The rise of the digital workplace and the new future of work: Experts weigh in

the-rise-of-the-digital-workplace-and-the-new-future-of-work:-experts-weigh-in

The ways workers are getting their jobs done continues to evolve in parallel with technology and company culture. Read some insights from industry experts as to what to expect and how to prepare for the future.

Image: Vlada84 / Getty Images

I’ve been a fan of all things digital along with full remote work capabilities for years now. In fact, I’ve been something of an evangelist on these topics, always making sure that when home or traveling I have all the tools, data, and access needed to perform my role as a system administrator for a large financial company.

Unfortunately, some organizations did not share my enthusiasm, remaining mired in the past, grounded in an archaic mentality that remote workers are less effective or reliable than on-premises employees. I’ve led a crusade to try to preach the word to bring these companies into the 21st century and promote a remote workforce.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

I didn’t expect a global pandemic to become an unexpected ally in supporting my views (and I wish they had been promoted under more fortunate circumstances) but the necessity of remote work has made 2020 a banner year for the digital workplace. It is now truly becoming a powerful and benevolent force for employees and companies as proven results drive more efficient business operations.

I chatted with Michael O’Malley, VP of Strategy at security solutions/application provider Radware, and Ian Wong, co-founder and CTO of Opendoor, an online real estate transaction provider, to get their views on the topic.

Scott Matteson: What is the digital workplace?

 

Michael O’Malley: The digital workplace is the new space where work gets done. It is where we now communicate and collaborate. As the current pandemic has shown with very few exceptions, numerous jobs can be efficiently done with no traditional physical workplace. Use of email, messaging apps, collaboration, and social tools have enabled work independent of physical presence.

 

Ian Wong: Opendoor employees, like many workers across the U.S., have been fully remote as a result of COVID-19. We have swapped in-person meetings for virtual meetings, hallway conversations for Slack messages, and are embracing new ways of working together to be as collaborative and productive as possible. 

SEE: Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players (TechRepublic)

 

Because of the connectivity and technology available to us, the digital workplace is largely a reflection of the conventional one. We’re obviously operating in different circumstances, but we’re still operating and finding ways to become even more effective as a team. Companies like ours have had to learn to be agile and adapt to new environments and–most importantly–ensure employees feel safe, supported, and motivated to do their work. 

 

Scott Matteson: What are the advantages it offers to employees?

 

Michael O’Malley: It offers numerous benefits to workers including an overall improved quality of life by eliminating commutes, childcare, and office or location restrictions. This greatly increased freedom leads to happier, more productive employees, which in turn lowers employee churn.

 

Ian Wong: Remote work is not a novel concept. It’s been in practice for years, and the advantages have always been more flexibility for employees, including no commuting, being close to family, and the ability to live where you want. COVID-19 has emphasized how remote workforces also allow for employees to keep working without compromising their safety.  

 

Even before COVID-19, there was a strong signal in favor of more remote work. In surveys last year, 80 percent of U.S. workers said they would turn down a job that didn’t offer flexible working options, and 90 percent of employees said flexible work arrangements increase employee morale and could lead to lower operation costs. 

 

Scott Matteson: What are the advantages it offers to companies?

 

Michael O’Malley: Companies benefit as well from improved employee productivity, lower physical footprint costs, reduced employee churn, a greater pool of eligible employees to recruit from for hiring, and more. The digital workplace can also help support corporate sustainability.

 

Ian Wong: If remote work or flexible work options benefit employees, then, in turn, it benefits the company. Engaged employees translate to productive employees. Each company is unique, and it’s important to understand what works for your team. While the majority of workers may love remote or work-from-home options, others may prefer coming into the office. Companies should find ways to accommodate as best as possible employees on both sides. 

 

Another major benefit is the ability to hire more top talent across the U.S. I believe the best ideas come from anyone, anywhere. And for our business, especially, we’re transforming an industry that transcends every corner of the country, so we need employees who bring diverse skill sets and unique perspectives.

 

With less need for office space and amenities to serve their employees, companies can also save on real estate and facilities costs. Companies can divert those savings elsewhere. 

 

Scott Matteson: What dependencies are involved?

 

Michael O’Malley: Digital workplaces are entirely dependent on the network and applications that employees interact with. The employee digital experience becomes paramount in ensuring employee productivity and fostering the corporate culture.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

 

Ian Wong: In order for a digital workplace to be successful, technology needs to be at the heart of the company. Employees need the proper tools and equipment to be productive and successful in their jobs. This includes hardware (reliable Wi-Fi and monitors for laptops, for example) and collaboration tools.

 

A remote workforce also cannot exist at the expense of workplace culture. It’s important to establish initiatives to promote a healthy work-life balance and inclusive culture. From virtual happy hours and hangouts with members outside of your team to online yoga and meditation sessions, there are ways companies can encourage employees to stay connected on a personal level. 

 

Scott Matteson: What challenges are involved?

 

Michael O’Malley: Companies must prioritize the security and availability of the customer digital experience. Since communication and collaboration applications become the lifeline of the employee to every other employee, these must be available 24/7 and secure from hackers. This is extremely difficult when the new attack surface is much more complex with potentially thousands of employees trying to access applications across many clouds globally.

 

Ian Wong: One challenge remote work can bring—especially during a pandemic—is enabling teams to collaborate and innovate like they do every day when they are in the office. The best companies are constantly looking to reinvent themselves to better serve their customers. In these times, we have to be much more intentional about how we work, which has led us to invest in stronger written communication. Writing well has the additional benefit of being a force-multiplier—the writer has to clarify their thinking, and the reader can respond to more cogent arguments.

 

Scott Matteson: How does the future of work look?

 

Michael O’Malley: In the future when little to no work is done inside physical workplaces, greater focus will be put on authenticating the digital identity of employees to weed out bad actors also trying to get into these networks and steal intellectual property or ransom data. Simultaneously, traditional corporate data centers will become a collection of distributed applications running on multiple public and private clouds which must secure the infrastructure and applications from North-South attacks into the cloud as well as East-West attacks from within the cloud.

 

Ian Wong: The future of work is looking flexible. Right now, the majority of tech employees are working remotely, but I see a future where employees have options. As companies consider more permanent options, it’s important for employees to be communicative with their managers about what’s working and what’s not. Leaders should also be mindful of the needs of their employees. Maybe the future workplace means coming into an office one to two days a week, maybe it’s meeting as a team once a month, or maybe employees are fully remote There are a lot of unknowns right now, but I don’t predict work will go back exactly to how it was pre-COVID-19. There will be changes. 

 

Scott Matteson: How are vendors helping to engineer this?

 

Michael O’Malley: Vendors are helping by providing solutions to protect both the network infrastructure (clouds, VPNs, Wi-Fi) and applications (web, Slack, email, SaaS CRM), and also by staffing managed security personnel to act as the security experts to operate the security framework flawlessly.

 

Ian Wong: Video conferencing and communication tools are proving to be essential for team collaboration. At Opendoor, a big part of our culture is building openness. We stay connected virtually and remain in close contact on all projects and updates. For example, we host a “Show & Tell” on an bi-weekly basis where different members of our engineering team can showcase both finished and in-progress work. We use this time to celebrate wins, share knowledge and create a venue for feedback. 

 

SEE: Zoom vs. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco WebEx and Skype: Choosing the right video-conferencing apps for you (TechRepublic)

 

I also host a weekly “Pricing Tea Time” via video conferencing, which acts as a forum to hang out and discuss any top-of-mind topics with my team members. It’s completely optional, but there for anyone who wants to talk or has questions. 

 

Scott Matteson: How will things look down the road?

 

Michael O’Malley: To better cater to increasingly digital workplaces, companies will move the majority of applications to public/private clouds, and employees will be able to access them securely anywhere in the world.

 

Scott Matteson: What should companies be doing to prepare for the future?

 

Michael O’Malley:

 

1. Prepare your digital experience roadmap. What are the applications needed for an enterprise to deliver the employee digital experience they want to appeal to the finest people in their field?

 

2.  Identify the access networks (Wi-Fi, 5G) and clouds (Azure, AWS, private) needed to deliver this experience.

 

3.  Partner with security experts to either build and operate the security framework for this new world or select best-in-class offerings and build your own enterprise competencies in security.

Ian Wong: Listen to your employees. Do they want a fully remote office? Do they want flexible options? Surveying workers is a great way to get a sense of the company sentiment. And it’s important to take note of the shift that’s happening. Proper technology is essential for a thriving digital workplace, and companies should start investing now to not get left behind in the future. Lastly, promote written communication. Great writing scales—and not just when everyone is remote.

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30 digital trends across 5 industries during COVID-19

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Consumer tech, B2B SaaS, streaming media, e-commerce and marketplaces, and Fintech all saw unusual growth in application use, Amplitude found.

Image: weerachonoat, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The use of digital tools has spiked across industries during the coronavirus pandemic, an Amplitude report found. The product intelligence platform provider’s report, released in late June, analyzed digital trends from more than 600 products in five key industries from early February to early May.

SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)

The five industries analyzed included consumer tech, B2B software as a service (SaaS), streaming media, e-commerce and marketplaces, and Fintech. Across all industries, the report identified unusual growth compared to the monthly average, indicating an unprecedented shift. 

“As the CEO of a company that serves over 40,000 digital products, I routinely talk about sea changes affecting our customers,” said Spenser Skates, CEO and co-founder of Amplitude, in a blog post

“Digital trends can take years of buildup and several waves to reach ubiquity. COVID-19 changed that pattern overnight,” Skates said. 

Trends by industry 

Image: Amplitude

While all industries saw a marked increase in monthly users, each had different inflection points.  E-commerce appeared to be the first to surge, followed by consumer tech, streaming media, and B2B SaaS. Fintech didn’t have a clear point of increase, but did see a rise in volume overall, according to the report. 

  • E-commerce 

With an inflection point in early February, e-commerce almost immediately took off as more people stayed home due to COVID-19. With physical stores closing, consumers naturally turned to online shopping, as displayed in the report. 

The average daily active users (DAUs) grew by 33% between late February and mid-April, with the growth sustaining throughout May. Daily new users (DNUs) witnessed a spike in March, peaking at 72% above the baseline, with an average shift of 48% right after the shelter in place 

orders started, the report found. 

Overall usage in terms of actions (event volume) experienced consistent increase of 55% on average. 

  • Consumer tech

Consumer tech had its inflection point hit in early March, with the average DAUs increasing between the early and later part of the month. That growth sustained into May, the report found. 

DNUs for consumer tech saw an immediate rise in growth in March, peaking at 58% above the baseline with an average change of 40% once shelter in place orders began. Overall usage in terms of actions saw a consistent increase of 50% on average, according to the research. 

  • Streaming media

Shelter in place orders meant that in-person live events, bars, movie theaters, restaurants, and other forms of consumer entertainment shut down. As people realized this shutdown was going to be longer than anticipated, streaming media became paramount, hitting an inflection point in early March. 

Streaming media’s average DAUs grew by 52% between early March and mid-April, sustaining into May. DNUs peaked at 64% above the baseline in March, with an average change of 52% after the quarantine orders began. 

Overall usage in terms of actions witnessed a sustained increase of 86% on average, the highest percentage across industries, the report found. 

  • B2B SaaS

As businesses transitioned from in-office practice to remote work, digital tools became critical for collaboration, which is a top reason B2B SaaS saw such significant growth, according to the report.

With a mid-March inflection point, B2B SaaS had a 19% increase in average DAUs between mid- and late-March, sustaining into May. Collaboration-first SaaS tools tripled active users in that month. 

DNUs saw a spike reaching as high as 72% above the baseline average in March, as well as an average change of 48% after shelter in place orders started. Overall usage in terms of actions experienced a sustained increase of 41% on average, the report found. 

  • Fintech

The shift to digital banking started well before COVID-19, which is why there wasn’t as huge of a spike during shelter in place.  

Average DAUs only grew by 6% between early March and mid-April, with DNUs hitting a high of 41% above the baseline average. Since quarantine began, Fintech saw an average change of 17%. 

The overall usage in terms of actions saw the smallest uptick, at 6% on average, the report found. 

Trends at the individual company level 

Image: Amplitude

While aggregate data is helpful, looking at the trends at an anonymized company and product level displays the extent of the situation, according to the report. 

The data unveiled some sample sets of the impact COVID-19 had on individual applications across the five industries. Most businesses saw a sudden positive spike in DAUs, which materialized over the course of two to five days between March 8 and March 22, the report found. 

Some organizations saw a severe decrease in use, and others experienced steady increases and steady declines. The variance shows how different organizations adapted to the new  normal of social distancing and reduced mobility at different speeds. 

Within consumer tech, companies in the Amplitude database saw the highest variance in patterns: Some companies grew DAUs by over 10 times in the span of two weeks, with grocery delivery companies experiencing significant growth. 

In e-commerce, some organizations could maintain a spike in new users by as much as three times, while others saw a more gradual decrease back to their baseline. 

Media companies, specifically those that streamed live sporting events, witnessed a steep decline, while recorded platforms picked up the slack, experiencing more than 400% DAU growth versus the baseline, the report found.

 

Overall, the use of digital tools proved to be crucial during this COVID-19 era, with individuals turning to tech for work, socialization, entertainment, and purchasing. 

For more, check out The role of digital tools in a post-pandemic world on TechRepublic. 

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Accelerate the Digital Transformation with Apps in the Cloud.

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Using business applications in a multicloud environment has many advantages, but also disadvantages. Can your company properly assess all risks?

Many companies are starting their transition to the cloud with the transfer of customer-oriented applications to the cloud environment and the transition to applications that are made to run in the cloud. That makes sense because often these are the simplest solutions.

However, this is a fraction of the applications that companies use. Only 20 percent of the workload has been moved. So, a full transformation to the cloud requires more effort. This requires a second phase, which ensures that the front office and back office of a company also ends up in the cloud.

Think for example of planning systems. Of course, there are clear advantages to this, but also disadvantages. So be sure to read on to discover these.

Visa unveils AI tool to help stop digital identity fraud

visa-unveils-ai-tool-to-help-stop-digital-identity-fraud

Billions of people have had their information stolen online, and Visa is hoping its new AI solution will help banks handle fraudulent accounts.

data breach concept. internet compute privacy compromised. unsecured network and data transfer. hacker hacked in to the system. cyber crime. Red binary code background with open black padlock icon.

Image: iStockphoto/Suebsiri

On an almost weekly basis news about breaches dominates headlines. The prevalence of attacks has created an ever-growing pool of stolen credentials that are routinely used to open fraudulent accounts, take out onerous loans, or max out cards.

To deal with this problem, experts at Visa have come up with a way to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to reduce the stress felt by banks in trying to determine what applications are fake and which are real. 

Melyssa Barrett, Visa’s vice president of Identity & Risk Products, explained in an interview that studies show 13 billion data records have been lost or stolen in global breaches since 2013 and there have been $10.2.billion in combined estimated losses in new account fraud ($3.4 billion) and account takeover ($6.8 billion) in the US in 2019. 

Visa said it created the Advanced Identity Score to reduce the amount of digital identity fraud. 

The company described Advanced Identity Score as an effort to combine “Visa’s artificial intelligence and predictive machine learning capabilities with application and identity related data to generate a risk score for new account applications to help reduce fraud, prevent negative impact to brand loyalty and trust, and eliminate operational costs due to remediation.”

“Visa’s mission to connect the world and enable individuals, businesses, and economies to thrive is more important than ever with COVID-19 affecting communities and all parts of the economy,” said Melissa McSherry, senior vice president and global head of Data, Security and Identity Products and Solutions at Visa, in a statement.

“As consumers, financial institutions and merchants focus on controlling expenses during uncertain times, the cost of new account fraud in terms of money and time lost can be significant,” McSherry added. “Advanced Identity Score offers financial institutions a powerful tool to use on top of existing systems and processes to prevent identity related fraud. This is the latest example of the value that Visa brings with its scale and expertise in combining data with AI to deliver advanced services that benefit participants in the digital economy.”

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

According to Barrett, application fraud directly affects a financial institution’s profitability, its customer experience, and its uncollectible debts. It also affects the average time a US cardholder needs to spend resolving new-account fraud, which is now up to 15 hours, Barrett added. 

The fraud loss and operational costs of remediation leads to a poor customer experience, reputational risk and direct impacts on revenue. 

“Our customers not only wanted a solution that focuses on security and customer experience but really built in some of the regulatory requirements in order to make credit decisions and minimize the friction associated with onboarding and underwriting a new account across all of their delivery channels,” Barrett said. 

“In a lot of ways, what we have tried to do is ensure the solution we’ve provided is brand agnostic. It’s not just looking for Visa cards specifically but really looking at the consumer overall to ensure that their identity information has not been compromised or there are suspicious activities associated with it.”

Right now, most financial institutions have to use a variety of different tools to address identity fraud and these often make life difficult for customers while also producing a number of false positives. 

The Advanced Identity Score harnesses Visa’s artificial intelligence expertise and combines it with a comprehensive data set that issuers can use to predict application fraud. The system provides a two-digit score that is then passed on to financial institutions that are requesting information within their underwriting process. 

Barrett said the Advanced Identity Score is the only fraud solution harnessing virtually all US approved/declined bank card application data and account level fraud data to detect and prevent potential fraud.

With the Advanced Identity Score, financial institutions can potentially decrease the number of new accounts opened with stolen identities, protect consumers against synthetic ID or account takeover fraud, and help eliminate a poor customer experience.

Visa said its artificial intelligence system pores through data points like fraud and suspicious activity, bankruptcy data across consumer identity elements, and application velocity while also using information from third-party data providers, law enforcement agencies, government agencies, and self-reported data from consumers. 

One of the ways the Advanced Identity Score reduces friction is by improving confidence, Visa said. Financial institutions struggle with the losses stemming from account fraud, identity fraud and bust outs, which are when people max out a credit card with no intention of paying, according to Barrett.  

“Being able to optimize the new account opening process will allow financial institutions to confidently advance good applications through an automated fashion while also ensuring that they can minimize the number of manual verifications and certainly automate portions of their declines as well so they can be a bit more confident,” Barrett explained. 

She added that the system also allows the issuer to provide information so that the consumer can contact an institution to find out what’s in their consumer report and ensure that if they are a victim of identity theft, that they get information as quickly as possible.

Issuers will ideally use the system before pulling information from credit bureaus, allowing them to save time on applications from people who have already been tied to fraud or suspicious activity. Within a few seconds, issuers get responses back on queries that include all of a person’s past activity. 

“With more than 14.7 billion data records breached since 2013, many of which include sensitive data such as name, tax ID number, and address, new account fraud has been a consistently growing challenge for financial institutions,” said Julie Conroy, research director of Aite Group, in a press release. 

“Financial institutions are looking for solutions that can help effectively detect synthetic and stolen identities at the time of application. The consortium data and sophisticated analytics that power Visa’s Advanced Identity Score promise to make it a valuable addition to financial institutions’ control framework.”

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The digital divide: Not everyone has the same access to technology

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Sheila Warren, head of Blockchain, Digital Currency, and Data Policy for the World Economic Forum, explains what the digital divide is and how we can eventually bridge it.

Dan Patterson, senior producer for CNET and CBS News, spoke with Sheila Warren, head of Blockchain and Data Policy and member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sheila Warren: I think we all are well aware, at this point in time, that there is a huge divide in wealth and income in society. That’s exacerbated from country to country, but even within countries we see a pretty stark divide in differences in the wealthiest and the haves and have-nots, if you will. But what people don’t really connect to is the digital divide.

SEE: An IT pro’s guide to robotic process automation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What this means is, it used to be strictly about access to technology, so who had devices or who was skilled in use of the internet, but now, as mobile phone penetration has become ubiquitous, particularly in the developing world, this is really more about access to the internet, to broadband speed, like you noted, but also just general skills. Is your workforce generally skilled, technically? Are they able to take advantage of some of the economic opportunities that have arisen in the technology economy? Where that has not happened, we use the term digital divide to refer to swaths of the population, whether geographically or by income class, that have been left behind in this revolution.

I think, as we exit the immediate crisis here, the health crisis, and move into a period of economic recovery, we’re certainly going to see tremendous amounts of job loss, transitions in needed skills, and our labor force is going to be dramatically affected around the world by what’s happening now. We do have an opportunity to think about re-skilling in a new way. Can we provide certain swaths of the economy with educational resources that will help them participate in the technology economy in ways that were not permissible or possible before? Can we think through an infrastructure build that will enable schools, for example, in rural areas or in parts of the world that haven’t traditionally had access to technology, to train their students in these kinds of skills?

I think there is an opportunity to think systemically about changes that are needed, that have been needed for a long time, quite frankly, and to use this recovery period as an opportunity to bridge that divide and to ensure that we’re providing opportunities for everyone.

SEE: Building the bionic brain (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Just as we’re seeing now a lot of manufacturing shift toward the immediate crisis need of ventilators, and masks, and personal protective equipment, I think we’re going to see an increased democratization in technology resources. We already know that there are cheaper tablets, for example, out there. We already know that mobile penetration, like I mentioned, that term meaning mobile phone usage and access in parts of the world, is much higher than access to a laptop or a desktop kind of computer, right, let alone a server and things like that.

I think we’re going to see a shift in what we push to mobile devices. I think we’ll see mobile money, which has already taken root in many parts of the world, become something that is ever-increasingly ubiquitous in parts of the world where it hasn’t been used as much before. I think we’re going to see educational opportunity be pushed through mobile devices, not just through tablets and other kinds of screens.

My hope is that there’ll be a shift in the ways that we think about provision of access to people in the world that have not previously had this access. But again, there’s a threshold of basic knowledge there that we can’t assume. We can’t assume that people are familiar with how to use a phone or a tablet if they haven’t done that previously, and I think that shift, that divide is going to take quite a bit of work.

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COVID-19: Digital transformation plans are being put on fast-forward

covid-19:-digital-transformation-plans-are-being-put-on-fast-forward

Post-pandemic plans for digital transformation should include omnichannel communications, automation, and agent-assisted AI models.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talked with Colson Hillier, the CMO at Alorica, provider of Business Process and Customer Satisfaction Outsourcing solutions, about digital transformation projects in the post COVID-19 era. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: Where should companies be focusing right now, and explain why omnichannel communications should be a priority.

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

Colson Hillier: I think that the idea of omnichannel is really about customer empowerment. Today, you think about the way that we interact with the brands that we love, and almost all of it involves multiple channels. I don’t sit and watch TV any longer just by itself. I’ve got my iPad up, and I’m emailing, or texting, or using social networks. All those channels have a different sort of role to play in the overall customer experience. It’s really important to get it right in terms of how you manage all of those channels in a way that’s consistent and delivers an outcome for a customer that doesn’t feel like it’s coming from six different places. 

Our approach is to really look at that sort of opportunity on three different levels. The first is the application layer and making sure that you’re relevant and available at all of the different apps that are used by customers to understand your products, or get information, or make purchases. The second is an intelligence layer where you’ve got to apply a lot of the logic and intelligence on how to manage that customer interaction. And the bottom layer is knowledge management. So, you need to work all three of these in order to deliver the right experience, but knowledge management essentially takes all of the information that you need about product information, a customer’s profile, and puts it in a place that is accessible via the cloud and is well-indexed so that it can be used in those omnichannel experiences. The intelligence layer looks at all that information and takes the content of a query, whether that’s a social post, or a text, or a chat session or something like that, and it interprets that as the intent of the customer and delivers the knowledge that is needed to the client through that application.

If you can get those three things right, you can deliver an experience that feels very much aligned to where the customer wants to be met. There are different attitudes in social than you have when you’re SMS-ing versus when you’re on the phone with somebody. But the key is to make sure that you can manage that customer interaction across all of those channels in a way that’s consistent and sort of respects the interaction or the investment that the customer has made, either yesterday or earlier in the year, and give them an experience that’s personalized and sort of builds on your history with them, as opposed to feeling like it comes from six different places.

Karen Roby: Expand a bit on the importance of agent-assisted artificial intelligence (AI) models.

Colson Hillier: That core of being able to serve customers that have increasingly complex issues that they’re trying to resolve in an environment where our businesses are changing, our clients’ businesses are changing so rapidly, new product cycles, introductions, new policies and procedures. The pace of change is so great right now that it’s almost impossible to train an employee on how to handle every situation that they’re going to come across in a classroom training, what we would call just-in-case training. 

A lot of where we focus our energy is on how do you take knowledge and use that at every stage of the agent life cycle to make sure that you have the right information for the client or the end user at the point of need? To do that, you need to be able to have your insights and information to resolve problems or provide customer experience readily available. It needs to be indexed in a way that it can be delivered in context into a conversation so that an agent is able to easily find and deliver that content to a customer. 

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

We focused a lot on a couple of different things. One is that knowledge management layer–we mentioned that with omnichannel just a moment ago. The first way to deploy that is typically an agent-assist model. As you deploy an interface to an agent that’s handling a customer service interaction and they’re consistently utilizing this tool in order to access the content, and that content could come from the web, it could come from what we call tribal knowledge, so gathering all the intelligence of their peer groups, and supervisors, and things that typically were used on post-it notes or in notepads, and bringing that all together in a way that’s easily indexed and searched and delivered to the agent in a consumable format.

It can have a massive impact on the efficiency and the consistency of the delivery of a customer-service experience. For example, when we looked at one of our clients, we started by evaluating all the calls they were taking. And we found that over 45% of the time an agent was on a call with a client, it was dead air time. And that time was spent researching and looking things up, it was asking a neighbor or a supervisor for some support, or generally processing things that were very low value to the customer interaction and really driving inefficiency in that interaction. So, when we deploy a knowledge management solution, the agent has access to that information in real time and is able to get those responses delivered much more quickly. We see average handle time reduced by about 15%, we see what we call first-call resolution, or the ability to resolve a customer’s issue the first time that they call in, increased by seven to nine points.

These are really important metrics to the efficiency of how you deliver a customer experience through the call centers that we operate. The other important byproduct of having a platform like that is that it deploys AI and machine learning in a continued-improvement process. As I start to get questions, and I’m interrogating this knowledge-management platform to get the answer, if that’s the correct answer, I know that, and I sort of signal back on the affirmative. But if it’s not, I’m able to go back and have our knowledge engineers go back and understand why that was the case and tune the model so that it gets more effective. As you do this hundreds of thousands of times, you get to identify things that are repeatable and that you know you have high confidence in being able to deliver the response against. Those are the best candidates to take and migrate into something that’s fully automated, like a bot experience where humans are no longer required to deal with some of the types of questions that come up in our call center environments.

Karen Roby: What are your thoughts on automation?

Colson Hillier: There’s so many companies that have grown up, particularly larger companies, where processes that worked well at small scale, or when you had a very streamlined decision-making flow, or a limited number of systems that needed to be touched, worked just fine. But as you go through growth in your business and add new departments that are part of a chain or new systems that need to be updated and kept in sync with others, we found that process automation is an awesome way to sort of thread together all of the disparities in a large ecosystem that needs to be managed in order to deliver an outcome.

SEE: An IT pro’s guide to robotic process automation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Whether it’s something like a back-office process automation where you’ve got an intake of a document that needs to be updated across four or five different systems and done consistently with high degrees of accuracy, or if it’s a process that is creating a lot of fallout or negative net promoter scores that you can address with systematic delivery, the process of understanding the end-to-end flow of information as it moves through a company, identifying where there are significant areas of fallout or inconsistency, or even very high resource allocation, like labor allocation, helps us to identify where there are opportunities to, again, deliver efficiency, consistency, and ultimately a better customer experience by solving on speed and accuracy.

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Karen Roby spoke with Colson Hillier, the CMO at Alorica, provider of Business Process and Customer Satisfaction Outsourcing solutions, about digital transformation projects in the post COVID-19 era. 

Image: Mackenzie Burke