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Salesforce has introduced a new social networking platform for the workplace called Chatter. The idea is to have sales teams use social networking for communication and collaboration - and to give company management a new way to monitor employee activity. Explaining how he got the idea for this first-of-its-kind business application during a speech at Dreamforce this week, Salesforce.com Chief Executive Marc Benioff said: "I know more about these strangers on Facebook than I do about my own employees and what they're working on. I know when my friends went to the movies, but not when my VP of sales visited our top customer." Due out in February, Chatter is a Web-based business collaboration tool that takes draws on the features and functionality of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. The solution, which works with Salesforce's cloud-based CRM software, is used to display "profiles" of employees and posts about projects they're working on or the customers they've visited. This seems like a cool idea and could go a long way to make the workplace more appealing to Millennials who are already accustomed to social networking and using alternate channels of communication. It also will no doubt help organizations further reduce their communications costs. The thing is, though, is that I'm not so sure it will be all that "efficient," as there are "manual processes" involved -- and by this I mean the amount of time it takes to craft, type and post messages.
In addition to covering call and contact center I also cover telecom, including hardware, software and services. Lately I've noticed a slew of interoperability announcements coming from the major IP PBX vendors -- especially Avaya and Toshiba -- a lot of them SIP Trunking interoperability announcements, but also some product interoperability announcements as well. There are a lot of ITSPs out there competing in the SIP Trunking space right now. They bring a separate Internet connection into your facility and, there you go -- a dedicated IP connection to any end point you want, PSTN, Internet, mobile. It's fast and easy to deploy and brings cost savings and other benefits immediately. But fast deployment also means companies can switch their service more easily - and this is where the interoperability announcements are key for the service providers. The service providers know no one is going to rip and replace their PBX just to be able to use a service that is "certified interoperable" -- and the vendors know you don't drive customer satisfaction in today's world by locking customers into proprietary systems that don't interoperate with a wide range of services. So, giving customers the freedom to choose from a range of "certified interoperable" solutions, fosters adoption, and gives them peace of mind. On the other hand, everyone knows that most products and services are only interoperable "to a degree." By saying their products and services are interoperable, really what most vendors and service providers are saying is that they are "interoperable in terms of the testing we did," but not necessarily all-inclusively of every network scenario out there. In the case of PBX/SIP Trunking it's arguably easier to achieve (and proclaim) true interoperability compared to other software -- but organizations still have to consider interoperability with other systems such as ACD, IVR, CRM or even back office systems they might want to hold onto.
Until a few weeks ago I was a holdout on making the switch to online banking. Call me paranoid, but having covered network technology (including, to a degree, the challenges of network security) for the past several years I was always sort of concerned that my computer would one day get infected with some key logging malware and someone would end up hacking into my accounts. But recently I switched banks and ended up switching from IVR/ATM-based banking to all-online banking. I guess that's mainly because my new bank pushed me in that direction (I'm sure my new bank offers telephone banking but I never did see the toll free number on any of the materials I received in the mail). Plus, the improvements in online banking security in the past couple of years helped ease some of my concerns. I have to say I'm quite satisfied with my online banking experience thus far. For one thing, I have greater control over my finances than I did using the telephone based system - plus it's nice to be able to view my finances in graphic form (as opposed to plain audio).
NICE Systems today announced that it has won a "mega security contract" from a government agency, the first phase of which is expected to generate more than $55 million over the next two to three years. The government agency will be implementing NICE's NiceTrack technology, which is used for "lawful intercept," which is the PC way of saying "wiretapping." I have followed the Clinton wiretapping law since it was first passed in 1994, all the way through to the May 2007 deadline for all telecoms companies to comply with CALEA (the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) -- as well as the subsequent expansion of the law to include all broadband internet communications. In fact I even wrote a bunch of articles about SS8 Networks and other vendors offering CALEA compliance solutions in 2006 and 2007 for TMCnet. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I probably know a little more about it than the average person. But there's one thing about the law that I still don't get (and I know I'm not alone): Are terrorists or anyone else engaged in illegal activity actually going to say what it is that they're going to do over the telephone - or say anything that even hints at it? I mean, from what I understand, terrorists are far more likely to use some alternative form of communication that is "un-tappable" if they're planning some major event. Heck, they could even do it right over the phone simply by substituting common words or phrases in English that, when re-interpreted, could have a completely different meaning - a "code" if you will - such as "I'm going grocery shopping today at 12:34 p.m.
TMCnet's Brendan Read today covered the news that The Telework Coalition (TelCoa), a Washington, D.C. based telework education and advocacy organization, has released a list of top ten reasons to have employees work from home. I think the list is fine -- and overall I agree with its points. But for each of the points it raises I also see some challenges that could hinder the growth and adoption of teleworking solutions. Just for the heck of it, I'll go through the list and offer my two cents for each of the points: For the Employer and the Economy: 1. Improve the ability to recruit and retain skilled labor for enhanced productivity, creativity, and higher quality work from anywhere in the U.S. I'm still not entirely convinced this is true. For one thing, just because there are qualified applicants for positions who live far from your offices (and are therefore unable to work on-site) it does not necessarily mean all these applicants want work-at-home jobs.
A report today from an online news outlet in the Philippines speculates that outsourcers, in their quest to attract good talent, have raised wages for call center workers in that country way too much in the past five years -- and now that the recession has hit they are finding these wage increases "unsustainable." The news comes despite the fact that the call center industry in the Philippines is predicted to grow 15 to 20 percent this year. In the article, Benedict Hernandez, president of the Contact Center Association in the Philippines (CCAP), said that salaries of call center agents increased annually by 10 percent, starting in 2004, when the industry experienced rapid growth as the Philippines became a preferred outsourcing destination. He said 10 percent year-on-year salary inflation is "simply unsustainable," regardless of whether the country is in a recession or not. The concern for outsourcers is that the call center industry in the Philippines, which represents about 70 percent of the BPO industry in that country, will end up pricing itself out of the market if call center workers continue to get higher wages. The problem is, the outsourcers will have to pass the cost of these higher wages onto their customers - and this could cause companies to terminate their contracts and seek outsourcing in other countries where labor is cheaper. It's basically a no-brainer when you consider that roughly 80 percent of any call center's operating budget is labor. The article indicates that there are two other factors that have caused costs to rise considerably for call center outsourcers in the Philippines: First, there was a high number of holidays last year, and when call center workers are required to work on holidays they generally get time-an-a-half or double-time wages. The article also mentions that there has been an increase in recruiting efforts - the recruitment rate among call center companies rose from 5 percent to 8 percent - and this also equates to increased operational cost.
I was pleased to read that call center outsourcer Ryla is planning to hire an additional 600 full-time employees for its center in Saraland, Ala. According to the article, Ryla offers a range of customized customer contact services, including inbound customer care, tech support, help desk, outbound data collection, surveys, automated messaging, retention programs and back office process support. It also focuses on delivering on-demand, project-based solutions requiring quick ramp-up for crisis response, seasonal retail and political needs - a growing niche in the contact center industry for which there are few providers. Founded in 2001, the company currently employs 550 full-time staff at its Saraland facility and 2,500 company-wide. The only thing I wondered is what contracts the company recently won -- and what is driving the current growth. This news is like a shaft of light breaking through the storm clouds - because, let's face it, for the past couple of years we've been witnessing a lot more call center closings than openings. At the very least, most companies are cutting back staffing at their centers. It's a stark contrast compared to 2006, when it seemed two centers were opening for every one that closed or downsized. The way I look at it, there are two basic reasons why the call center industry is shrinking right now: Number one is the economy. People simply aren't buying goods and services the way they used to, so call volume has dropped significantly.
TMC's offices are located in Norwalk, CT, and every now and then I've enjoyed driving over to the South Norwalk ("SoNo") section of town to have lunch or maybe do some shopping after work. It's a fun, bustling and vibrant part of town - with lots of shops and restaurants and bars. But due to a recent parking ticket I got I will never go back there to shop again. Yes, getting the ticket was my fault: You see, the city uses this new kind of parking meter that I'm not that familiar with - it has a red flashing light at the top that tells the parking attendant that the meter is out of time. At the time I parked, on the street, I thought the red flashing light meant there was still time left on the meter. When I looked at the meter, I could have sworn it said there was still more than 30 minutes left, but apparently I didn't look close enough. When I returned my car about 30 minutes later, there was a parking ticket on my car. The fine? $25.
I recently heard a somewhat disturbing story about a woman who applied for a call center job in Connecticut - she had all the proper qualifications including past experience and the proper skill sets - but she was turned down because of her bad credit score. This wasn't a job at a financial services company or bank, either - actually it was at an ecommerce company. In fact, I've heard quite a few stories lately about people being turned down for jobs because their credit is less than stellar. It seems employers are increasingly doing credit checks as part of their background checks on employees. I can see doing it for sales reps at an insurance company, bank or financial services firm - but for a $10-an-hour call center agent position at an ecommerce company? Wow. There was another article today in the New York Times about a man who had worked hard and overcome great odds to get through law school and earn his law degree -- he even passed the bar exam -- only to be declined for a job due to the amount of student loan debt he had.
Today is an exciting day for contact center software vendor Interactive Intelligence, as it has announced that it is developing a new Business Process Automation (BPA) product dubbed Interaction Process Automation (IPA). The upcoming offering -- a module that plugs into Interactive Intelligence's existing platform -- facilitates what might is best described as communications-based process automation (CBPA). Basically it enables companies to use the unified communications capabilities of the platform as a framework for carrying out routine, daily business processes. More specifically, the call routing and presence capabilities of the UC platform are used to carry out business processes. This includes support for documents in all formats, in addition to the multimedia contacts (phone, email, IM, conferencing, etc.) the platform supports currently. So, much the same way a contact center agent can route a call or other contact to any designated end-point throughout an organization, based on pre-defined rules, any worker (or automated system) in any department can use IPA to route documents to any other pre-defined end point on the network. And the same re-routing and failover mechanisms apply: If a worker is unavailable to handle a task, at any given time, and for any given reason, the system will automatically route that work onto the next available employee who is qualified to handle it. As such, the software gives managers the ability to create and implement customized, "communications-based" workflows based on specific business rules, as well as on employee skills sets.