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Feature Article
June 2002

CIM Delivers On The Promise Of Unified Messaging

By Melissa Prusher, TOPCALL Corporation

When the telephony landscape changed and businesses were promised new convergence-based communication services such as unified messaging on a platform that would offer the utmost in reliability, scalability and performance, IT professionals were stoked by the promises of the new communication revolution. Although unified messaging (UM) burst on the scene in the early 90s, widespread adoption hasn't happened yet. The use of limited proprietary hardware and software lessened UM's impact and kept the systems limited and even awkward to use.

Unified messaging touted the ability to deliver fax, voice mail, e-mail and video into a single point of management, generally the e-mail inbox, with retrieve, reply and send capabilities that users could access from anywhere in the world using a telephone or any Web-enabled device. Ideally, UM would offer the enterprise a new technology that would increase organizational productivity while improving customer service and responsiveness. But for many, the UM model simply didn't work.

What's The Holdup?
The major bottleneck to integrating a UM solution was the components required to get the system up and running, in addition to the costs of maintaining the infrastructure. Enterprises needed to purchase communications software and hardware, directory services hardware and software and yearly maintenance contracts not to mention installation and configuration costs. Businesses also needed to plan for employing messaging administrators, training costs for help desk staff and lost productivity for both scheduled and unscheduled downtime. Most businesses simply didn't have the staffing resources or an adequate knowledge base to maximize the features and functions promised by vendors or service providers. On top of being faced with costly updates to scale the systems to keep pace with rapidly expanding enterprises, integration wasn't as easy as promised and in many cases, the technology simply didn't work. Coupled with the different methods, architecture and equipment from a variety of vendors, businesses were confused by the lack of unification in the technology. But the biggest holdup to integrating a UM solution into the technology tool box for many businesses was that users found there was little to no value in the new system ' a result of the people's resistance to change.

While many analysts say unified messaging isn't at the top of most users' shrinking shopping list, businesses are still looking to technology to enhance their customer relations, maximize productivity and reap the promises of convergence. Due to an increasing number of enterprises transacting with customers and business partners via the Web, worldwide e-commerce revenues are predicted to grow from $145 billion in 1999 to $7.9 trillion in 2004, according to research from GartnerGroup. Today, more than ever, businesses are relying on technology to support the move from traditional contact to multimedia and multimodal contact supported by UM technologies with the expectation it will increase their employee productivity and enhance the overall customer experience.

The Value In A Value-Added Solution
As margins on traditional services are eroding and competition has grown fierce among ISPs, telecoms and cable providers, service providers recognize that enhancing business communications via the enablement of value-added applications is what will keep their business afloat.

Enter customer interaction management (CIM), the cr'me de la cr'me in value-added solutions that offers innovation coupled with improvements in the ways we can contact each other in real-time or otherwise ' using devices we are already familiar with. Multichannel customer interaction management software allows contact centers, enterprises and service providers the ability to support and automate virtually every aspect of their business communications. At the same time, interaction management offers providers a very lucrative method of enlarging profits and scope of influence.

Research firm Ovum acknowledges that 'UM is the foundation for all future personal communication services' as do many communication technology innovators. CIM builds on the premise of unified messaging, but truly delivers on value-add by offering more ways of assisting customers while allowing a wider range of business customers. UM was initially geared for businesses that either had a significant mobile workforce or were aiming to increase productivity by eliminating the number of inboxes workers needed to clear during the day, leaving more time to accomplish core responsibilities. While CIM also addresses those needs, the technology now extends to contact centers and mission-critical uses identified in a CRM strategy.

Customer interaction management applications allow for additional functionality that was limited by initial UM offerings. Through the expanding technology, businesses can realize timely delivery of invoices, payment and orders, which aids in reducing payment periods and costs of doing business. CIM integrates easily and uses existing infrastructure to maximize investments and minimize change (applications, business data, networks, etc.). CIM even leverages information that already exists in databases to provide intelligence to the technology. Automated delivery of information from applications avoids the need for manual distribution of information by assistants, clerks and administrative staff. For the road warriors, mobile access to documents keeps them in touch with the central office and allows for greater customer service and support, leading to better customer satisfaction.

Getting A Bang For Your Technology Buck
With budget slashing and cost-saving initiatives the norm in today's business climate, users are not willing to budget IT dollars based solely on a technology's appeal. The enterprise today is looking for innovation that will offer them a substantial return on their investment (ROI). Interaction management delivers on the promise of convergence, integration and ROI, contributing to the major growth of value-add and CIM. While time saving is clearly a major soft-return, businesses realize when integrating CIM technology there is also the opportunity to impact the bottom line.

Most obvious is the headcount savings an interaction management solution offers based on self-service applications that can handle basic customer inquiries. The benefits of using a single system also allow for multilingual applications. Now, CRM/ERM solutions can communicate in different languages, meaning they can communicate with wireless users through SMS and communicate to telephone users through regular voice messaging. Businesses can also realize a productivity increase based on computer-telephony software that manages incoming and outgoing customer service, marketing and sales calls more efficiently. Unified messaging is used for automated outbound message delivery such as confirmations and document requests, as well as providing a central inbox for multimedia customer service requests. Accuracy of data increases based on pre-filled forms generated from caller-ID information. Screen pops allow forms in applications to be pre-filled with caller information such as purchase history, billing address, shipping address and account number. This automation replaces manual entry that reduces the chance for errors. By using fax server capabilities, companies can eliminate the need for manual fax machines, reducing employees' time and maintenance costs, which can be significant for large companies with hundreds of fax machines.

However, ROI should not be thought of in terms of cost-cutting alone. Arthur Rosenberg, an industry analyst with The Unified-View, notes that ROI is a result of doing what the customer expects of you, thereby increasing retention, and ultimately profits.

'ROI has to be looked at not from how you're saving money, but how efficiently you can communicate with your customers,' he explains. 'Cost-cutting has limits ' there's only so much you can trim. But using technology to increase your profits is truly limitless. The customer couldn't care less whether or not you've instituted cost-cutting measures. But if you do a good job communicating, you just might get more business.

'Traditional customer analysis would look at the business side of the transaction ' what was purchased, how much and when. CIM offers a solution that can analyze the communication activity and correlate that communication with the business transaction. When you look at ROI from a perspective outside of reducing costs and saving time and realize that ROI comes from retaining or attracting new customers, you've added an unlimited resource to your bottom line.'

'If you don't factor in the potential for improvement, you may find yourself in a downward spiral, focusing on not losing instead of winning,' adds Denis Pombriant, research director, CRM for the Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com). 'As long as your mindset and the tools you use focus on the transaction at hand or how to conduct your business faster and cheaper, you're making your business a market share game. At some point, you need to protect your share of market and you don't necessarily do that by driving the hardest bargain. You do that by cultivating your customers, examining their wants that you can collate and examine for evolving trends. By looking at a 'return on relationship,' an organization gets a head start on the marketplace. That kind of proactivity ' sustaining relationships, gathering information and providing information ' is the customer lifetime value that goes into the kind of metrics that define what the relationship is.'

Interaction management delivers on the initial promises by UM gurus. The technology offers true unification by significantly reducing disorder caused by too many messages on different devices. Through the technology, administrators can centrally manage and monitor all contact methods through a single system, offering businesses both financial and productivity savings. At the same time, the technology offers a significant tool to develop and enhance customer relationships by retaining some of that extra margin as a bottom-line benefit.

The convergence of telephony and Internet technologies boosted value-add offerings and ultimately had a hand in raising the bar for communication services. Interaction management has reached the bar by delivering on the promises initially laid out by UM innovators and is the obvious next step in a natural progression for communication technologies. Interaction management is a sure-fire tool for businesses to enhance customer relations and improve their business processes. At long last, the communication revolution finally has arrived.

Melissa Prusher is a freelance writer and an account supervisor for TOPCALL Corporation. TOPCALL (www.topcall.com) provides end-to-end delivery of interaction management and unified communication solutions. The company offers communication products, global support services and onsite consulting.

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