Telecom and Software Providers Should Seize Opportunities Big Data Brings to their Contact Center Solutions
In the past few years, there has been a marked increase in the production and collection of business data. This includes a substantial portion of unstructured data from social networks, web applications and similar sources. The increasing use of mobile and sensor devices to collect information will only accelerate this trend.
The Contact Center is becoming central to the management of the customer experience and will be a source of more revenue opportunities by the use of Big Data.
When relational database management systems (RDBMS) were designed decades ago, the data we cared about was all structured. Our data models were relatively simple and our systems had limited capacity to store and process information. Today, all of this has changed.
New Big Data technologies have mostly been applied by social networks, online retailers and other Internet services to analyze operations and monitor consumer behavior. Few telecom or software solution providers understand how they can be applied to solve real-world problems in the contact center domain.
Big Data can provide a full understanding of the customers – what makes them tick, why they buy, how they prefer to shop, why they switch, what they are likely to buy next, and what factors lead them to recommend a company to others.
What is Big Data?
Big Data is a term describing the situation where the volume, velocity and variety of data (commonly referred to as the “3 Vs of Big Data”) exceeds an organization’s storage or compute capacity for accurate and timely decision making using traditional analytical systems and methods.
In traditional analytics, a data model is defined, the proper schema is set up in the database, and then the data is collected, stored and once there is a complete data set, it can be queried and the answers provided.
What if there is so much data that the system cannot handle its storage or processing? What if the data is unstructured and cannot be stored in well-defined tables? What if you would like to get answers to queries as data is still being collected? What if you need answers to new queries that were not predicted in the original data model? What if the system is so complex that you cannot fully model it?
With Big Data, storage technologies can accumulate very large amounts of data and computer processing power to test a very large number of correlations, in real-time, not just the correlations predicted in your data model after collecting a complete data set. And they can support multiple sources of data, not just the structured data sitting in well-behaved database tables.
What can Big Data do for me?
With Big Data, it is possible to deduce context, draw insight, identify patterns, and predict behavior, including:
The result of the analysis can help direct customers to the right information more effectively (hopefully even before the customer calls) or help service agents save time, ask less questions, and solve problems; resulting in a better customer experience.
For more details on Big Data technologies, including an overview of the Big Data Software Stack, please download the Daitan white paper "Big Data Technology and its Impact on Contact Centers”.
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In the past few years, we have seen a revolution on how IT systems are built and deployed. Enterprise and consumer software systems were completely re-designed to abstract its dependency on the hardware infrastructure, run in the cloud, and be accessed through mobile devices over the Internet.
The benefits are too clear to ignore and the Telecom industry is going in the same direction, with software-centric deployments using Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) on high-volume, standard hardware platforms.
In the past, most communications network functions (e.g. VoIP switches, Session Border Controllers, firewalls, media servers, deep packet inspection, etc.) were implemented as appliances, with tight integration between proprietary hardware and software from a single vendor. Scaling services involved deploying additional hardware. Implementing redundancy required duplicating infrastructures.
Recent advances in IT technology, including faster general-purpose processors capable of processing demanding real-time tasks (such as media transcoding, for example), and advances in software (e.g. virtualization technology) makes it possible to quickly deploy (minutes, not months) software components that can be made available to users to support increasing demand or to offer new services.
NFV is an architecture that breaks the various network functions into modules so that they can be virtualized. Those network functions run as independent software components without requiring awareness of the underlying physical infrastructure and without proprietary dependencies on the other network functions.
In order to validate the benefits of NFV, we have built a fully functional multi-point conferencing system and deployed it in the cloud.
Direct Cost and Maintenance Efficiencies
Improved Operational Efficiency
Minimization of Innovation Cycle
The implications are significant not only for the Mobile and Telecom Operators, but also for Over-the-Top (OTT) Communication Providers, who will feel the competitive pressure to offer integrated services and can benefit from the unbundling of integrated systems previously accessible only to large operators.
The architecture and the results we observed attest the benefits of NFV and are detailed in the white paper: "Attesting to the Benefits of NFV - Building integrated cloud-based communication services".
From Transactions to Relationships
The coupling between the phone system, dedicated hardware infrastructure, and the software solution has made the contact center a very conservative environment for decades. New entrants were kept out of the market by larger contact centers because the service and integration components of the solution were too complex and expensive for smaller companies to tackle.
But current trends that are leveling the playing field. New players are gaining ground with customer service solutions that operate in the cloud, using exclusively VoIP, with services that don’t require on premise hardware or infrastructure.
But it’s really all about the customer.
With Social Media and Mobile Connectivity becoming central to how consumers interact with brands, companies providing service through contact centers must consider customer relationships in the context of the overall customer experience to remain competitive.
Looking at the market and how the software systems supporting contact centers are evolving, we can identify the following technology trends:
For a more detailed discussion on the trends above and how both traditional and new vendors of contact center solutions can cope with it, please download the white paper, Moving from Contact Center to Customer Engagement: Using The Cloud, Big Data and WebRTC to Get There
Managing Resources between Mature and New Product Development
Once an enterprise software product becomes successful, it typically delivers value to customers for several years. However, in most markets there is a constant need to continue creating new products to stay ahead of the competition. Successful technology vendors end up with a product portfolio that is a mix of new and existing products.
Because resource constraints are always present, this mix can cause either new product development delays as resources are tied up in product maintenance or negatively impact customer service levels by losing the ability to respond quickly to enhancement requests and/or fixing bugs. This is a major challenge for any software vendor who needs to keep driving innovation in the market while maintaining existing products.
There are both productivity and financial benefits gained by focusing in-house resources on core innovation while maintenance (or sustaining) efforts for mature products are offloaded to an outsourcing partner.
The Development vs Maintenance Dilemma
When a product becomes a success, it’s time to develop the next-generation product to respond to market changes. Naturally, it is a common desire to have the star team who created the successful product leverage all of the experience gained to develop the next-generation product.
But it also makes sense to have this team who knows this product so well to continue into the maintenance phase, especially the engineering efforts.
“The engineering efforts required will go down after the product is launched.”
While maintenance efforts may fluctuate, such as in the initial high volume of requests from customers or intermittent changes to OS environments, the problem is that they are often underestimated.
Maintenance efforts range from 40-80% of the total engineering effort for a typical software product lifecycle.
“Why doesn’t the development team want to support it?”
Skill sets and motivations between the new product development and the maintenance phases vary greatly and not many are suited for both.
Building a product from scratch involves focus on innovation and risk-taking, the reliance on super-star domain experts, and the use of trial-and-error approaches.
Maintaining a successful product involves focus on the customers’ needs; the reliance on good communication and team collaboration; and the use of processes that ensure quality and reliability.
These are very different objectives requiring different skill sets that can easily create conflicting prioritization and essentially delaying new releases and/or decreasing customer satisfaction.
”Let’s handle this by adding more developers to the original team.”
Regardless of the team size, the conflicting objectives between new product development and maintaining existing products fails to create a balanced work effort which ultimately impacts revenue and market share.
A Better Solution for Software Product Maintenance
A potentially better solution is to let an external provider take over the maintenance efforts once the product matures.
Once the hand-off happens, the entire focus of the in-house development team can be on the next product. The experienced outsourcing partner seamlessly handles the fluctuations of demand without causing impact on the new product development schedule. The company wins, the development team is focused on what they do best, and customers get better service.
To read more about this challenge and to see a discussion on maintenance options, download this white paper, "The Software Development versus Maintenance Dilemma: Common miscalculations impact revenue and market share".
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