How to Explain Cloud Projects to a CFO

As tensions continue to increase in cloud-related discussions at the executive level, so has the importance of effective communication. Much of the debate on cloud investments revolves around one topic: OpEx. It’s understandable why many financial experts seek to avoid OpEx, but the value of investing in cloud services lies beyond this range.

An effective method to bridge this gap is to build a strategic plan, so that you are prepared to let the facts speak for themselves. This method allows for pure business value to be presented, while also giving equal consideration to the weaknesses and challenges faced. Common ground may also be easier to establish when both parties enter the discussion with a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages. It’s too easy to let tensions and emotions direct the conversation, so instead present a case grounded in research and thoughtful consideration. The following five tips will assist you in establishing a tested, well-developed plan for cloud implementation.

  1. Gather Research and Data (Know Your Numbers)

    Start by researching case studies that contain TCO (total cost of ownership) and the cost of production for comparable applications. Also consider watching demonstrations to learn how functionality works and how workflows can be implemented—this is pure empirical evidence that companies can try to replicate or expand upon.

    To further pique the interest of your CFO, share data that enumerates how your company will gain a high ROI—this will have the greatest impact on the direction of your conversation.

  2. Consider Feasibility

    Gauge the necessity of the cloud products/services under consideration by analyzing the scale of the project. Develop your own internal criteria based on the particular delivery timeframes, budget, global accessibility, etc. Then compare how your research matches specific project requirements and identify any challenges upfront. Standard guidelines also help to objectively compare applications and ultimately identify the greatest potential benefits. An additional area of consideration is security. There are a number of controls in the area of access, encryption and legal compliance issues, both global and domestic that must be addressed. Although this may seem like a no-brainer, it is often forgotten in the complicated world of cloud considerations.

    In everyday life it’s easier to see the folly in taking on a big endeavor without a coordinated plan. Imagine preparing for a dinner party without knowing how many guests will attend, when they are coming, if they have any dietary restrictions or allergies, and then attempting to cook this meal without a recipe—failure and chaos are expected, if not unavoidable. Luckily, through careful preparation all these mistakes can be easily avoided and the same is true for cloud implementation.

  3. Adopt Standards
    Creating standards is an absolute prerequisite for implementing cloud services, especially when using an agile process. You won’t get the full benefit of cloud if you don’t have standards. Self-service capabilities can be dramatically expanded through the use of standards at all tiers of the infrastructure and application development landscape.

    Examples of these standards include operating systems, middleware, communication protocols, storage access, development tools, development processes, development coding standards, monitoring, alert plans, scaling practices, and even server hardening practices. Additionally, security controls and individual corporate business models are also standards that should be considered. If you are planning a private cloud, ideally you would already have standards in place for the server infrastructure, storage, and networking—in addition to the items listed above. The goal of standardization across an environment is to create simplicity and consistency, which drives automation—the foundation of cloud in an SP-based or private cloud environment.

  4. Create a Prototype Environment
    This experimental approach provides the opportunity to try before you buy and is certain to impress your CFO. A prototype environment serves as proof of concept, which tests if the service is technically and operationally feasible. There are two main considerations within this.

    First is your ability to create and leverage the basic infrastructure as a service, IaaS, offered in your own cloud or that of a service provider. It’s the best way to obtain computing infrastructure without the capital investment. You will be paying for usage on a monthly basis, but ensure it is properly managed so budgets are not exceeded. Again, preparation is key! Get ready to tackle this concern head on and create a plan for how you will manage any issues. IaaS can be a great way to start a development process or even set up a production application deployment.

    Next, determine how it will impact your development process. Two important metrics to track include increased development speed and improvement in the overall cycle of development and testing. This can be achieved by leveraging the standards you have adopted and deployed in your cloud environment, which can be further enhanced by adoption of a DevOps model within your development teams and process.

  5. Think Scalable
    Managing cloud operations is different from rolling out a large capital-intensive project. Cloud services and features can be added and removed dynamically. With proper configuration and standards this can be truly elastic. However, you need to manage within an allocation to ensure you do not overconsume resources and create a negative budget impact. The benefit of it is to spend at the level you need to consume. But you would need to monitor the usage on an on-going basis to ensure that growing the allocation is a premeditated decision with proper budget consideration. Cloud itself cannot be a set-and-forget environment.

    Over time, the benefits of cloud investments compound as infrastructure and labor cost savings are realized through automation, workflow, self-service, etc. So, it’s important to fully seize the opportunity to communicate this tremendous value by directing the conversation to the facts. If you have given thoughtful consideration to the strengths and weakness of these topics, then you are in a better position to objectively analyze the full potential of cloud implementation. This knowledge will let you minimize the emotion of the conversation and develop a strong, well-informed position. With these tips in mind, you are fully prepared to put nebulous cloud conversations in the past.

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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.

How to Make Your Self-Service Experience More Customer-Friendly

This post concludes my recap of a three-part podcast series on self-service design with Judi Halperin, principal consultant in speech engineering at Avaya. In two previous posts, I related Judi’s observations on designing a user-centric and user-friendly self-service experience and on capturing the benefits of self-service while providing a superior experience. In this installment, she talks about the role of language in designing more natural, or rather, more human self-service experiences.

Click here to listen to the full conversation.

What does “more customer-friendly” really mean? First and foremost among guiding design principles is to minimize your customers’ effort. For instance, if we’re talking about the caller experience, customer effort could refer to how much information your callers have to retain and use in order to have a self-service interaction, or how much information they have to provide just to get started.

Today though, let’s focus on a commonly broken rule. When you call a company for customer support and the IVR offers you 10 menu items, by the time you get to the last item, can you remember what the first one was? Remember that callers have to keep all of the options in their heads, a much more difficult task over the phone than on a website, a mobile app or via webchat.

So how can you make it a better experience for your customers? First, do some analysis and prioritize options based on popularity. A similar principle applies in website, mobile app and webchat design–you want to keep your most popular choices above the fold. At the same time, limit the options that your customers have to remember: generally five to seven items per menu as a guide. Also, allow your callers to start talking as soon as they hear the option that interests them.

Stay mindful of the recency rule. Again, most people tend to remember best what they heard last. It may be useful for the self-service system to offer a prompt right before the customer is asked to respond. This can help guide your customers to make the right response needed to serve their needs.

It’s also important to factor in the role of language in self-service design. For instance, consider implementing yes or no questions where it makes sense, as they are much easier interactions for callers. Also, if universal commands such as “agent” are used, be consistent; don’t substitute “operator” or some other alternative in a later menu.

Prompt structure matters too. For example, leading with “Which could I help you with?” implies that a list of options will follow. This type of prompt tends to be more straightforward to customers than the more open-ended “What can I help you with.”

Regarding speech recognition, the software-based recognizer can only listen for items that are in its set of established grammars and is predisposed to assume that the caller is going to say something it expects to hear. Also, a recognizer can get only so much information from a person’s voice, so it is important to provide acoustically different options that the recognizer can clearly distinguish between. Avoid such combinations as the classic (well, classic in the world of self-service design) “repeat” and “delete,” which differ only by a consonant sound.

Self-service systems can be powerful tools for businesses. Designing a system with customer-centric, natural language principles can go a long way toward the success of your self-service experience. Do you have some thoughts to share on self-service design? If so, we’d love to hear them.