gaps that must be filled by employees who are passionate, motivated, and invested in their own learning. These kinds of team members are committed to developing new skills and leveraging their strengths to outperform.

But not all employees can easily identify their strengths or develop new skills. This is likely why nearly half of employees today feel unengaged at work, with nearly 20% feeling “actively disengaged.” At the same time, companies are struggling to align employee strengths with organizational priorities. Employees may have certain strengths, but employers may find those skills don’t directly increase operational efficiency or performance. This is why nearly 80% of businesses are more worried about a talent shortage today than they were two years ago.

So, what’s the answer? Employees and employers must work together to identify what roles are currently filled, what skills are still needed, and who best exemplifies those skills. For employees, this means taking control of how they grow their careers and improving for the better. For employers, this means displaying an unwavering commitment to employee reinvestment by understanding key areas of interest to effectively fill skills gaps.

At Avaya, for example, we’re leading an employee enablement program under our Marketing 3.0 strategy. The initiative is designed to help strengthen our marketing organization by equipping employees with the right competencies that reflect our culture, strategy, expectations and market dynamics. By doing so, we can ensure we’re recruiting and managing talent in the most strategic way, putting the right people in the right jobs with the abilities to perform at maximum potential every day. By having each marketing function participate in a simple knowledge profile exercise, we can begin objectively determining development opportunities that best meet their needs and the needs of our business.

As technology continuously evolves, it’s crucial that employees have a propensity for continuous learning and that organizations foster an environment for this learning. In the words of former GE CEO Jack Welch, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

We live in a world that is rapidly and inevitably changing. Employees should embrace this change to thrive, and must if they wish to propel business forward. As employers, we are responsible for strategically leveraging our resources to align employee strengths with organizational needs to succeed in this environment of constant change.

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.