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AI: It’s All About the Context

AI: It’s All About the Context
Without the right context, decisions made with AI support can create ethical and legal dilemmas for many enterprises.
By Martha Buyer

As the new year gets rolling and I see increasing numbers of ads on tv and/or online for AI “solutions” (I HATE that word in this context), I remain concerned (to the point of neurotic) about the serious downside of reliance on AI. Is AI a powerful tool? Absolutely. But its judicious use is critical if it’s going to bring sound and useful results to the enterprise. If answers to tough questions were always in black and white, answers would be much easier to find and implement. The challenge is that business, government, and life are much, much messier. Can AI help sort through the glop? Absolutely, but reliance on its outcomes must be made with careful consideration and great care.
 
Many years ago, a friend who ran a company that managed a series of airport parking lots throughout the U.S. asked me what his business was really about? Parking? Real estate? Hardly. It’s about service, and if you think about it, every enterprise exists in some way or another to serve its customers. If you go to a routine doctor’s appointment and are kept waiting three hours because the office has overbooked, that’s a negative customer service experience and will likely force you and others like you to look elsewhere for non-emergent medical care. Bad service equals “I’m taking my business (and money) elsewhere.”
 
AI has certainly made its way into the customer experience, but questions need to be asked, including:
  1. What are we measuring?
  2. How are the measurements being made?
  3. Is this the right thing(s) to be measured?
  4. How are we validating that our data input is accurate and the output useful?
  5. How is the entity that’s performing an AI-based service weighting the factors/raw information that we provide?
  6. How are we using the information that’s generated from the AI provider that we’ve chosen?
  7. How comfortable are we that the AI yields create an accurate picture of what we’re trying to measure?
My first “real” job was on a call center for a local bank that handled Visa and Mastercard transactions. Not surprisingly, no one ever called to say, “Hey, my bill looks terrific this month, thanks a lot.” So, callers were often ill-informed, annoyed, or just plain hostile, and learning how to diffuse them was part of the job. Agents were ranked monthly by performance.
 
Interestingly, the agent who was smarter than everyone else in the room always finished 2nd, although everyone knew how smart and capable she was at the job. Nonetheless, the agent ranked #1 was rewarded with bonuses and other benefits. Only after some time, did someone bother to dig into the underlying facts behind agent #1’s success. What she did routinely was to handle the easy calls and “accidentally” disconnect the hard ones so that she’d be available for more easy calls, thus improving her call count and holding on to her rank as #1.
 
This was a simple AI system, but because manages were looking only at the call center peg counts, no one was considering the actual quality of the service that the #1 agent provided. While AI systems have become infinitely more complex, the underlying issue remains the same. Managers and those who rely on AI-based information must understand the context of both the data that’s input as well as the generated outcome. With additional complexity comes additional responsibility for validation of the input and output.
 
In many cases, AI can be used to justify desired outcomes. It’s for this reason that all parties to an AI transaction be aware of how the underlying algorithms are weighing different factors. Is the senior partner at a law firm simply looking at billable hours of junior associates before deciding which one should be promoted or are they including other factors like the nature of the work, the nature of the client, and the attorney’s ability to get work done in a timely manner? There’s no right answer to this question without placing the question at hand in appropriate context; AI tools can only generate an answer based on the actual received input.
 
Legally, there are also several factors to be considered. Most notable among them is where liability falls. If an entity makes a decision based on AI-generated information, and the decision is wrong, who is legally “on the hook” for the error? Is the AI provider on the hook? The best answer is “maybe,” but this is something that any enterprise that’s considering AI use to make decisions shouldn’t only consider but write into its agreements with AI providers.
 
Another important legal consideration is how updates can and will be built into the service that’s being acquired. That is, if you buy access to a service for X years, what guarantees are there that the vendor of the AI product will keep your service running at the latest and greatest levels of sophistication and accuracy?
 
There are no easy answers here, but until enterprises can identify the right questions, and can qualify the answers, they are in a tough spot with regard to knowing how best to use the information.

 

Analog Phones: No Plans for Extinction

Analog Phones: No Plans for Extinction
Potential VoIP customers invariably keep finding analog lines/interfaces that must stay in use for the foreseeable future.
By Todd Hyman

Why do we have so many analog ports, and do we need them? This question continues to come up repeatedly in our conversations with clients.
 
Analog telephones use standard copper wire, connect to plain old telephone service (POTS) lines, are extremely reliable, and have good voice quality. However, they only support employ basic features, like call transfer. This simplicity makes analog phones inexpensive to purchase and easy to use even in the VoIP world. They still have many uses.
 
The legacy interface and analog telephone lines in enterprise, government, healthcare, and educational institutions are more common than the average telecom person realizes. Potential VoIP/IP telephony customers invariably find analog lines/interfaces that must stay as analog connections for the foreseeable future.
 
Examples of analog phone applications include:
 
Hospitals and Nursing Homes – The healthcare industry benefits from the use of low-cost disposable endpoints in use throughout hospitals and residential medical facilities. Analog phones are easy to install, configure, repair, and most likely already located at the site. They’re also employable as dictation equipment, utilized in nurse call stations, code calls, paging, patient hospital bed tracking, plus many other applications. Changing them out would require a huge investment in newer, more complex endpoints and expensive infrastructure upgrades. In these facilities, simplicity for the end user or patient is critical.
 
Hotels and Motels  Most have heavy investments in PBX systems connected to hundreds of analog telephone sets in guest rooms, common areas, and administrative offices. These PBX systems are often older and lacking in features, but it’s costly for hotels to switch over to more modern, VoIP systems. Challenges include the cost of upgrading hundreds of inexpensive analog sets to more expensive IP phones and the cost of upgrading voice-grade cable (CAT-3) to more high-priced data-grade cabling (CAT-5 or CAT-6) required along with those phones. VoIP systems also require expensive Power- over Ethernet (PoE) switches, and the requisite electrical power and cooling. Fortunately, there are ways to integrate VoIP PBX equipment with the existing analog phones and wiring in a hybrid model, which is considerably more cost-effective than a total forklift upgrade.
 
Higher Education – Some schools and universities still provide room phones for students that connect to the campus phone system. This adds a level of security as compared to using a personal cell phone when issues arise. Most college campuses across the U.S. employ emergency blue light phones as a preeminent security feature. When someone feels unsafe on a college campus, they can push the call button on the blue tower to reach campus police.
 
Many universities are complementing traditional campus call stations with two-way mobile apps that let user’s text, send alerts when they feel in danger, and receive bulletins from authorized parties during emergencies.
 
Lobbies/Break Rooms – One major advantage of an analog telephone station is cost, especially compared to IP telephone sets. This makes them ideal for common or infrequently used areas like lobbies, employee break rooms, waiting rooms, maintenance closets, and remotely located offices that require only basic calling capability.
 
Fax Machines and Alarm Systems – An analog fax, alarm, or phone system can connect to a VoIP system using analog gateways or adapters. Selecting the right adapter can be a challenge, as the number and types of ports are dependent on the requirements of your VoIP provider, and you’ll likely need a professional to install it. But companies with existing analog equipment still clearly need analog connectivity, at least for now.
 
Conferencing Endpoints, Point-of-Sale Devices, and Credit Card Readers – Analog telephones aren’t the only type of device that can connect to an analog station port. Other common analog equipment includes desktop and tabletop conferencing phones, point-of-sale readers, and credit card terminals. When one of these is needed, companies should confirm that an analog station port is available on their phone system.
 
Modems – In the PSTN world, the network provides a constant delay for any particular call – the speed at which data enters the network is always the same as the speed at which it leaves – and modems require this. In an IP network, jitter is a fact of life. It’s manageable on a modest level, using the quality of service (QoS) features available in IP equipment, but only if the network is controllable from end-to-end. If a VoIP network works only across a LAN or a QoS-managed WAN link, there might be a near guarantee of zero packet loss and fairly low jitter. Modems need a continuous audio path. If there is packet loss, the consequences are severe. As a result, other methods of using modems may be required in order to avoid complications; analog connectivity is one way to do this.
 
Elevator and Emergency Phones – One of the least expensive and most secure ways to provision emergency calling in elevators and elsewhere is via analog. When the phone is accessed, caller ID information immediately transmits to an emergency center. Gateways, software, and other additional equipment are often required to provide this service through VoIP PBX service.
 
Power Failure Transfer (PFT) and Teletypewriter Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TTY) – A TTY is a special device that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired use the telephone to communicate, by allowing them to type text messages instead of talking and listening.
 
The technology for PFT and TTY devices has improved over time, and provide an inexpensive way of communicating, especially when power is lost. Since they use the telecommunications grid for electricity, local power isn’t necessary to operate them during an outage.
 
Technology changes rapidly in the telephony industry and will continue to do so. Eventually, analog endpoints and services will evolve to work over IP or will be eliminated.
 
For now, analog endpoints will continue to thrive, but IT managers should be on the lookout for alternate methods of providing these services and prepare their businesses to make the change.
 
For the foreseeable future, expect to see analog ports persist for:
 
• Alarm system connections
• Telemetry systems
• Elevator and emergency phones
• Analog phones in otherwise unoccupied buildings
• Janitor and network closets
• Phone lines outside a building used to call guards for off-hours access
• Emergency phones as a lifeline to the PSTN
• Analog fax machines that operate the T.30 standard
• TDD support for hearing impaired
• Phones in common areas that have little or no physical security
• That guard shack that is thousands of feet from any building and can be economically accessed only by an old analog line
• Phones in a warehouse, where installing Ethernet for a single phone is too expensive
• Dial-up PC modems, point-of-sale devices, and credit-card readers
• Intercom lines
• Announcement lines
• Turret systems for traders
• Access to mobile channels
• Mobile channel interconnection
• Server connections for healthcare, such as dictation, patient/bed/transport tracking, and nurse call stations
• Legacy key systems

 

What are your thoughts on the future of analog devices? Share in the comments section below.

 

AI Impacts the Contact Center

AI Impacts the Contact Center
By Scott Sachs, President SJS Solutions, LLC

This post is the second in a series about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on various industries. For each, we asked a GLG Council Member to share insight from their unique perspective. Here, Scott Sachs, President SJS Solutions, LLC, writes about the how AI is changing the way the contact center operates.

Today’s call centers are no longer vast workplaces with rows of agents answering questions and taking orders via phone. They have evolved into complete contact centers that use the latest technological advances including mobile, email, chat, and SMS, to be as customer-friendly and cost-effective as possible.



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Your Social Media Strategy Requires a Multi-Purpose Approach

Your Social Media Strategy Requires a Multi-Purpose Approach
By Robert Harris

Enterprises have recognized the importance of engaging customers and business partners through social media channels as well as SMS text and web chat. It is good that they understand the value of technology solutions that integrate social media and messaging into a larger unified communications solution. However, too often when an enterprise plans to engage over these channels, they build the process around a single team such as marketing or customer support. This may have been an effective way to launch a social media strategy a few years ago, but with the prevalence of social media today, a single-purpose approach may lead to lost opportunities and extra work.

History is full of great lessons, and we can take a lesson from bygone days when external customers and vendors engaged with a business one of three ways: written letters, telephone calls or in-person. An enterprise would have not ventured to set up a switchboard to route only one type of call or expected a receptionist to be the single contact for all walk-in visitors. Mailrooms were not instructed to send every incoming letter to the same department. As absurd as those examples seem, when an enterprise has a single “social media” team or department, they are doing the same thing.



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3 Ways to Connect with Millennial Employees How can IT and communication leaders of today engage with their Millennial employees.

For Baby Boomers who were lucky, we found careers we’ve enjoyed, developed them, and furthered our educations and skills to grow onward and upward. We didn’t really need to know that the work we were doing had a large impact on any single person or organization. Enter the Millennials.
 
If you have Millennials in your organization or are needing to hire Millennials, I highly recommend starting your journey by watching Simon Sinek discuss this generation on YouTube. A few years ago, I was struggling with a newly hired Millennial. She was bright, conscientious, motivated, and not expecting to be promoted to VP in her second month, despite recent Sitcom depictions of this mysterious bunch. But I couldn’t figure out what made her tick to ensure that she stayed with us. A colleague turned me onto Sinek, and within minutes of watching his video about Millennials, I understood this new hire, and now four years later, she is a telecommunications rock star.
 
My interpretation of Sinek’s message is that Millennials, who were basically born with smartphones in their hands, need to feel the impact of their work. They need to know for certain that what they are doing impacts someone, somewhere, for good. If you can’t draw that line for Millennials, they might work for a little while, but in the end, they won’t produce their best and won’t stay. Enter turnover costs.
 
In the growing complexity of the IT and telecommunications industry, the end customer keeps getting further away from us, and the line to that beneficiary of our services becomes more disjointed. How do we re-draw a straight line to those beneficiaries for our Millennial workers and answer their call for meaning? I will share with you how I’ve embraced that challenge and the energy that my Millennials bring to my firm in return.
 
1. Focus on Who Benefits
First, I focus on identifying the actual beneficiary of our services. I own a telecommunications consulting firm and have chosen to specialize in the senior housing industry. The people that contact us every day are the staff and managers of assisted living facilities and similar properties. The facility staff aren’t the ultimate beneficiaries; the facility residents are. The Grandma Sallys or Grandpa Joes are the beneficiaries. For the most part, the staff calls us because their office phones or IT peripherals need service, or they need to add devices or services. We aren’t talking to Sally or Joe, nor are we restoring or adding service directly for their use. We are restoring or adding service so that the staff can focus on serving Sally or Joe. So, I ask my staff to put a picture of their grandparents on their desks. When a particularly urgent situation arises, I remind them to pretend that this is their grandparents’ home. Direct, impact.
 
I think Millennials have this just right. If I’m working to restore an outage just because that’s my job, I may not say the same things to the carrier to get them to care enough to escalate, as I would if I knew that’s where my grandparents lived, or at least thought of it that way.
 
2. Reduce Their Stress Levels
Second, I find ways to relieve their stress. They are very stressed out. I think this condition may be because of the volume of information that they deal with on a day-to-day basis via multiple social networking platforms, video gaming, texting, etc. Life is a fire hose pointed right at them. To calm them, we’ve chosen to invest in a state-of-the-art office environment with cool colors, motorized standing desks, adjustable high-quality desk chairs, and curved cubicles that filter light but still offer some privacy.
 
We also feed them. In our eat-in kitchen, they have a large selection of healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack items. For them, it’s not just about the cost of meals; it’s the stress of having to remember to prepare and bring something and not be late to work. It’s also about not wanting to spend half their paychecks on having deliveries made and the carbon footprint of that one meal – yes, they think about that. I think Baby Boomers would even agree that it’s about not having to figure out what you want to eat for lunch! They walk into the kitchen, open the fridge or freezer, and grab something. Easy, stress-free.
 
3. Ask What's Fun
Third, I recognize Baby Boomers and Millennials have different ideas of what’s fun. Millennials typically don’t want you in the middle of their off-work time. For many years, I held a formal holiday party on a Saturday night and asked everyone to dress up and come out to dinner, mingle appropriately during the cocktail party, engage with others during the sit-down dinner, and not dash out saying that they don’t eat dessert. This year, I tried something new, a movie on Friday night. The team collectively decided on a movie, and we went to one of those premier theaters, where dinner is served as they watched. Of course, there was also movie theater popcorn and candy. The movie started at 5:30 pm, and they were all home by 8 pm, leaving the rest of the weekend to themselves. No spouses/significant others. No fancy dresses or suits. Fun.
 
What Millennials Give Back
Each week, I reflect on what we are doing for our young team, which is more than the impact, food, and fun. The result of all this cost, effort, and psychology is Millennials return the favor with incredible energy and vigor. They thirst for knowledge, make connections more quickly between relevant pieces of information, and adapt to systems, software, and processes without drama. Being nimble and adaptable is critical to our industry and to the new world we all live in. Millennials are poised, with the right support from their leaders (us), to take technology to the next level, bringing us along for the ride. Give Millennials a chance, and don’t forget to feed them!

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CCaaS: Is it Delivering on Its Promises?

CCaaS: Is it Delivering on Its Promises?
With TCO and cloud-readiness benefits, CCaaS solutions are providing quick and effective means to deploy a contact center solution.
By Cheryl Helm

Cloud contact center technology has been around for 20 years already; however, just in the last few years, it has become mainstream and has experienced exponential growth.
 
From 2018-2019, the cloud-based contact center market grew 25.4%, according to a DMG Consulting report. The number of players in this space has also substantially increased. Initially, there were just a few in this market: 8×8, InContact (acquired by Nice) Five9, Serenova, and NewVoiceMedia (acquired by Vonage), to name a few. Around 2010, others joined in: Interactive Intelligence (acquired by Genesys), Talkdesk, Sharpen, Content Guru, Bright Pattern, and Twilio. The traditional premises-based solutions like Aspect, Cisco, Mitel, and Avaya had to work hard to catch up to the new cloud vendors through rapid development or purchasing/partnering with an existing CCaaS provider.
 
Even though there are many cloud vendors to choose from, sometimes, they only handle certain contact channels or functionality. For example, Vonage teamed up with Salesforce to form a CCaaS solution; Vonage will route the voice contacts, and Salesforce will route email, chat, and social channels and also provide all the reporting, including the voice traffic. Some vendors will only provide one aspect of a contact center functionality like Injixo, a cloud workforce management solution. This space will continue to fluctuate as new vendors enter the arena, and acquisitions continue.
 
The first marketing appeal made by CCaaS vendors is a lower TCO, including reduced IT costs. Yes, initially, the investment in CCaaS will be lower since one is essentially purchasing or renting agent/feature licenses on a per month basis. However, when adding up expenditures over a three-year basis, the CCaaS costs usually are very close to the investment costs of a premises-based solution, if not more. IT positions, where professionals set up and monitor servers, can be reduced, and with user-friendly, intuitive CCaaS applications and dashboards, admins can monitor and set up a solution more easily. Even though some IT resources may be reduced, vendor management positions may increase.
 
The second appeal of CCaaS for customers is the agile nature of cloud computing. If you need to add agents or increase capacity for calls or other contacts, this can easily be done with a telephone call, email, or support ticket to your vendor, and changes can happen in minutes or within a day. Most vendors will also allow elasticity, meaning you only pay for the licenses or increased capacity for the time it is required. Premises-based solutions required days, if not weeks, to increase capacity, and sometimes it required hardware changes; furthermore, you were then stuck with that extra capacity even when it was no longer needed.
 
CCaaS is agile in its updates, and cloud applications are kept current. IT no longer must schedule downtimes to bring the system to the next release. If you have a public instance of the application, your system will be upgraded to the next release along with other customers in that same software cluster. You should get a warning of when the new release will be added; however, you usually won’t have a say on when that will occur. If issues occur due to the new release, the “rollback” option won’t be a possibility, unless all the other customers are also affected negatively by the new release. Another benefit of CCaaS is that so many customers are on the cloud services that there is a constant demand for better, different, and new features – you repeat the benefits of the combined customer demand.
 
CCaaS is also agile in the sense that it is easier to deploy. There is little if any hardware to be set up onsite, if the CCaaS is going to use a public cloud instance, it can be ready very quickly. The main thing that will need to be addressed is an assessment of your network and desktop environment. Not all administration applications are accessed through a browser. Some still require thick client applications that need to be loaded and tested, which gets a bit challenging in a virtual desktop environment.
 
What has not changed is the time to review the business requirements, translate them to the new CCaaS applications, perform appropriate testing, get business sign-offs before implementation, and create good instructions for end users, supervisors, and administration education/training. It is in this last area I have found that most of the cloud vendors neglect to allot the appropriate time for requirements gathering, testing, and training. The “plug and play” attitude of cloud vendors is prevalent. In this area, careful documentation and a thorough SOW must be established, or customers often are left very unhappy the day after implementation.
 
Lower TCO and the agile nature of cloud are just two of the promises made by the CCaaS vendors. For a deeper conversation, join me at Enterprise Connect on April 1, where I will host a panel of CCaaS experts. As with most things, the promises made and the benefits realized so far are mixed; however, CCaaS is here to stay, and customers on premises-based solutions will continue to explore moving part of or all of their applications to the cloud.

 

Best Practices for Business Continuity and WFH During a Pandemic Podcast

Best Practices for Business Continuity and WFH During a Pandemic
Podcast Hosted by Melissa Swartz with Fellow SCTC Members 

Melissa Swartz hosted a group of BCStrategies Experts to discuss best practices for working from home (WFH). Topics include tips if you're doing this for the first time, tips if you've been doing it a while but are now working with those who have not, best practices for hosting remote meetings, tips for managing remote teams, IT considerations, and how to be an effective and productive remote worker. BC Experts participating include Marty Parker, Roberta J. Fox, Steve Leaden, JR Simmons, Michael Finneran, Sara Uzel and Blair Pleasant. Listen to the podcast here: https://www.bcstrategies.com/content/best-practices-business-continuity-and-wfh-during-pandemic

Refer to the time codes below for each speaker:

  • Melissa Swartz
  • Marty Parker (:41)
  • Roberta J. Fox (4:17)
  • Steve Leaden (6:04)
  • JR Simmons (11:15)
  • Michael Finneran (13:47)
  • Sara Uzel (16:23)
  • Blair Pleasant (20:54)
  • Melissa Swartz (28:34)

Is Your Enterprise Prepared for a Hack?

Is Your Enterprise Prepared for a Hack?
A static defensive security posture is
deficient-
breach prevention by itself isn't enough. 

By Scott Murphy
VP Strategic Business Development,  Data Perceptions Inc. 

The reality of cybersecurity today is everyone is getting constantly bombarded with automated attacks of various types that are each looking for network vulnerabilities. It seems just a matter of time until an organization is compromised. The challenge is no longer stopping the compromise but rather the
speed and capabilities of an organization to notice the compromise and then respond effectively.

Threat actors or hackers are focusing on three primary methods of getting a foothold in an enterprise: 



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The California Consumer Privacy Act Comes of Age

With new Californian privacy laws taking effect in the new year, enterprises are rethinking their strategy and preparing for similar state or federal regulations.

I’ve written about privacy regulation before. But on Jan. 1, 2020, when the California Consumer Privacy Act takes effect, the importance of managing privacy for California residents and entities will take on a whole new level of seriousness. Aside from some federal obligations contained in HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, (HIPAA), Financial Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPP), for the first time, a state (one may be the loneliest number, but it won’t be the only one for long) will be taking definitive steps to secure the private information of its citizens. The European Union’s rules, called GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, EU Regulation 2016/679), have been in place since May 2018. While the coverage and approaches are different, there are some useful similarities. This guide from Data Guidance and the Future of Privacy Forum provides a good comparison of the two.
 
However, now that we’re past Thanksgiving, it’s time to start thinking about year-end preparation (of course, after the company holiday party and family fun planning) completed. With the new year quickly approaching, individuals, enterprises, and government officials should all be keenly focused on the obligations and protections of the California Consumer Protection Act (SB-1121) whose obligations may have already been triggered. Since California is thus far the only state to have taken formal action with a firmly committed start date, but as other states step up in this area of great concern to consumers nationwide, implementation and management of the privacy and data protection rules that the new state law require, in some cases, significant steps to protect sensitive information. Visit the California Legislative Information website for the full text of the bill.
 
How to Prepare for CCPA
On the off chance that an enterprise isn’t prepared, what follows are some high-level questions that should be addressed today (better yesterday, but never mind).
 
First, does the CCPA apply to your firm? Is the enterprise selling personal data? If so, and if it’s a for-profit entity that collects California residents’ data, are annual gross revenues over $25 million? Does the enterprise receive personal data of 50,000 individuals, devices, households, or more? Does the enterprise earn 50% or more of its annual revenues from its sale of private consumer data? If any of these three apply, it’s time to get to work on ensuring compliance.
 
Secondly, once you’ve figured out that CCPA does apply, contracts with customers and vendors must be updated to limit liability and provide the necessary notifications to customers. Having a clear understanding of whether or not an entity qualifies as a “service provider” is critical. Once this determination is made, contracts with such entities should clearly address the following circumstances: the business purposes under which the personal information will be processed; a clear prohibition that forbids the service provider from selling the personal information it receives; and a clear prohibition keeping the service provider from retaining, using, or disclosing personal information outside the direct business purpose specified in the contract. (Contracts with third parties who may not qualify as “service providers” should also be updated with respect to personal information, but that’s another topic for another day.)
 
Thirdly, enterprise privacy policies, like bylaws, or any other document designed to manage current corporate circumstances, should be updated regularly. A clear description of what information must be disclosed, as well as what types and frequencies of disclosures, should be understood by those who will be held accountable. This policy should include consumers’ rights to both access and eliminate personal information, as well as its ability to opt out of sales and other unsolicited information. Also, there should be a description of the process for submitting requests of this type, including a website where such requests can be fielded and directed for response.
 
In crafting these policies, which should be modifiable by nature, it’s important that all relevant players are part of the drafting. This should include, at a minimum, attorneys, risk managers, and those responsible for the collection and use of information that is considered private. Time is truly of the essence. For more guidance and information, I recommend this step-by-step guide from The IAPP.
 
While California is the first state where these rules will become effective, other states are likely to follow with similar but not identical provisions. The sooner enterprises can get their collective arms around the key definitions and processes that California requires, the easier it will be when other states—if not the federal government—come to the table with their own rules.

Don’t Use a Vendor’s RFP as Your Template

If you are replacing your existing phone system and want to see what solutions are available, you may consider issuing a request for proposal (RFP). This is a document that explains your requirements and allows bidders to create a proposal to meet your needs.
 
Creating an RFP document can be difficult. Vendors know this and often offer to provide you with their RFP documents as a starting point. That sounds great, doesn’t it?
 
STOP! Before you use a vendor’s document, consider this: Responding to an RFP takes time and money. Most companies evaluate the opportunity before deciding whether to respond. What is their chance of winning the business? How long will the process take? What level of effort is required?
 
Of course, they will look to the RFP document for many of these answers. If the RFP appears to be slanted toward one specific solution, and it’s not theirs, they won’t respond to it. They don’t think they have a chance to win the business.
 
Here’s an example: When VoIP first became available, the Cisco phones ran on the Skinny Call Control Protocol (SCCP), its own, proprietary technology. Since the technology was new, many people didn’t realize that this protocol was specific to Cisco only. We had a client tell us that he wanted a requirement for “VoIP phones and Skinny protocol.” He didn’t realize that this requirement would eliminate every other system from consideration.
 
I have read many vendor-prepared RFP documents. Of course, they don’t invest effort in creating these documents for the good of humanity. Their version of the RFP is designed to make their solution look better than those from the competition. They emphasize their strong points and minimize (or leave out) questions about their weaknesses.
 
Throughout the document, there are many clues:
  • Proprietary names for features
  • An emphasis on a perceived competitive strength (all-in-one solution, automated implementation process, international reach, etc.)
  • Few (if any) requirements for delivery and support
If you don’t write RFPs very often, you won’t see these clues when you read the document.
 
But potential bidders do recognize these signs. And, as noted, they will make the decision to respond, or not, based on their evaluation of their chances of winning the opportunity.
 
 
How do you create an unbiased RFP? I recommend hiring a vendor-agnostic consultant to help you. (Yes — this does reflect some bias on my part, since I am a consultant… but a vendor proxy I am not.)
 
"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

Sorting Out the Differences Between Cloud Solutions

The allure of the cloud has been, for many, the hope that it will be the equivalent of the “Easy button” that will resolve challenges such as scalability, complexity, resource constraints, and more. But as the cloud marketplace matures, it has become apparent that not all clouds are created equal. In fact, the term “cloud” seems to have so many definitions that it has become an imprecise catch-all phrase open to interpretation and marketing spin.

If you are making a decision about which technology to use, how do you sort through all of the confusion?

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SCTC to be Well-Represented at Project Voice Conference

I’ve got a fun update to share with the SCTC membership. Next week, I’ll be attending the Project Voice conference in Chattanooga, TN, and it’s touted as the #1 event in the US for voice technology and AI. These are core focus areas for my work as an analyst, but they’re also important for our consultant members. On that front, I’ll be in good company, joined by fellow members Rick Hathaway, Steve Leaden and Chuck Vondra.

Together, we’ll be on a panel session that I’ll moderate - Conversational AI and the Enterprise - where we’ll share our collective expertise with the audience. If you or you know anyone who’s attending, our session is at 11:05am next Wednesday.

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4 Ways to Keep Your Cloud Licenses Compliant

4 Ways to Keep Your Cloud Licenses Compliant

On Aug. 1, under the guise of easing management, Microsoft announced several significant licensing changes for its on-prem and cloud-based services. Starting with launch of its Azure Dedicated Host services and Azure Hybrid Benefits program, Microsoft changed its definition of outsourcing on-prem software licenses being hosted on some of its biggest rivals (Amazon Web Services, Alibaba, etc.). After Oct. 1, the often-touted cost benefits of using a bring-your-own-licensing (BYOL) model for Microsoft software in the public cloud will fall, victims of monetization, and it’s striking fear in the hearts and budgets of enterprise IT.
 
Let’s be honest, this isn’t an unexpected move by Microsoft -- nor would it be for any of the major hosted providers. Licensing has become a highly complex dance as the cloud era matures, creating a challenge for enterprise data centers.

What’s RPA, Why Should I Care?

What’s RPA, Why Should I Care?

A core consulting engagement that we perform is the “Strategic Operational Assessment.” This engagement type generally focuses on the customer experience, and specifically how operations in the contact center and in other areas of the organization impact that experience.

A typical engagement includes at least four to five days of on-site client meetings. The first activity we perform on-site is to sit side-by-side with contact center agents. During these sessions, we listen to customer phone calls, watch digital interactions, and observe how an agent resolves customer questions and issues. In these meetings, we might investigate what systems an agent uses, how many times an agent places the caller on hold, and whether the agent needs to transfer the call to complete the request.

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Real-Life Lessons Learned from Hurricane Michael, Others

Real-Life Lessons Learned from Hurricane Michael, Others

Being a Florida boy, I’ve been through many hurricanes over the years -- the last 54 years, to be exact. The worst of these has included Hurricane Andrew (Category 5, Miami, August 1992) and Hurricane Ivan (Category 3, Pensacola, September 2004). In fact, Hurricane Ivan was part of a four-hurricane flurry in our area during a 15-month period in 2004-2005.
 
In my 31 years in telecom, I’ve had clients dealing with storms, too. It seems that almost every year, I have clients in Florida or along the Gulf Coast that must deal with storms. Today, I wanted to take you through my clients’ experiences with hurricanes so that you can learn from them and possibly help your organization become better prepared for any disasters that cross your path.

Intermediate Network Woes: A Tale of Mobile Disconnect by Martha Buyer

Intermediate Network Woes: A Tale of Mobile Disconnect 

A savvy client of mine who sells hosted VoIP services recently called me with a serious problem. Calls made to my client’s customers from some mobile devices supported by two wireless providers suddenly -- and devastatingly -- weren’t completing. Calls completed, and then suddenly stopped working. The callers got either fast busy signals or ring-never-answers. To be polite, everyone was, um, annoyed.
 
Ultimately, we determined the root cause to be a translation problem somewhere between the caller and intended called party, but identifying where, precisely, the ball was being dropped was quite a challenge. During our research, we found that the calls in question never reached my client’s underlying provider. At the same time, the large wireless providers (two of the biggest), knew that the calls successfully left their networks. What none of us knew was the identity of the third party in place between my client’s underlying provider and the providers whose mobile devices couldn’t connect (again, these two providers are major players in this market). However, even if we could identify the intermediate provider (more on this in a minute), it’s unlikely that anyone from the company would have spoken with either me or my client since we had no direct contractual relationship with that carrier -- or even a method of discovering it.

Harnessing Contact Center Data for Actionable Results by Cheryl Helm

Contact centers have always had a plethora of data, but in the last few years the amount and sources of have grown dramatically. Still, when it comes to supporting an integrated contact center, understanding what data to use and getting robust measurements can be tricky.
 
What Contact Centers Expect
In the past, contact centers have emphasized historical and real-time information about inbound and outbound calls -- the quantity; Dialed Number Identification Service; the customer’s automatic number identification; time in queue; status (answered, abandoned, overflowed, or went to voicemail); which agent answered; call duration; time spent in after-call work). Agent-specific data, such as login and logout and all the various agent activities, like call codes and work modes, also has been important; this data is captured by the ACD or contact routing application.

In Case of Fire… a Story About Restoring Voice Services by Elizabeth English

In Case of Fire… a Story About Restoring Voice Services

The Paradise, Calif., fire in fall 2018 wiped out an entire town in an instant.
 
Because Paradise is remotely located with limited physical infrastructure and access, the fire not only ate up every building in its path, but also took out telephone poles (yes, these still exist), local carrier access boxes, and even an AT&T central office. Cellular service, often sketchy before the fire, was suddenly overwhelmed with emergency personnel looking to implement disaster protocols and people trying to locate loved ones. All of this became infinitely more complex simply because limitations imposed by geography and terrain had dictated how infrastructure was laid out.
 
In the immediate aftermath, local government and school districts temporarily relocated to Chico, the nearest city with functioning infrastructure, to regroup. Once the temporary offices were up and running, the next question was determining which telecommunications services in Paradise were still functioning, and what should be done with them.

The Changing Face of Network Strategy

Simplicity of application access and ease of use are changing the workplace at a pace that’s unprecedented in our industry. This is largely due to cloud-based, multitenant applications being so easy to adopt.
 
Modern applications often integrate with and use multiple modes of communications. In many cases, IT departments are challenged to provide the infrastructure to support and manage this application evolution. New application use models are introducing new challenges with security, capacity, quality of service (QoS), authentication, monitoring, data governance, and availability. Network architects need to design local- and wide-area networks with an application-first strategy.

Don’t Surrender in the Fight for IT Talent

It comes as no surprise that the war for talent is raging on throughout the U.S. Reports out this week warn of the increasingly widening gap between employers and job seekers, with the highest number of job openings available against a historically low number of potential recruits… with no relief in sight.
 
While multiple business segments are reporting labor shortages, nowhere is the war for talent more evident than in the data center halls of large and medium enterprises. With the rapid (and rabid) hunger for cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) technology advancement, signs indicate that finding skilled -- leading, bleeding-edge workers -- is only going to become more difficult.