• January 3, 2011
  • By Ian Jacobs, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

New Tools and Old Mistakes

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Industry analysts get great perks. There are, of course, the numerous trips to the glitziest of global glamor spots. (Indianapolis? Check. Salt Lake City? Check. Orlando? Check—15 checks, in fact.) Attending all those vendor-sponsored user conferences and general industry events affords us an early glimpse of emerging technology and the chance to spot cultural themes as they develop. Notice some similar wording in a few presentations from several different enterprises and vendors and—voila!—a trend has been spotted.

As it turns out, that’s one of the things that analysts do best: We don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul; we simply appropriate what Peter tells us and make Paul pay us for the insight.

Self-deprecation aside, spotting these themes early enough sometimes allows us to help shift the terms of the debate toward something useful for clients. (That’s the idea, anyway.) The barriers to accomplishing such change, however, can be dauntingly high.

Take the consumerization of corporate technology as an example. For several years, I’ve heard consumer-focused tools, applications, and services used as exemplars for what enterprise applications should eventually look like and how they should behave. Lately, though, the fervor for using Google, Yahoo!, and Amazon.com as models for interface design and user experience has spread from core salesforce automation and marketing solutions to traditionally more arcane environments such as contact center management and customer service applications.

At one recent vendor-sponsored user conference, I sat in on a session during which the vendor unveiled its revamped offering for reporting and analytics—revamped, that is, to include an interface with consumer-grade design goals in mind. The executive showing off the tools said they were designed to deliver a user experience similar to that of consumer applications—technology that anyone can use because it’s simple and intuitive, requires no training, provides results in seconds, and creates an addictive experience that users actually enjoy.

Then the demo began.

The user interface was indeed clean and intuitive, and would allow these folks not only to analyze and drill down into key elements of the customer interaction puzzle, but also enable them to make forecasts, predict trends, and create “what-if?” scenarios.

The audience of contact center managers and supervisors got pretty excited and asked a lot of questions. Just one problem—and it’s a doozy: They all wanted to know how this tool would make it easier for them to produce the reports they were already familiar with. In other words, they wanted to use this more-powerful interface to do the exact same things they’ve always done—a recipe, of course, for more efficiently making the same mistakes they’ve always made.

And yet this tool could be the basis for business transformation: Its easy-to-use functionality for “what-if” simulation could help develop new processes to handle unforeseen spikes in call volumes; the drill-down/drill-around feature could help determine new skills required for agents to help drive an improved customer experience.

Unfortunately, the tool will likely not be used that way, and here’s why: A company doesn’t pay contact center managers to shake up its business; a company pays them to perform according to a specific set of metrics. Without some change in the indicators by which their performance gets judged, these very smart people will simply look to these tools for more efficiency—and not for the transformative power the tools might have.

That’s a trend I’ve spotted across the past year’s worth of events, and it’s a pity. By providing employees much greater latitude in how they use technology, the consumerization of enterprise technology could help enterprises transform their processes and dramatically improve their customers’ experiences. For many enterprises, though,  the emerging tools just make it easier to automate imperfect processes or to more quickly hit imperfect metrics. 

Ian Jacobs (ian.jacobs@ovum.com) is a senior analyst at Ovum. He can be reached on Twitter as @iangjacobs.

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