Frost and Sullivan's Dawson on Buying WFM/WFO Solutions

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  December 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions.

The literal heart of the contact center is its people, namely the contact center agents as they enable the customer relationships and in doing so obtain the maximum value from these individuals and organizations.

Therefore, managing agents and optimizing agent performance, including scheduling, quality management (QM) and analyzing interactions are keys to contact center and by extension corporate success. Deploying workforce management (WFM), focused on scheduling, and workforce optimization (WFO) – which encompasses WFM plus recording, QM and analytics solutions – helps make these outcomes happen. But, it is critical for organizations to buy the right WFM/WFO products for their particular needs.

Keith Dawson (News - Alert) is principal analyst, Information and Communication TechnologiesFrost and Sullivan (www.frost.com). He is also the author of several books including the now-classic Call Center Handbook. Customer Interaction Solutions recently interviewed Keith on buying WFM/WFO solutions.

CIS:    What the top three elements that contact centers should look for when assessing WFM/WFO solutions and suppliers?KD:     Since the core technologies in WFO have been around for so long (and are very well understood), they are effectively commoditized – in other words, there aren’t that many feature/function differences to be found among various WFM software systems. With that in mind, there are a couple of things contact centers should look at.

First, vendors are often distinguishing themselves based on their services offerings. This can be very important to contact centers, especially as the WFM tools merge into broad-based WFO suites. Making sure that a vendor offers a true collaboration and partnership with the centers is a big plus, rather than just dropping off the software and leaving you alone until the next upgrade cycle.

Second, I think it’s important that WFM be considered in conjunction with the rest of the optimization environment. WFM used to be purchased as a solo product but, increasingly, it’s tied closely to the call recording, the switching fabric, the quality system and various pieces of analytics software. It’s important to make sure your vendor either provides a roadmap for tying all those pieces together internally, or has a strong multi-vendor ecosystem established to allow you to integrate existing and future optimization tools together.

Third, WFM may be mature and well-understood, but it still has to evolve to cope with the increasing complexity of the contact center environment. Contact centers looking at new WFM deployments should press their potential vendors on how their tools are going to cope with multi-site, multi-skill, multi-channel situations and ask hard questions about whether their WFM can grow with them as their centers grow in complexity.

CIS:    When selecting WFO tools, should a center go for best-of-breed or all-in-one suites? In what types of uses/situations does each work best?

KD:     There are benefits on both sides of that argument. Niche providers of WFM have generally kept pace with the suite vendors on a feature basis; they have also generally recognized the need to create “virtual suites” or ecosystems of connected vendors that ensure that if you purchase a niche vendor’s WFM you’re not cut off from integrating that WFM with someone else’s call recording or QM. But, there is no getting away from the fact that the majority of deployments of WFM are solidly in the hands of the suite vendors.

I don’t really see the decision of suite versus niche vendor as one where there’s a strong situational use case behind the decision. Instead, it has a lot more to do with who the incumbent vendors are; the experience level of the internal contact center operations managers; and, sometimes, price. It also matters what other systems are being replaced at the same time – if you’re putting in new QM at the same time, you’re more likely to look to a suite vendor for some sort of overall package.

One thing to note is that WFM tends to be one of the more “sticky” applications – people in centers who learn on one system very often like to retain their experiences with that system, and often take it with them when they leave to go to new jobs. There’s comparatively less replacement of one WFM with another than there is, say, in call recording.

CIS:    Hosted/SaaS (News - Alert) WFO is emerging as a third choice. Compare this with best-of-breed and suites. For which needs is this method most suitable? Not as suitable?

KD:     Yes, hosting has become an important deployment method for some contact center infrastructure segments, especially routing and CRM. But, the area of workforce optimization has lagged in this respect. Some vendors are testing the waters with systems that move call recording, analytics and workforce management into the cloud.

A clear majority of respondents are not presently using hosting in any form as a way of deploying their technology infrastructures. The most popular reason for choosing hosting is the beneficial cost structure it delivers: no capital investment and a pay-as-you-go approach to expenses.

It may make sense, at first, to hybridize the technology environment, keeping some core systems on-premises, but adding new modules through SaaS. We are not yet at the point where (for the entire package of optimization tools) those criteria stack up neatly and equally between the on-premises/hosted deployment modes. Yet, we are at the point where centers should be considering hosting in some scenarios based on price, flexibility needed, and the need to provision for dispersed agents.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi