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TMC Labs
May 2004


Aspect Communications Corp.
1310 Ridder Park Dr.
San Jose, CA 95131
Tel: 408-325-2200
Fx: 408-325-2260
Web: www.aspect.com
Price: Up to 150 agents. For 50 agents: $49,000 ' includes Iphinity software, implementation and one year of support.

Installation: 5
Documentation: 5
Features: 4.75
GUI: 5
Overall: A

Loyal readers of this magazine already know the tried-and-true benefits of workforce management (WFM), so we won't belabor the point. What readers may not realize, however, is how poorly underserved small-to-mid-sized call centers are in the WFM solutions market. There are not many affordable solutions that address this market strata. Fortunately, Aspect aims to change this with its recently launched Iphinity product. Iphinity is based upon the company's higher end WFM solution called eWorkforce Management. In fact, it's the same code-base, only Aspect limits Iphinity's functionality with license keys. Thus, a customer can start with Iphinity and upgrade to eWorkforce Management seamlessly with virtually no downtime.

By using historical data and employing mathematical models, Iphinity WFM can predict contact volumes, average handle times and more. It continually updates its forecasting model to provide the most accurate predictions possible. You can view forecasts for monthly, daily, half-hourly or even quarter-hourly periods.

Based on forecasts and employee preferences, Iphinity automatically creates detailed schedules, ensuring the right number of agents is available, with the right skills to meet customer needs, at any given time. Then, it assigns these schedules to agents, taking into consideration skills, experience, work preferences and other criteria.

TMC Labs tested Iphinity on a Windows 2000 server running Microsoft SQL Server as the backend database. We should point out that Iphinity supports 40-plus telephony platforms for easy integration. No middleware is required to connect to the ACD ' it simply uses a flat text file from the ACD. In addition, it comes with a preconfigured database for rapid implementation.

Iphinity's Power And Flexibility
Using Iphinity, we were able to get answers to hypothetical questions such as, 'What if we acquire Company XYZ? How will that affect the forecasted staff?' Iphinity can simply pull data from the ACD for historical trending and make decisions based on those data. Also, since holidays often have a direct impact on agent requirements, you can specify a multiply 'factor,' for example, 1.25 for Christmas if you expect a 25 percent increase in required staff levels.

Shrinkage is an important element of WFM products, and Iphinity covers the concept quite well. Essentially, shrinkage is covered by individual 'templates' a user defines and then applies to specific days. We were able to define several categories of shrinkage, including 'general,' 'absence,' 'break,' 'project' and 'vacation.' Furthermore, we were able to set shrinkage by the hour. This is important, since many competing WFM solutions allow users to define shrinkage by the day only, and not by the hour.

We liked the main interface of Iphinity (See Figure 1), which breaks down several steps into smaller, more manageable processes. Following the interface's clockwise arrow through each of the steps made it very easy to perform forecasting and scheduling.

Iphinity has five different kinds of forecasts, including contact volume, workload, staffing, budget and service analysis. This last feature (service analysis) is interesting in that we were able to specify a given number of agents and then determine what the service level would be; i.e., 60 percent for 50 agents, 80 percent for 65 agents.

The product lets you enter notes for your 'what-if scenario' forecasts to help you remember exactly what it was you were trying to achieve. Another important feature is the slider bar that allows you to weight 'preference' (agents' preferences) versus 'coverage' (company's preferences). Another way of expressing this idea is 'agents run the call center' versus 'sweatshop.' Generally, the slider bar remains near the middle to balance agents' preferences with coverage, but the ability to favor one way or the other is available.

One of the most important features of a WFM solution is its ability to fairly and justly hand out work schedules without prejudice. As a result, the definition of rules and the flexibility of those rules in the scheduling software is critical. We were impressed with the flexibility of Iphinity's rules. For instance, we could specify the number of consecutive weekends that any agent should be required to work. In addition, we could perform 'weighted sorts' for prioritizing each agent's schedule by seniority, performance, attendance and other fields. This takes the bias out of the equation (i.e., accusations of favoritism).

Another highly requested feature is 'intraday re-forecasting.' Iphinity offers this capability and does a good job of implementation. You can exclude certain hours (such as 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.) which may dilute the stats. After you perform a reforecast, if you see that you require more people, you can view the 'states' (i.e., break, meeting, etc.) of all your agents within the 'Intra-Day Timeline' (see Figure 2) to see who can be pulled from other tasks. For example, you can simply double-click on one of the 'project' or 'e-mail' agents and then delete that segment, which will cause the agent to fall back to default status, allowing him or her to staff the phones.

We should mention that Iphinity has another useful rescheduling utility called 'Break Optimizer.' This is a particularly important feature when agents call in sick. Similarly, Iphinity has something called 'Meeting Optimizer,' which can determine if there is a particular time range when there is 'overstaffing,' then schedule a meeting during that time. The software also has a 'Project Optimizer,' which works in a similar manner to the other optimizers, only it covers the course of multiple days or weeks.

Typically, workforce management solutions are not used for financial analysis, so we were surprised to see Iphinity's financial reports, which actually show the hourly call costs. Using this report along with the service analysis report, a call center manager can report to a supervisor, show him or her the report and say, 'If you want a 90 percent service level, then according to this report, I need 10 more agents per day in my budget to meet that goal.' All in all, we liked all the reporting mechanisms and the ease at which we were able to navigate the user interface.

Room For Improvement
Currently the 'performance' field is statically defined. We would like to see some database integration with a third-party performance/monitoring system to automatically determine the agent's current performance. Then, based upon the agent's current performance, a manager can 'weight' the agent's preferences when calculating new schedules. With this information, a manager can, for example, reward agents who are currently performing well; i.e., that agent need not work as many weekends. Finally, we would also like to see LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) support.

TMC Labs was extremely impressed with the ease of use of Iphinity as well as its powerful feature set. We especially liked the clean and easy-to-use user interface, which has some nice usability features including a customizable toolbar. Workforce management solutions may not be as 'sexy' as the latest technologies such as VoIP, but the ROI on workforce management solutions is just as important, and certainly Iphinity does a fabulous job of marrying scheduling, forecasting, reporting and financial analysis all in a single package.

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