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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Five Things You Must Do to Shift Customer Experience in 2018

We all know that to drive competitiveness, you must shift customer experience—and that this is now more important than ever. But shift to what? How? When? I hear these questions all the time when meeting with customers in our Executive Briefing Centers, and at tradeshows and conferences. The industry is rallying around terms like “omnichannel,” “cloud,” and “analytics,” but the contact center is not a one-size-fits-all entity. You can’t instantly accomplish a great shift for your business simply by buying omnichannel for your contact center. Rather, it’s a delicate process that requires you to refresh and integrate systems together.

How to Shift Customer Experience

As executives and leaders in customer experience, we must be ready to make changes that can shift a contact center to deliver a better customer experience. Here are five things that Avaya recommends you do in 2018. These may seem obvious, but collectively they can yield true lifetime value results from customers:

  1. Understand Your Customer Journeys
    Rather than looking at countless different, individual interactions, choose to put your customer on a journey, one that rarely starts and stops with just one contact. Take an outside-in view by identifying several important customer journeys and customer preferences. Or, consider low CX scores that can be improved either through self-service assistance or by linking channels together with context (this helps to understand where the customer has been before).
  2. Listen to Your Feet on the Street
    While your customers’ feedback is essential, it is your frontline staff who will give you direct pointers. These individuals understand the necessary tools and training for reaching new levels of customer experience. Consider, for example, that 84% of global contact centers are adapting to meet the needs of next-gen millennial workers. Give your agents a sense of ownership and they will tell you where they can personalize and engage with customers on a greater level. Your agents could potentially sell more when they’re able to make customers feel great about their overall experience. The key is to arm agents with the right information on their desktops.
  3. Support Advanced Automation and Analytics
    According to Gartner, more than 50% of CIOs will have artificial intelligence as one of their top five investment priorities by 2020. AI will assist greatly in understanding the customer journey: augmented reality and bots can automate more processes over human-to-human interactions. Keep in mind, however, that humans are still needed. It’s just that advanced automation and analytics, when put in the right place, can lead to richer and more effective experiences between customers and representatives.
  4. Break Internal Silos
    Creating an orchestrated experience requires executives to look as a team at organizational processes. Take charge as the person who identifies and leads change across your entire organization. Departments working in silos—sales, marketing, service—all stop short when processes are not stitched together. Also keep in mind that your CRM systems and contact center processes must complement one another. They need to come together to drive better customer and business outcomes.
  5. Bridge The Gaps
    Now comes the fun stuff: ownership, budget and getting a project underway. This can be done either by way of proof of concept, or segmenting a certain group of interactions to begin changing processes. Take note of the before and after, and check-in with your customers on improvements (consider surveys or one-to-one outreach). Assess if there are new roles or skillsets needed to keep up with the change. Take it one step at a time and prove a return on investment against identified use cases before moving on.

You need to make a shift happen in 2018 to continually innovate customer experience and improve lifetime value. It will require some research and a few bold moves. I promise it will be a rewarding process if it is inclusive of input and bridges critical gaps.

So, where do you start? I encourage you to talk to Avaya about an assessment or visit one of our Executive Briefing Center sites. From initial strategizing to execution, Avaya can help you develop a solid customer experience plan that yields true lifetime value—we can even model a potential ROI or CLV based on your own estimates. Contact Avaya to learn more.

Avaya A.I.Connect Focuses on Improving Companies’ Customer Experiences

For Avaya, AI is all about people. Sure, there are clearly opportunities to increase automation, to provide higher quality, more natural, more life-like conversational self-service solutions for automated IVR, text, and chat interactions. But in all these cases, there is still a person at one end of the interaction—the end customer. At Avaya, our A.I.Connect initiative focuses on using AI and machine learning technologies to enable our customers to deliver more engaging experiences for their end customers.

The Evolution of AI

The term artificial intelligence dates back to 1956 as an academic discipline, born out of a workshop at Dartmouth College by leading researchers in the computer science field. AI’s success has come in fits and starts, with overblown expectations and not a small bit of fear—it’s been predicted that AI-enabled systems and machines will somehow impinge upon the place of human beings in the global pecking order. But interest in AI (and its associated results) is stronger than ever, poised perhaps to deliver upon an almost 70-year-old hypothesis that machines can be smarter than people. But no, we aren’t welcoming our new robotic overlords. At least not yet.

Keeping People in the Center of Our AI Story

Bringing AI capabilities to the table ultimately centers on increasing the positive nature of the customer’s experience. And doing so in the most innocuous, unobtrusive, comforting and, dare I say, enjoyable ways possible.

End customers aren’t the only ones who benefit from a little artificial intelligence boost. AI’s benefits extend to contact center agents and supervisors, making them more capable of meeting customer needs. AI provides capabilities for customer insight and an almost prescient ability for agents to have the right information at their fingertips (and get it to the end customer) just when it can have the most positive impact towards a successful outcome.

Our Key Focus Areas for AI Enablement

Companies are applying AI capabilities in a dizzying number of ways. While consumers may be familiar with automated back-and-forth interactions to select music, play games, order and re-order supplies, or simply update their family calendars, AI in the enterprise is stretching more broadly and deeply.

Within the scope of customer experience, Avaya’s AI strategy takes a more holistic view of the customer journey, creating a feedback loop from first contact through subsequent interactions across any and all channels, to continuously improve the key metrics for customer satisfaction. And through analytics, to feed the outcomes of the customer journey back into the AI engines so that smart technology can grow even smarter for the next iteration of contact by the customer.

As we apply AI to the contact center, we’re focusing on how it intersects with key areas, including:

  • Effortless Self-Service, including adoption through conversational interfaces, and extending Bot-based interaction capabilities.
  • Smart Routing, using Big Data and interaction history, as well as customer sentiment and other analytical/statistical measures, to provide pinpoint customer routing strategies.
  • Agent Augmentation, to drive upsell/retention opportunities through proactive guidance and next-best-action suggestions consistently across voice, video, chat, email and messaging channels.
  • Interaction Insights, using trend spotting and sentiment analysis among other techniques to allow enterprises to elevate offerings and enhance business processes with improved best practices and voice-of-customer analytics.
  • Enhanced Workforce Optimization, automating and improving QA and discovery of best practice models with the assistance of AI, as well as improving resource scheduling by predicting volumes and absentee rates within the enterprise

Introducing A.I.Connect, our Ecosystem of Partners

There’s an adage that says “to be a great leader, surround yourself with people smarter than you.” And that is exactly what we are doing with the launch of A.I.Connect.

A.I.Connect represents our partner ecosystem for delivering AI-enabled experiences joined to Avaya’s team and customer engagement solutions. Drawing upon top-notch AI-enabled technologies, integrators, and capabilities from companies like Afiniti, ArrowSI, Cogito, EXP360, Nuance, ScoreData and Sundown.ai, as well as others to be made public in the coming weeks, we aim to build an ecosystem that delivers exceptional experiences across the entire customer journey, from first contact to improving every subsequent interaction for the lifetime of that customer relationship. 

Avaya at GITEX 2017: Moving to a True Omnichannel Customer Experience

As all too many companies have discovered, increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy is easier said than done. And when you fall short, customers have a lot of channels where they can complain—or worse. Avaya’s recent Customer Experience in Banking survey shows that approximately 38% of consumers would change their bank as a result of poor customer service. One in three would make it a point to share their bad customer service experiences with friends and acquaintances, with nearly 16% voicing those frustrations on social media platforms. Visit Avaya at GITEX 2017, where we’ll show you how to manage, leverage, and thrive in all of the contact channels your customers are using today.  Avaya will be at Stand Z-C20 in Za’abeel Hall, Dubai World Trade Center, October 8-12.

Supporting an Omnichannel Experience

Companies are competing in an era of countless customer touch points. They’re tasked with matching a rapid pace of innovation and anticipating customers’ evolving needs. This has made the concept of an omnichannel customer experience integral for success.

Research shows, however, that companies across the board are still struggling to get omnichannel right. Again, according to Avaya’s Customer Experience in Banking survey, getting the same level of experience and service regardless of how they choose to contact their bank was cited as a top-three priority for consumers in nearly every market surveyed. The insight here is that customers want to see “one bank,” and banks need to see “one customer” regardless of the channels through which they communicate. However, one 2017 study of the retail industry found that 44% of companies struggle to provide a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. In industries like finance and utilities, this number can be as high as 90%.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence

Fortunately, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics are at the forefront of reshaping customer experience design. These technologies ultimately help customers do what they want to do as fast and effectively as possible. By deploying AI chatbots and using AI to automate and enhance typical processes that customers would undertake, businesses can respond to their customers faster and reduce waiting times for key services.

The use of advanced analytics—enabled by AI—can also provide businesses with deeper analysis of customer interactions by bringing together relevant data previously siloed across SMS, web chat conversations, social media platforms, phone calls, and video interactions.

Consumers today expect nothing short of a highly-sophisticated customer experience. Bold technologies within an increasingly digital economy have thrust enterprises into a world of limitless capabilities—and that world is just getting started.