mplsystems Offers Array of Customer Experience Support for Contact Centers


Based in the U.K., mplsystems is a relatively small vendor of contact center in the cloud systems, having fewer than 200 employees, but it has a distinct portfolio of products. Its core product, intelligentContact, is designed for omnichannel customer engagement. Its two other products, Customer Service CRM and Field Service Management, are not typically supported by other vendors in this space. As I dug deeper into the component parts of each of these products, I found other capabilities that also are not normally offered by contact center in the cloud vendors.

The core omnichannel product has capabilities to support blended queuing and routing of all supported communication channels, including voice, email, Web chat and social interaction, self-service and workforce optimization. Customer Service CRM includes the usual CRM capabilities plus a unified agent desktop, campaign management that includes outbound dialing, a knowledge base and contact center reporting and analytics. Field Service Management has standard features such as workforce scheduling, mobile field sales and service, part and supplier management contracts, payments and invoicing and reporting, as well as customer self-service, service desk and multichannel contact management. Added together this is a lot of capabilities; these are some of the key features:

Customer Contact

  • Single queue routing. The fundamental requirements for omnichannel experiences are support for both assisted and self-service channels, and single, unified routing of all supported channels. By supporting both mplsystems provides a foundation for omnichannel engagement.
  • IVR designer. Although not entirely obvious on the company’s website, the system enables end users to create and manage IVR flows. The mobile app version helps companies create “visual IVR” – that is, it allows customers to select IVR options, enter data and receive information on their mobile devices.
  • Self-service. Many consumers have gone digital, and for certain interactions prefer self-service rather than dealing with agents. The system includes a suite of templates with which users can create mobile apps, a self-service Web portal and a knowledge management system that supports natural language-based Q&A on websites or mobile devices. These use advanced text analytics capabilities to “understand” the request and search capabilities to deliver appropriate responses. Above all else the system supports seamless transfer from self-service to assisted service so that customers don’t have to re-enter data they have already submitted.
  • Workforce optimization. The system includes standard workforce optimization capabilities such as call recording, quality management, coaching and analytics, but workforce management comes by way of integration with third-party systems. It also can integrate customer feedback into the agent quality management process.

Customer Service CRM

  • Agent desktop. As the number of channels and systems increase that agents have to access to handle customer interactions, so does the complexity of their desktop system. The system includes capabilities with which companies can build sales, service and unified agent desktop systems that make it easy for users to access all the information they need to carry out their tasks and resolve customer issues.
  • Knowledge base. There is an old saying that “information is key.” This usually means that the more information you have, the better the decisions you can make. It is equally true in the context of customer experience. Customers want the same information no matter which channel they use, so the system supports a range of content and information management capabilities that provide the same information no matter what channel the customer uses.

Field Service Management

  • Mobile field sales and service. More workers carry out their tasks away from their desk today, particularly mobile sales people and service engineers. The system therefore includes mobile access to system and information that allow such employees to work wherever they are located.
  • Intraday scheduling. This uses similar capabilities to create agent schedules and manage detailed work schedules for field service engineers and can show addresses on color-coded maps and to plan routes between locations.

All Applications

  • For me customer experience is a multichannel, enterprise-wide issue that requires processes to flow across business group boundaries. Information must be updated and shared across all systems, and everyone must work from the same timely information. Mplsystems has developed all of these capabilities in-house, with the exception of workforce management, which is supported by integration with several of the main workforce optimization vendors. It thus achieves tight integration between the component parts, which in turn supports these three fundamental requirements.
  • Cloud or on-premises deployment. The system, in totality or by component, is available either on-premises or in the cloud, so companies can choose whichever suits their circumstances best.

I wrote recently that supporting an omnichannel customer experience is not easy. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that for three out of four (74%) companies getting it right is a top priority. Doing sovr_NGCE_Research_01_impetus_for_improving_engagement requires supporting assisted and self-service channels with seamless transfer between channels. It requires systems to ensure skilled people are available to deliver assisted service, and it demands a unified desktop to make accessing systems and information easy. It requires systems of record such as CRM to store essential customer data, and it requires analysis of all sources of customer-related data so everyone knows what is going on and how well customers are satisfied. To my knowledge, mplsystems is the only vendor to support such a diverse set of capabilities, and while it might not include all the features of some of the stand-alone systems, they are tightly integrated, which as I said above is essential to supporting omnichannel experience. Companies on or beginning a journey toward omnichannel customer service should include this company in the vendors they assess.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

IBM Redesigns Cognos to Improve User Experience and Self-Service


IBM redesigned its business intelligence platform, now called IBM Cognos Analytics. Expected to be released by the end of 2015, the new version includes features to help end users model their own data without IT assistance while maintaining the centralized governance and security that the platform already has. Our benchmark research into information optimization shows that simplifying access to information is important to vr_Info_Optimization_01_whos_responsible_for_information_availabilityvirtually all (97%) participating organizations, but it also finds that only one in four (25%) are satisfied with their current software for doing that. Simplification is a major theme of the IBM Cognos redesign.

The new IBM Cognos Analytics provides a completely Web-based environment that is consistent in the user interface and security across multiple devices and browsers. The redesigned interface follows IBM’s internal cultural shift to base product development first on the user experience and second on features and functionality. This may be a wise move as our research across multiple analytic software categories finds usability to be organizations’ most often important buying criterion.

The redesign is based on the same design and self-service principles as IBM Watson Analytics which we did award a Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award for 2015 in business analytics. The redesign is most evident in the IBM Cognos Analytics authoring mode. The Report Studio and Cognos Workspace Advanced modules have been replaced with a simplified Web-based modeling environment. The extended capabilities of IBM Cognos 10.2.2 are still available, but now they are hidden and more logically arranged to provide easier user access. For example, the previous version of Cognos presented an intimidating display of tools with which to do tasks such as fine-grain manipulation of reports; now these features are hidden but still easily accessible. If a user is having difficulty finding a particular function, a “smart search” feature helps to find the correct menu to add it.

The new system indexes objects, including metadata, as they are created, providing a more robust search function suitable for nontechnical users in the lines of business. The search feature works with what IBM calls “intent-based modeling” so users can search for words or phrases – for example, revenue by unit or product costs – and be presented with only relevant tables and columns. The system can then automatically build a model by inferring relationships in the data. The result is that the person building the report need not manually design a multidimensional model of the data, so less skilled end users can serve themselves to build their own data models that underpin dashboards and reports. Previously, end users were limited to parameterized reporting in which they could work only within the context of models previously designed by IT. Many vendors of analytics have been late in exploiting the power of search and therefore may be missing a critical feature that customers desire. Ventana Research is a proponent of such capabilities; my colleague Mark Smith has written about them in the context of data discovery technology. Search is fundamental to user-friendly discovery systems, as is reflected in the success of companies such as Google and Splunk. With search becoming more sophisticated, being based on machine-learning algorithms, we expect it to become a key requirement for new analytics and business intelligence systems.

Furthering the self-service aspect is the ability for end users to access and combine multiple data sets. The previous version of IBM Cognos (10.2.2) allowed users to work with “personal data sets” such as .csv files, but they needed an IBM DB2 back end to house the files. Now such data sets can be uploaded and managed directly on the IBM Cognos Analytics server and accessed with the new Web-based authoring tool. Once data sets are uploaded they can be accessed and modeled like any other object to which the user has access. In this way, IBM Cognos Analytics addresses the “bring your own data” challenge in which data sources such as personal spreadsheets must be integrated into enterprise analytics and business intelligence systems.

After modeling the data, users can lay out new dashboards using drag-and-drop capabilities like those found in IBM Watson Analytics. Dashboards can be previewed and put into service for one-time use or put into production mode if the user has such privileges. As is the case with IBM Watson Analytics, newly designed dashboard components such as tables, charts and maps are automatically linked so that changes in one part of the dashboard automatically relate to other parts. This feature facilitates ease of use in designing dashboards. Some other tools in the market require widgets to be connected manually, which can be time-consuming and is an impediment to prototyping of dashboards.

The move to a more self-service orientation has long been in the works for IBM Cognos and so this release is an important one for IBM. The ability to automatically integrate and model data gives the IT department a more defensible position as other self-service tools are introduced into the organization and are challenging data access and preparation built within tools like IBM Cognos. vr_DAC_20_justification_for_data_preparationThis is becoming especially important as the number and complexity of data sources increases and are needed more rapidly by business. Our research into information optimization shows that most organizations need to integrate at least six data sources and some have 20 or more sources they need to bring together. All of which confirms what our data and analytics in the cloud benchmark research finds data preparation to be a top priority in over half (55%) of organizations.

Over time, IBM intends to integrate the capabilities of Cognos Analytics with those of Watson Analytics. This is an important plan because IBM Watson Analytics has capabilities beyond those of self-service tools in the market today. In particular, the ability to explore unknown data relationships and do advanced analysis is a key differentiator for IBM Watson Analytics, as I have written. IBM Watson Analytics enables users to explore relationships in data that otherwise would not be noticeable, whereas IBM Cognos Analytics enables them to explore and put into production information based on predefined assumptions.

Going forward, I will be watching how IBM aligns Cognos Analytics with Watson Analytics, and in particular, how Cognos Analytics will fit into the IBM cloud ecosystem. Currently IBM Cognos Analytics is offered both on-premises and in a hosted cloud, but here also IBM is working to align it VR_AnalyticsandBI_VI_HotVendor_2015more closely with IBM Watson Analytics. Bringing in data preparation, data quality and MDM capabilities from the IBM DataWorks product could also benefit IBM Cognos Analytics users. IBM should emphasize the breadth of its portfolio of products including IBM Cognos TM1, IBM SPSS, IBM Watson Analytics and IBM DataWorks as it faces stiff competition in enterprise analytics and business intelligence from a host of analytics companies including new cloud-based ones. IBM is rated a Hot Vendor in our Ventana Research Analytics and Business Intelligence Value Index in part because of its overall portfolio.

For organizations already using IBM Cognos, the redesign addresses the need of end users to create their own dashboards while maintaining IT governance and control. The new interface may take some getting used to, but it is modern and more intuitive than previously. For companies new to IBM Cognos, as well as departments wanting to take a look at the platform, cloud options offer less risk. For those wanting early access to the new IBM Cognos Analytics, IBM has provided access to it on www.analyticszone.com. The changes I have noted move IBM Cognos Analytics closer to the advances in analytics as a whole, and I recommend that all these groups examine the new version.

Regards,

Ventana Research