Next-Generation IT: What Does It Really Look Like?

From mainframes to virtualization to the IoT, we’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time in terms of networking, OS and applications. All this progress has led us to an inflection point of digital business innovation; a critical time in history where, as Gartner puts it best, enterprises must “recognize, prioritize and respond at the speed of digital change.” Despite this, however, many businesses still rely on legacy systems that prevent them from growing and thriving. So, what’s the deal?

I attempted to answer this in a previous blog, where I laid out as entirely as I could the evolution of interconnectivity leading up to today. What was ultimately concluded in that blog is that we have reached a point where we can finally eliminate dependency on legacy hardware and hierarchical architecture with the use of one single, next-generation software platform. The call for organizations across all industries to migrate from legacy hardware has never been stronger, and the good news is that technology has evolved to a point where they can now effectively do so.

This concept of a “next-generation platform,” however, isn’t as simple as it sounds. Just consider its many variations among industry analysts. McKinsey & Company, for example, refers to this kind of platform as “next-generation infrastructure” (NGI). Gartner, meanwhile, describes it as the “New Digital Platform.” We’re seeing market leaders emphasizing the importance of investing in a next-generation platform, yet many businesses still wonder what the technology actually looks like.

To help make it clearer, Avaya took a comparative look at top analyst definitions and broke them down into five key areas of focus for businesses industry-wide: 

  1. Next-generation IT
  2. The Internet of Things (IoT)
  3. Artificial intelligence (AI)/automation
  4. Open ecosystem
  5. The customer/citizens experience

In a series of upcoming blogs, I’ll be walking through these five pillars of a next-generation platform, outlining what they mean and how they affect businesses across every sector. So, let’s get started with the first of these: next-generation IT.

Simplifying Next-Gen IT

As IT leaders face unrelenting pressure to elevate their infrastructure, next-generation IT has emerged as a way to enable advanced new capabilities and support ever-growing business needs. But what does it consist of? Well, many things. The way we see it, however, next-generation IT is defined by four core elements: secure mobility, any-cloud deployment (more software), omnichannel and big data analytics—all of which are supported by a next-generation platform built on open communications architecture.

Secure mobility: Most digital growth today stems from mobile usage. Just consider that mobile now represents 65% of all digital media time, with the majority of traffic for over 75% of digital content—health information, news, retail, sports—coming from mobile devices. Without question, the ability to deliver a secure mobile customer/citizen experience must be part of every organizational DNA. This means enabling customers to securely consume mobile services anytime, anywhere and however desired with no physical connectivity limitations. Whether they’re on a corporate campus connected to a dedicated WLAN, at Starbucks connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot, or on the road paired to a Bluetooth device though cellular connectivity, the connection must always be seamless and secure. Businesses must start intelligently combining carrier wireless technology with next-generation Wi-Fi infrastructure to make service consumption more secure and mobile-minded with seamless hand-off between the two technologies.

Any-cloud deployment: Consumers should be able to seamlessly deploy any application or service as part of any cloud deployment model (hybrid, public or private). To enable this, businesses must sufficiently meet today’s requirements for any-to-any communication. As I discussed in my previous blog, the days of nodal configuration and virtualization are a thing of the past; any-to-any communications have won the battle. A next-generation platform built on open communications architecture is integrated, agile, and future-proof enough to effectively and securely support a services-based ecosystem. Of course, the transition towards software services is highly desirable but remember not all hardware will disappear—although where possible it should definitely be considered. This services-based design is the underlying force of many of today’s greatest digital developments (smart cars, smart cities). It’s what allows organizations across every sector to deliver the most value possible to end-users.

Omnichannel: All communication and/or collaboration platforms must be omnichannel enabled. This is not to be confused with multi-channel. Whereas the latter represents a siloed, metric-driven approach to service, the former is inherently designed to provide a 360-degree customer view, supporting the foundation of true engagement. An omnichannel approach also supports businesses with the contextual and situational awareness needed to drive anticipatory engagement at the individual account level. This means knowing that a customer has been on your website for the last 15 minutes looking at a specific product of yours, which they inquired about during a live chat session with an agent two weeks ago. This kind of contextual data needs to be brought into the picture to add value and enhance the experience of whom you service, regardless of where the interaction first started.

Big data analytics: It’s imperative that you strategically use the contextual data within your organization to compete based on the CX. A huge part of next-generation IT involves seamlessly leveraging multiple databases and analytics capabilities to transform business outcomes (and ultimately, customers’ lives). This means finally breaking siloes to tap into the explosive amount of data—structured and unstructured, historical and real-time—at your disposal. Just as importantly, this means employees being able to openly share, track, and collect data across various teams, processes, and customer touch points. This level of data visibility means a hotel being able to see that a guest’s flight got delayed, enabling the on-duty manager to let that customer know that his or her reservation will be held. It means a bank being able to push out money management tips to a customer after seeing that the individual’s last five interactions were related to account spending.

These four components are critical to next-generation IT as part of a next-generation digital platform. Organizations must start looking at each of these components if they wish to compete based on the CX and respond at the speed of digital change. Stay tuned, next we’ll be talking about the ever-growing Internet of Things!

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Avaya Predictions for 2017 Services Trends: Top Focus is on Smart Customer-Centric Engagement

Recently, we asked six Avaya services experts to help us reflect on the past year and to peer ahead into 2017. Our panel:

  • Richard English, Managing Director, Avaya Professional Services
  • Camille Lewis, Product Management Director, Avaya Client Services
  • Barbara Sidari, Customer Engagement and Executive Cadence, Avaya Client Services
  • Thomas Brennan, Vice President of global support services, private cloud and managed services delivery
  • Michael Sale, Director Online Engagement, Avaya Client Services
  • Dan Pratt, Senior Director, Business Transformation and Strategy, Avaya Client Services

According to our six experts, our predictions for these 2016 trends proved to be spot on—and they will continue to be a force in 2017:

  • Use of hybrid/private cloud

    will continue to dominate for large enterprises until public cloud providers can demonstrate that compliance to privacy/security regulations such as HIPAA can be achieved. However, Public Cloud is quickly becoming a flexible and effective delivery model for the midmarket.

  • A flexible delivery model

    to achieve growth in modular steps that helps IT maximize ROI and support rapid business scaling has been, and will continue to be, extremely successful. Taking some of the burden off the enterprise enables IT managers to focus on more strategic corporate initiatives.

  • The need for person-to-person human touch

    will continue to rise. It will become critical in 2017 as unassisted support and self-healing systems grow smarter in identifying trends and problems before they happen and engage in machine-to-machine maintenance for resolution. The use of video will be more widely used, providing personalization and higher customer satisfaction.

The panel thinks that 2017 will mean an increasing focus on smart customer centric engagement when it comes to service. In 2017, it’s all about using analytics and even smarter technology to increase customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, loyalty and revenue—and to achieve a better return on investment.

The Avaya panel sees these three trends emerging in 2017:

  • Transforming legacy systems and increased customer use of omnichannel will streamline the customer journey to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and revenue.

    For example, many retailers will transform their Contact Centers into profit centers. The shopping experience for their customers starts on the mobile device or web-based applications—retailers want it to end with an order placed. The customer will experience a seamless transition from mobile to voice (or to web chat or video) without having to repeat who they are and what they want to purchase. The agent will already know the value of the customer to their company and will provide a personalized shopping experience.

  • Analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), and big data will enhance the experience of the Customer Journey.

    The predictive and preemptive active workflow will match people to people, machine to machine, as preferred by the customer for maximum satisfaction and profit. For instance, service vendors will use data captured from customer service requests, alarms, outage history, and project volume to identify risks and take appropriate actions to proactively mitigate issues. Utility companies can leverage web-based applications to proactively communicate to customers the status of affected service areas via maps on smart phones, reducing the burden of customers calling the service center to report an outage. Similarly alarm companies will analyze alarms and preemptively fix them before the consumer arrives home.

  • Demand for holistic application service management will grow as siloed and disparate cloud applications shift focus from managing assets in the field to delivering on business processes.

    Enterprises will need a dashboard that provides a single pane view by business process vs CPU performance. The workforce needs to be trained to leverage all the data in a way that includes human touch.

The year 2017 promises to be very exciting as service transforms and demonstrates its value by preemptively fixing issues before they become problems. It is imperative that knowing the customer and providing what they want, as well as the human touch, will become ever more critical in a big data world. After all, it’s all about the customer experience!

What do you see emerging in 2017? Drop me a note at sithomso@avaya.com

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.

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.