How are CIOs Boosting the ROI of Collaboration?

In the old days, you had a phone on your desk at work. It was a necessity but purely a cost. Nowadays, communications comes in many flavors. And savvy CIOs understand that it’s not simply about containg costs anymore.

Today’s key, said several CIOs in front of 1,000+ attendees at the Avaya Evolutions New York conference in Manhattan on Tuesday, is making sure you have an open, flexible foundation for collaboration that allows you to deliver new tactics and maximize your long-term ROI.

“The telecom system lifecycle is still pretty long,” said Neil Isola, director of IT for a 440,000-member benefits and pension fund based in New York City. Yet “how you execute 1-2 years from now is vague.” What companies need is an “open and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) to scale upon.”

For Isola, that is a virtualization-heavy architecture. 95% of the applications on the company’s 1,000 servers are virtualized, including the Avaya IQ, AES and ACE applications and Avaya gateway controllers that Isola upgraded to last year.  Not only does virtualization allow Isola’s team to upgrade hardware more easily when needed, it also enables his team to get their large call center – it gets 4,000 inbound calls per hour – back up in case of a disaster within 13 minutes, with agents working from home.

Avoiding Being a Slave to Technology

Responding to fast-moving technology trends can be as difficult as keeping up with fashion, according to Jason Cohen, CIO for a division of the sprawling media and marketing conglomerate, the Omnicom Group.

“In my opinion, too much time is spent on the accoutrements,” he said. “Pick the right foundation and then you have something that can handle almost anything you want.”

When Cohen started as CIO back in 1999, there were 100+ agencies at Omnicom, all cobbled together through acquisitions, and all running different technologies.

To unify this, Cohen wanted a powerful communications platform, one that would attract individual agencies to voluntarily standardize upon it without having to strong-arm them. Yet, it had to flexible to accommodate the existing diversity. “I needed a vendor that could support us globally on multiple types of platforms, as opposed to one that says ‘If you have this, then you must use that.'”

Using Avaya, Cohen now has just 4 data centers worldwide with 75% of the branches under his watch now standardized onto a single

sefcu pic avaya evolutions.jpg

SEFCU credits its flexible communications foundation for letting it automate its call center at its own pace.

For another company, New York state-based credit union SEFCU, the challenge was accommodating fast customer growth while upgrading its technology at its own pace.

SEFCU’s membership had grown at a zippy 8% a year for the past half-decade. Even better – revenue from its outbound call center agents has grown 170% in the last 3 years.

Chris Ward, vice-president for retail distribution at SEFCU, credits SEFCU’s “personal service heritage…our long-term members are
accustomed to a person-to-person approach,” as well as its well-trained call center agents, most of whom are college educated.

So what’s the problem?

SEFCU recently introduced a new, more-secure online banking platform that was raising questions among some long-time customers. As a result, the number of calls into SEFCU’s 65-person call center was up 17% year-over-year in 2012, and threatening to grow another 23% this year. 

And simply adding additional agents without addressing the underlying cause of the increased call volume would’ve been “pretty close to exemplifying the definition of insanity,” said Ward.

SEFCU had a 15-year-old Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that was handling about 2 million calls a year, versus the 700,000 calls handled by its agents. “We had always viewed that 3:1 ratio as good,” Ward said. But now, Ward wanted to divert more routine calls to the automated system, while leaving complicated inquiries to the operators. He also wanted to control the pace of deploying new features, rather than adopting a big-bang approach.

Solution: SEFCU hired system integrator SPS to deploy new call center software, the Avaya Aura Experience portal. Aura Experience gives SEFCU a foundation with “unparalleled reliability,” says Ward, for it to connect its existing non-SIP applications and start planning for upgrades such as smart call routing (i.e. based on customer history, not just his or her current need). 

“We now have the flexibility to grow over time,” Ward said, without sacrificing the sort of service its customers expect. Within 2 years, SEFCU hopes to deploy Avaya Proactive Outreach manager to enhance both its sales and its bill collection. The software will allow agents that can’t reach a customer on the phone to easily leave a voice mail and an e-mail instead.  

You can hear more interviews with these companies, as well as the Avaya partners that helped deploy their communications architectures, on the Avaya Podcast Network.


Related Articles:

Avaya Aura® Platform—The Original Pragmatic Hybrid Cloud

In a recent InfoWorld post David Linthicum wrote of “an organic movement driven by rank-and-file enterprise IT people who simply want to solve their issues using the best technology and approach.” Linthicum called this the “pragmatic hybrid cloud.” Reading this from the perspective of someone with decades of experience in the enterprise communications market, my immediate reactions was, “Aha, he’s talking about the Avaya Aura® Platform.” He isn’t, but here I’ll explain why this thought struck me.

Linthicum writes, “What this movement has discovered is that you can combine the public cloud and modernize some of your legacy systems to be more cloudlike.” That is exactly what Avaya customers have been achieving in an evolutionary process spanning almost two decades. Long before the term cloud came into vogue, Avaya customers have been able to gain the benefits of the cloud paradigm while avoiding the need to comprehensively lift workloads to a public cloud provider and the need to wholesale forklift and abandon existing investments.

Today, many Avaya customers—including a large swath of the globe’s most notable organizations in industries ranging from financial services, to healthcare, to government, and many small and medium businesses—process their mission-critical workloads using a combination of premise-based solutions and both public and private cloud-served applications. It is a “pragmatic hybrid” approach that since the mid-2000s has provided these Avaya customers with unparalleled reliability, cost savings, and business agility.

The Avaya Aura Platform is the reason why. Avaya Aura had its genesis in a time tested methodology for allowing geographically distributed organizations to link islands of resources to gain economies of scale. Back in the day, to create either a contact center that followed the sun or a single enterprise communications solution that served the needs of a worldwide workface, expensive dedicated circuits were required. As IP Telephony evolved, companies began to use packet-switched technologies to more cost-effectively link together distant resources into single holistic systems. Rather than centralized in isolated locations, communications applications could now be seamlessly and cost-effectively shared across distances. This made new ways to organize communication assets and the work that depended upon those resources possible.

Avaya’s great insight was to take advantage of the session initiation protocol (SIP). Over time Avaya’s customers have “pragmatically” converted the networking connections of their existing standalone investments to create fabrics of SIP internetworked appliances. The Avaya Aura® Session Manager lets companies treat their owned assets as part of a private cloud and combine those resources with public cloud capabilities both from Avaya and from a growing ecosystem of additional providers. It is a strategy that has resulted in significant cost savings while unleashing new innovation.

Today the Avaya Aura Platform has moved far beyond simply a “pragmatic hybrid” for sharing resources. It has become a strategic tool for many organizations. It gives companies a flexibility and agility to adapt and reconfigure at the speed of business. Avaya Aura has also opened the doors to both internal Avaya inventions and new external development.

Avaya Breeze™ Platform is but the latest application development platform that takes advantage of Avaya Aura. Avaya, Avaya’s customers, and an industry of third-party companies are leveraging Breeze with their own creativity for solving business problems. Breeze allows the creation of unique ways to leverage the inherent capabilities of Avaya products in combination with cloud and third-party capabilities. Whether those assets reside in a private data center, on premises-based servers, or in public clouds, because of the Avaya Aura Platform, the only barriers to progress are the limits of human ingenuity.

Linthicum concluded that, the “pragmatic approach is very sensible. It makes the most of what you have, reducing the need for new resources and letting you transition to the cloud at a pace you can handle, both in terms of cost and time.” Your Path, Your Pace, Your Choice, where have I heard that before? Avaya circa 2004 maybe? Nice to see the industry finally following Avaya’s lead.


Zang Serves Up a Special Delivery for Your Mom this Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is the one day in the U.S. when the most phone calls are made. According to this cool Mother’s Day Facts site, 122 million calls are made to mothers on Mother’s Day in the United States alone. Considering there are only 85 million mothers in the U.S., Mom must be pretty busy taking calls from her multiple children, and Dad must be busy making reservations at the favorite family restaurant (Mother’s Day remains the top holiday for dining out).

To help make sure Mom gets that special call on Mother’s Day, Zang today announced a Zang-built service for those who 1) are multiple time zones away from mom (ie: military, working or studying abroad), 2) just want to send another thoughtful gift to Mom to let her know she’s loved, or 3) frankly, for those who have a track record for forgetting (you know who you are). With the Zang Forget Me Not service, anyone can record a voicemail for their mom before Mother’s Day, designate the date & time the voicemail should be sent, then receive a text confirming the voicemail was delivered. The new service was created using  cloud-based Zang Comms platform as a service, which allows anyone to create communication applications and services just like Forget Me Not.

How does it work, you ask? Simple. First go to and complete four short steps:

1)  Enter your telephone phone number
2)  Enter recipient’s telephone number
3)  Pick the time you would like the recording to be delivered
4)  Zang Forget Me Not service will then call your phone number for you to record, review and approve your message for delivery.


Go ahead—give it a try! It’s just one more surprise you can give Mom this Mother’s Day.

Next time you visit Dubai, take a public transport

With happiness being a key focus in Dubai, government agencies are looking towards contributing to the goal of raising the quality of life of customers and ensuring public happiness. These agencies are quickly realizing that the key to delivering a better and more personalized experience is technology. Using the latest services and solutions paves the way to guaranteed customer retention and loyalty.

One of the leading organizations in the area of customer care, winning multiple awards for its contact centre operations including a Hamdan bin Mohammed Smart Government Award, is the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA).

The RTA has a wide remit including Dubai’s Metro, public buses, private road vehicle registration, traffic management and more, so it has a diverse customer base negotiating Dubai’s busy transport system, with a volume of customer enquiries to match. It therefore comes as no surprise that the RTA is investing in multiple channels of communications with its customers, to improve standards of service, increase efficiency and gain valuable feedback from its user. It is also looking to technology to help improve the quality of interactions with clients and to improve overall levels of customer satisfaction and engagement. It has utilized a number of different solutions to increase its outreach to customers, and over time the focus of these efforts has evolved, to include voice communications, smart apps and multi-channel engagement.

From projects and operational perspective, RTA has a big focus on alternative smart channels. It offers 173 smart services under nine apps, that can help customers complete their transactions with a click of the finger through the automation of the main services the authority provides. It is dedicated to opening up more channels of communication, with an omni-channel strategy, that includes delivering services through channels such as self-service kiosks. At present the RTA has deployed around 16 kiosks, which offer smart services to users in RTA service centres, and in future it plans to have around 100 kiosks all over the city. The Authority has a well-established customer care line, which handles enquiries across the range of its activities, running on Avaya contact centre solutions. In 2015, the centre handled over 2.5 million calls, with over 80% of calls responded to in 20 seconds, and 90% of issues resolved in one call.

To make this possible, last year the contact centre underwent a major technology refresh, to put in place the latest generation of solutions. With Avaya Aura, RTA is now using the most recent software to increase the efficiency of the contact centre. With the aim to deliver the best possible interaction experience to transport customers, Avaya aligned with RTA’s Customer Resource Management strategy to consolidate channels and mediums into RTA’s first, best-in-class contact center to host multi-channel interactions. Among the capabilities that the new technology has enabled is an advanced Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, which has helped to improve operations by automatically handling some of the more common customer enquiries. On New Year’s Eve the centre received some 12,000 calls, with the IVR handling one third of all enquiries.

The RTA is a pioneering example of how technology can make the difference in delivering quality to customers through the creation of a seamless and hassle free experience. As we share the RTA’s vision in excelling in customer experiences to achieve happiness, my advice to you is that, next time you visit Dubai, remember to take a  public transport.