So I wasn’t going to write about Avaya for fear of sounding unnecessarily negative, but the glaring differences between the Avaya of old the Avaya of today are crying out for commentary and I just can’t resist.  Avaya is the epitome of the old school contact center vendor.

Yesterday we saw record revenues and profits announced by ShoreTel, within hours of Avaya’s announcement of revenues that went up less than three percent over the prior quarter and were down eight percent year over year.  Avaya’s announcement credited revenues to increased demand in the U.S. and the U.S. federal government.  If anyone’s spending freely anymore, it’s the U.S. government.  These are good days to be GSA approved.

The failure of Nortel marked the beginning of what I believe is a period of major upheaval in the U.S. and, for that matter, global contact center industry.  Where Avaya was once the absolute industry leader, seemingly unbeatable with their massive market muscle and product innovation, it is now more like the fading industry star.  Rather than leading the market with product ideas it is chasing the market and the innovations of smaller, more nimble specialty companies like VPI, Nexidia, Calabrio, OpenSpan and many others.

I have to admit I experienced creeping uncertainty when I got word about the management changes at Aspect a couple of months ago.  Not only were the new managers unfamiliar names, they were for the most part not from the communications industry and one of the new execs was an M&A guy.  Would Aspect be broken up and sold in pieces or was this going to be a wholesale sell-off to the highest bidder?


Turns out it won’t be any of those things if I can base my assessment of Aspect’s future on the words I heard from the new executive management team this week.  In a fairly atypical industry occurrence, Aspect executives gathered this week with a small group of analysts in an all day, no-holds-barred meeting to make clear the company’s commitment to corporate growth and industry influence in the future.  I left the meeting a believer.


When I say the meeting was no-holds-barred, I mean that the discussion was frank and honest, not peppered with the usual flowery marketing drivel.  Mistakes were made in the past and admitted to.  The much-hyped Aspect relationship with Microsoft was put into perspective and I finally understood where it fits into Aspect’s growth strategy.  While it makes sense from a market perspective, I hope Aspect tones down the marketing perspective.  Contact center professionals simply aren’t that enamored with Microsoft, at least not to the degree that some other industry professionals are.  Aspect’s relationship with Microsoft doesn’t do anything to win the heart and mind of the customer service professional.


What does win friends and influence people in the contact center industry are innovations in technology solutions that industry people know they need, like workforce optimization, mobility solutions and social media management tools.  Without giving away secrets, I’m convinced that Aspect is on the right track to win new friends.  To back up the talk, they’re walking the R & D walk with significant new investment in this area in dollars for both people and technology.  I see this level of commitment in product development as a strong proof point that Aspect as we know it is here to stay.


Financially, Aspect is in a relatively strong position.  Just this week they paid down another $50 million in debt leaving their outstanding debt, by order of magnitude, about a tenth of Avaya’s debt and around half of Genesys’ debt.  I discovered that Aspect’s new CFO is a fellow grad school alum, so that subjectively boosts my confidence in the company’s fiscal responsibility.


There are very few companies in the contact center industry that have the confidence to put their top executives in front of analysts to answer questions without a marketing or PR buffer.  Aspect is now part of this elite group and I believe the confidence Aspect has shown in itself will translate to strong and responsible growth for the company.  Aspect is well-positioned to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Last week Aspect announced a partnership with Nexidia to provide the speech analytics component of Aspect’s Unified IP workforce optimization (WFO) solution.  I didn’t think much of it until I dug a little deeper into what this new partnership can potentially bring to the table for Aspect, and for the contact center industry as a whole.


Speech analytics comes in a couple of flavors.  One of the most popular flavors requires the recorded speech to be transcribed into text before the speech analytics engine searches the text for any critical phrases as defined by the user.  The other flavor translates a bit faster in that the actual voice recording is searched using phonetic indexing, which looks for key words and phrases using phonemes, the smallest discreet units of human speech.  Both flavors have their strengths and weaknesses, but Nexidia has taken speech analytics and bumped it up to the next level.  This is bound to capture the attention of the contact center industry.


Although there hasn’t been any flag waving or chest pounding on the part of Nexidia, they have developed technology that allows the analysis of a voice conversation in real time.  What this means for the contact center is that all conversations, not just select or random conversations, can be monitored as they are occurring.  It will be possible to conduct root cause analysis and trigger alerts as the call is in progress.  This is pretty heady stuff.


Consider, for example, the integration of real time speech analytics with agent screen pops.  In this case, anytime a word related to a particular topic is spoken it triggers an agent screen pop reminding the agent of the procedure for these types of calls.  Or, perhaps the call is from an important customer and a keyword is spoken that automatically triggers a real time alert and bridges the call to an account manager, or it notifies the supervisor that this important customer call is in progress and offers an option to silent monitor the call.  Given a little imagination, the possibilities for real time speech analytics in the contact center are endless.


The problem for Nexidia has been that although they have the real-time speech analytics engine, it’s not much of an application by itself.  That’s where the Aspect partnership comes in.  Aspect has the applications and the experience to take real-time speech analytics, make it an integral part of their workforce optimization suite and potentially shake up the industry.  Aspect will be tasked with taking this new technology from Nexidia and creating applications with a practical use in the contact center.  It will be a complex undertaking but if history is any indicator, Aspect is up to the challenge.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011 12:13

Not Your Average Acquisition

I got word yesterday afternoon that Verint had acquired Vovici Corporation, the company that pioneered the concept of enterprise feedback management (EFM).  EFM essentially gathers customer insights through the use of various survey and feedback mechanisms on the web, in chat sessions and via social media applications.  Perfect complement, I thought, to Verint’s IVR-based telephone survey tool on its Impact 360 workforce optimization (WFO) suite.


At first glance, the acquisition of Vovici’s EFM solution seems to round out the capabilities of Verint’s Voice of the Customer (VoC) Analytics Platform that was announced this past May.  Adding EFM to Verint’s industry-leading text analytics solution creates a dynamic duo of VoC tools for contact centers with an eye toward understanding social media, and this is not an insignificant market segment.


According to the survey Saddletree Research undertook with the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) last summer, 36 percent of respondents are currently monitoring social media or plan to monitor social media in their contact center before the end of this year.  If we apply that to our estimate of approximately 68,000 contact centers in the U.S., that’s a prospect base of around 24,500 contact centers in this year alone.


An additional 27 percent of survey respondents reported that they will be monitoring social media applications in their contact center over the next two-to-four years.  We are talking big numbers, and these numbers are coming from the users and buyers, not from the over-active imagination of a flash-in-the-pan industry analyst who may or may not still be in the industry when it comes time to be called on the carpet over their forecast.  In other words, these are real numbers.


Obviously Verint did its homework before it set out on the path to achieve domination in the contact center social media market segment.  As I thought about this further, the strategic significance of this acquisition dawned on me.  This acquisition is about more than feedback management.  This acquisition puts Verint in a very strong position when it comes to moving from the front office and back office and into the rest of the enterprise.


This acquisition has the potential to open doors for Verint that simply may not have been open before.  The thought struck me that even if Verint can’t get into a prospect’s contact center due to competitive placement or whatever other reason, they now have the opportunity to get into that same company through the front door via the EFM offering.  If the back door to the contact center is closed, go through the front door to the rest of the enterprise.  If the front door is closed, go through the back door to the contact center.  In either case, Verint gets in.


This acquisition is a brilliant move on Verint’s part.  I think the competition will have a tough time matching this strategy, or coming up with something better.  In the meantime, Verint stands alone in a very strong position relative to enterprise VoC initiatives regardless of where in the enterprise those initiatives originate.

by D. Daniel Ziv, Tuesday, December 21, 2010, 9:04 AM


Paul Stockford, president of Saddletree Research, and I recently conversed on the changing face of customer experience management. This is what we learned:

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