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TMC Labs
November 2001

Irene Online

ISC, Inc.
New York, NY
Ph: 212-477-8800
Web: www.isc.com

Price: $20 per agent, per month

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

Installation: 5
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.25
Overall: A-

Performance monitoring and benchmarking within the call center have been around since the industry's infancy, including measurements such as average hold time, number of calls in queue, call abandon rate and number of calls handled per agent. But these past-performance factors and equations were incomplete. A more proactive performance-monitoring application is workforce management, which is designed to optimize staffing levels by improving scheduling efficiency, enhancing agent performance, increasing employee satisfaction and minimizing costs, while also increasing customer satisfaction levels.

Unfortunately, many workforce management (WFM) products can be quite expensive, which results in only large call centers implementing these solutions. TMC Labs discovered an inexpensive ASP-model WFM product called Irene Online, which addresses the needs of the small to medium-sized call center, but larger call centers can benefit as well. To help meet service levels more effectively, Irene provides an accurate day-by-day and hour-by-hour forecast of how many calls you should expect to receive. Then, it will build schedules that assign agents at the right time to match the arriving call volume. Irene can also help reduce abandoned call rates (the number of times a customer hangs up while waiting to be served). Irene is a 'closed-loop' solution that performs forecasting and scheduling, followed by tracking the results. The 'results' or outcome of the schedule is comprised of 'call data,' which is then used to modify or adjust future forecasts and schedules. This completes the closed-loop process. In order to perform forecasting and scheduling, call history must be manually or automatically updated from your ACD.

ISC's Irene is completely browser-based, so not only is it operating system independent, the application can be executed anywhere a browser is available. Irene has some interesting features. One feature call center supervisors will like is that agents may enter their own 'trades' for swapping schedules subject to supervisor approval. Irene also supports uploading of the schedule data to payroll systems.

Another interesting feature is that it supports 'on-board work' and 'off-board work.' When individuals are on-board, they are performing tasks related to making and receiving telephone calls. Conversely, off- board work is defined when the employee is performing non-telephone-related tasks such as clerical work. This is a nice feature since off-board work scheduled time is taken into account when calculating the needed resources to handle the call volume. For example, suppose half your agents are busy packaging special Christmas gifts to be sent to your top customers. Obviously, more agents will need to be scheduled that day to handle telephone calls.

Speaking of holidays, you can have special days defined for those periods when call volume does not follow usual patterns. For instance, the holiday season is often a time when call volume increases. Irene takes into account this 'seasonality.' In fact, if you use the last three Christmases to forecast/schedule the next Christmas, Irene looks at the neighboring average call volume around each Christmas to figure out what the relative ratio was at that time of year versus the previous year. It then figures out an appropriate percentage to weight the call volume and thus raises the resources required accordingly.

Irene features the ability to enforce rules about hours worked per day and per week, breaks and employee preferences for start and end times, days off, etc. Using Irene, you can record absences, overtime and schedule changes.

Irene's documentation consists of a small manual that has its pages printed in landscape mode, requiring us to turn the manual on its side in order to flip through the pages. This took a while to get used to, but nevertheless we were pleased with the overall content and organization within the manual.

We would like to see some usability improvements. For example, we'd like to see a drop-down box listing the employees rather than having to type each employee's name in a simple text field. We'd like to see a calendar control added to the Web pages that pops up a graphical calendar window allowing the user to use the mouse to quickly scroll by month or year, rather than having to type the dates manually.

During our tests we were able to raise the call volume and see how it affects the service levels and the schedule accordingly. Creating a schedule is just a few simple steps. After a preliminary schedule has been finalized, it can be printed and posted. Like all workforce management solutions, Irene learns from previous call history to forecast future schedules. The reports within Irene are excellent and feature easy-to-read graphs. One of the more interesting graphs is plotting the agents required by hour. 

We should point out that for the $20 per agent, per month price tag you receive unlimited phone support. This can be a key determining factor when choosing a WFM solution. ISC actually is 'proactive' in its support as well. They have monitoring running in the background checking for errors. If an error occurs, ISC will contact the customer to let them know if the problem is on the customer's end or if something needs to be fixed on ISC's end.

Currently, Irene has only rudimentary skills-based scheduling. When we contacted ISC to inquire about future skills-based capabilities, they told us 'we will soon have superb skills-based scheduling unlike anything seen in the industry before.' Self-acclamation not withstanding, we certainly look forward to seeing more comprehensive skills-based scheduling in the next version. We should mention that receiving updates instantly via the Web is the beauty of an ASP-model workforce management solution. Customers instantly receive any improvements to the feature-set or functionality at no additional charge. Overall, TMC Labs was impressed with the power and flexibility of this ASP workforce management solution. Any call center manager still using spreadsheets for scheduling should seriously consider ISC's Irene as its very low cost obviates the excuse that workforce management solutions are just too expensive.

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