In the old days, you had a phone on your desk at work. It was a necessity but purely a cost. Nowadays, communications comes in many flavors. And savvy CIOs understand that it's not simply about containg costs anymore.
Today's key, said several CIOs in front of 1,000+ attendees at the Avaya Evolutions New York conference in Manhattan on Tuesday, is making sure you have an open, flexible foundation for collaboration that allows you to deliver new tactics and maximize your long-term ROI.
"The telecom system lifecycle is still pretty long," said Neil Isola, director of IT for a 440,000-member benefits and pension fund based in New York City. Yet "how you execute 1-2 years from now is vague." What companies need is an "open and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) to scale upon."
For Isola, that is a virtualization-heavy architecture. 95% of the applications on the company's 1,000 servers are virtualized, including the Avaya IQ, AES and ACE applications and Avaya gateway controllers that Isola upgraded to last year. Not only does virtualization allow Isola's team to upgrade hardware more easily when needed, it also enables his team to get their large call center - it gets 4,000 inbound calls per hour - back up in case of a disaster within 13 minutes, with agents working from home.
Avoiding Being a Slave to Technology
Responding to fast-moving technology trends can be as difficult as keeping up with fashion, according to Jason Cohen, CIO for a division of the sprawling media and marketing conglomerate, the Omnicom Group.
"In my opinion, too much time is spent on the accoutrements," he said. "Pick the right foundation and then you have something that can handle almost anything you want."
When Cohen started as CIO back in 1999, there were 100+ agencies at Omnicom, all cobbled together through acquisitions, and all running different technologies.
To unify this, Cohen wanted a powerful communications platform, one that would attract individual agencies to voluntarily standardize upon it without having to strong-arm them. Yet, it had to flexible to accommodate the existing diversity. "I needed a vendor that could support us globally on multiple types of platforms, as opposed to one that says 'If you have this, then you must use that.'"
Using Avaya, Cohen now has just 4 data centers worldwide with 75% of the branches under his watch now standardized onto a single platform.
SEFCU credits its flexible communications foundation for letting it automate its call center at its own pace.
For another company, New York state-based credit union SEFCU, the challenge was accommodating fast customer growth while upgrading its technology at its own pace.
SEFCU's membership had grown at a zippy 8% a year for the past half-decade. Even better - revenue from its outbound call center agents has grown 170% in the last 3 years.
Chris Ward, vice-president for retail distribution at SEFCU, credits SEFCU's "personal service heritage...our long-term members are accustomed to a person-to-person approach," as well as its well-trained call center agents, most of whom are college educated.
So what's the problem?
SEFCU recently introduced a new, more-secure online banking platform that was raising questions among some long-time customers. As a result, the number of calls into SEFCU's 65-person call center was up 17% year-over-year in 2012, and threatening to grow another 23% this year.
"It was pretty close to exemplifying the definition of insanity," Ward said.
SEFCU had a 15-year-old Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that was handling about 2 million calls a year, versus the 700,000 calls handled by its agents. "We had always viewed that 3:1 ratio as good," Ward said. But now, Ward wanted to divert more routine calls to the automated system, while leaving complicated inquiries to the operators. He also wanted to control the pace of deploying new features, rather than adopting a big-bang approach.
Solution: SEFCU hired system integrator SPS to deploy new call center software, the Avaya Aura Experience portal. Aura Experience gives SEFCU a foundation with "unparalleled reliability," says Ward, for it to connect its existing non-SIP applications and start planning for upgrades such as smart call routing (i.e. based on customer history, not just his or her current need).
"We now have the flexibility to grow over time," Ward said, without sacrificing the sort of service its customers expect. Within 2 years, SEFCU hopes to deploy Avaya Proactive Outreach manager to enhance both its sales and its bill collection. The software will allow agents that can't reach a customer on the phone to easily leave a voice mail and an e-mail instead.
You can hear more interviews with these companies, as well as the Avaya partners that helped deploy their communications architectures, on the Avaya Podcast Network.