Hard Metrics: Analytics for Call Center

By Subraya Mallya - July 2009 | Topics - SaaS

Automation of business operations drove the adoption of technology by companies to gain efficiencies and competitive advantage in the marketplace. With the operational areas automated, it led to the next imperative for companies i.e, leverage the large amounts of data being captured, stored, organized in various disparate business systems and deliver it to the right personnel at the right time in the right format. The goal was to measure, monitor and gain insights into business operations and make business decisions based on those insights. Business Intelligence Systems  surfaced with the goal of addressing these challenges. A quick look at the definition of Business Intelligence in Wikipedia will yield the following description –

Business intelligence (BI) refers to skills, technologies, applications and practices used to help a business acquire a better understanding of its commercial context.

In researching SaaS solutions for Business Intelligence, PrudentCloud had a chance to meet and talk with Rob Winner, Co-Founder and President of HardMetrics and talk about his company, their offering and how they help their customers. Here is an excerpt.

SM: Rob, Let us start with a little bit of history on the company. when was it founded, a little bit on the journey so far.

RW: HardMetrics was founded in 2003 and headquarters in the Greater Philadelphia area. The founders and the management team have been focused on the commercial software related to Performance Management Software and Measurement Solutions business for over 25 years and specifically in the Call Center business since 1998.  Our key goal has been to provide a solution that allows organizations to monitor, measure, score and analyze all facets of the business i.e, people, places and things.

Our customer base are primarily in the North America region but we do have companies that have global business footprint.

SM: Call Center focused businesses. Tell us a little bit more on why this focus and what specifically in Call Center do you focus on?

RW: We focus on the processes that involve customer interactions such as Sales, Service and Operations. As we all know, the need for managing the customer interactions and dialog in all aspects of business is a critical need. It is also a major contributor to the business performance across Sales, Service and Operations Support. We provide solutions to all businesses that utilize call centers as well as other forms of multi-channel communications (email, web, chat, call center, direct marketing etc). We specialize in complex, diversified businesses with multiple locations, multiple LOBs, products, geographies.

SM: There are lot of Business Intelligence solutions – IBM Cognos, Oracle Hyperion, MicroStrategy. Why would a customer choose HardMetrics?

RW: We deliver solutions that can be used both inside the Call Center for operational efficiency optimization and outside the Call Center to combine with data from other platforms for business optimization. Our goal has always been to deliver Business Analytics to end users without requiring an elaborate IT effort. In our view, the customer experience in buying a BI technology has been like building a house. They buy the technology and go through a protracted costly implementation project with no near term ROI. Our customers have been able to implement our purpose-built solution in a matter of weeks. In fact, we are rated by Gartner as a Best of Breed in the Contact Center Performance Management (CCPM) and Marketing Performance Measurement (MPM).

Note: According to Gartner Research, CCPM solutions are most often used by contact center management to automate the supervision and coaching of an agent and to improve the overall performance of the organization.In their January 2008 report they say – “These solutions integrate an organization’s established contact center technologies, CRM systems, and other data sources to provide a transparent picture of performance through role-specific dashboards and reports, and they drive actions through embedded alerting and workflow capabilities.”

SM: Who would be the typical audience of your solution in companies?

RW: As I mentioned earlier, our solution focused on organizations supporting Sales, Service and Operations Support to measure performance of business processes. We service two facets of the company. Our technology is deployed primarily to business analysts, business stakeholders and business end users. That said, we find that organizations deploy our technology across the entire spectrum of the company from the furthest front-lines starting with the call center agents to field service representatives or it could be a remote sales person or a branch office. In other words from front-line transactional concept of the business all the way to the executive branch of the business including all levels of management in between.

SM: Can you share some representative organizations that use your technology in this way?

RW: We are very proud of our customer base. Some of the large substantive blue chip customers include Sallie Mae, AAA, Time Warner Cable, Motorola, Insight Communications, Telerex Marketing and  a number of other marketing and telemarketing outsourcing companies. These companies are structurally diverse and fraught with challenges inside their organizations to get a grip on what is actually going on in the organization versus what needs to happen from a business performance perspective.

SM: Going back to your typical user base in organization can you elaborate on how and why the usage across call center analysts to business users.

RW: Sure. The analysts and end user community is typically the most attracted to this solution. As you know, those are the areas of the organizations, that have the greatest impact potential on the business, in terms of identifying what is going on in the business, comparing it with the goals and performance measures of the organization.  They also determine the root cause of bad performance and identifying the remedial measures. The key reasons why our customers find it advantageous to scale the use of software are

  1. Built-in flexibility of the software itself. The software has been architected to scale. In fact, at Sallie Mae, they have gone beyond the executive stakeholders and are now deploying it to the desktops of 3000 of their 5000 call center agents. They think providing the visibility is the key and it provides the capability for users to identify the good and bad things. It is our belief that visibility promotes improved performance and most importantly the opportunity for behavioral change. Visibility, in itself, is not a new concept, but the ability to enable organizations to provide it at necessary levels at scale is the key. Our key focus has all along been to eliminate technology as the barrier for adoption.
  2. Comprehensive and Accessible: One of the key challenges for any company implementing a analytics solution is to define the solution specification. In most cases you are talking about IT groups, primarily comprised of developers and not business aware resources trying to define specifications. They rely heavily on someone from business doing the discovery and defining the requirements or the blue print for the solution.  A business makes a best effort to provide the blue print of the requirement at any given point in time. But by the time the solution is delivered, it will, invariably, be out of date as the requirements blue print would have evolved during the same time. So it is paramount that we define the greater universe of data needed and give the business community the access to it to get a closer look at what is going on and make timely course corrections. Data availability and accessibility in a time effective manner is the key. One of the common things our customers attest to is that they find things about their business that they did not know existed and did not know how to get them.

SM: I completely agree. Having the information at the fingertips of the larger user community fosters a behavior change and critical thinking. Let us talk a little bit about the product architecture and choices for customers. Is the solution available in both on-premise and SaaS?

RW: Most of the solutions out there have the same classical look and feel. An OLAP solution or a Data Warehouse. That in itself is not a bad choice but if you are in a constantly changing, need-to-know-now kind of environment, those solutions have proven historically that they are inflexible to meet the immediate demands. You need a IT driven, protracted project to meet each new demand. So keeping that in mind our approach has been a little different. You could argue that there are many out of the box tools ranging from 5K-10k and host of sophisticated BI tools. With the help of developers to develop and maintain one can get to a solution. We have architected our solution to meet all those needs out of the box. Our architecture includes three main layers

  • Robust Database environment – that contains the analytical model we ship to each customer. The uniqueness of this analytical model is its ability to consume customer produced data without requiring specific modeling to a business requirement or require a cracking open by DBAs. The model is horizontally scalable across any kind of data. The product is easy to install (can be done in minutes) and easy of load data. You can be done installation, configuration, data loaded and ready for end user use in a matter of hours. The key is to consume raw and native data as close to its original form and put it in a storage state for near real time and historical analysis. Then be able to manipulate, massage and cleanse data, if necessary.You cannot analyze data from where it is produced and do not want to manipulate data on the fly and change the original signature footprint of the data.
  • A Middleware layer in front of the database to facilitate the simplified integrations and relieve the customer of the need to worry about any data pre-processing or formatting requirements. It takes the data from the source in its original format and take it through the transport and enable the customer to perform any actions on it as necessary through an administrator user interface such mapping, simple transformations to cater to the end users, calculations etc. It is not a commercial ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) product but is a purpose built toolset to cater to the needs of data acquisition, transport and storage needs of this architecture. This really positions us as the leader in the data acquisition and storage marketplace with simplified integration, removing all the technical hurdles needed and eliminating the need for any custom development. In reality, the administrator could be a IT resource or possibly a power user from business community.
  • Web Application: A zero client footprint, web-based, enterprise caliber application available to be used from anywhere, anytime. In fact, we have a couple of customers porting the application output to platforms they have standardized on such as the Apple iPhones. The application itself allows companies to view various Dashboards, Scorecards and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by combining financial data and call center data.

Our goal has been to constantly put customer in control of what they need to do and how they need to accomplish that.

SM: Talking about the hybrid model (supporting both SaaS and On-premise) how do you tackle the overheads, challenges around making your product compatible/certified with all the standard hardware configurations.

RW: Here is our approach towards that. Our application is designed using Java and in doing so we take the platform out of the equation. Those days of corporations being reluctant to go with a platform not part of their standardized technology(J2EE/.NET) is long gone. Companies are more accepting of the technologies.

In terms of hardware, we publish the minimum required specifications of hardware configurations to support our software. From a platform perspective we support Windows, Linux and Unix and in more ways we are platform agnostic.

The main thing for customer to decide in terms of licensing besides HardMetrics is to decide which database they would like to base the analytical solution on. We support both ends of price-performance spectrum from Oracle to Microsoft SQL Server. We also have a database agnostic architecture in that the solution does not utilize anything vendor specific feature and hence even if a customer chooses IBM or MySQL as their database of choice – we can easily support it.

The application server engine etc. are all bundled into our application. We  have some Open Source components like Tomcat and few other solutions packaged into our application. If the customer has some standard portal like Sharepoint we will need some configurations at the time of implementation.

The other component we have is the security infrastructure. In cases where customers do not have their own corporate identity management, provisioning infrastructure, our in-built role based security model provides a way to provision and manage the access to the application by the end users. The security model encompasses the role-functions and also the data security in terms of what they can see and how. In cases, where the customer already has corporate security infrastructure like Active Directory, Single Sign-on, we integrate and delegate the jurisdiction to the corporate security infrastructure.

Additionally, the architecture is a n-tier architecture and allows for distribution of components across different nodes as deemed appropriate by the customer.

In a way, consciously we have maintained a standards based application across all tiers so customers get the flexibility of choosing the platform of their choice.

SM: Data Security. How does that work in the SaaS model? Do you as part of data acquisition also bring in the data security already in place in the host application in terms of who can see what at a granular transaction level on a drill-down?

RW: Yes we do support that. It is a built-in feature of the product. We inherit the security access to data at multiple levels of access chain and can be controlled based on source designation, actual or derived metric. The data access can be controlled at element level. In fact, we do support acquisition of the Org Chart models from HR and Workforce systems too.

And this works in the SaaS model as well. The tenants in a SaaS model can have their corporate identity management solutions integrated and manage their security and access control.

SM: When you talk about SaaS, with all the flexibility you are affording to the customers – are you talking about a truly multi-tenant configuration for customers where each customer becomes a tenant and shares the instance with others or is it a shared-code, db-per-tenant model?

RW: We are a truly multi-tenant architecture. One of the key things customers ask as part of their due diligence is “Am I going to have a new instance or my own environment?. Depending on the size and nature of the business of the customer we can run multiple instances of the same software partitions. So for customers that are not in financially oriented or regulated industries we can run multiple customers in the same instance. But in reality, for large customers like Motorola, Sallie Mae or AAA, prefer the multi-tenancy with a caveat that they would use it inside their own instance. It is specially useful for customers who have hierarchical businesses. For example in service based companies like the call center outsourcing companies, they would compare and contrast performance measures across customers. In some cases, the services based customers offer additional reporting packages on top of our application as part of their offering.

SM: What is your pricing model? How is it different across SaaS and on-premise models?

RW: We offer our product in both SaaS and on-premise model. In fact, a vast majority of our customer base use the hosted on-demand model. Given the browser based application, we crack the end-user licensing problem that customers don’t like.

Everything we do is based on data. So is our pricing – we have boundaries around pricing based on data. We don’t charge based on the number of users. We instead charge customers based on the number of data sources. An example would be, in a customer contact environment, a dialer would be a data source. Similarly IVR, ACD, Supported back office systems like time management, workforce management, scheduling. In some large implementation we have number of data sources anywhere from 14 to 16. If you take into account all the customer interaction activities happening across the Sales, Service, Marketing, Support, Call Centers, Web based interactions, Page search information, Google Adwords campaign data you get a good idea of all the data sources/platforms that feed into the HardMetrics analytics platform.

We have received an overwhelming appreciation of the simplicity of the pricing model. They feel that this pricing model provides good value for both us (the vendor) and them and gets them out of the chaos of managing end-user based licensing based on the expand-contract nature of the workforce.

It is the same in SaaS model. Pricing is still determined by a data centric approach.

In a on-premise model, the pricing is made up of three components

  1. a license fee
  2. a annual maintenance fee, in return for a 24 hour live support, software updates and
  3. a professional services rider. This I think is a key differentiation for us. A typical BI implementation is fraught with undelivered promises and cost overruns. Software always has to tweaked, custom implemented at each customer environment. In our case, we have never had to customize our application. All the customizations have been limited to the configurations done through the administrator console. Our professional services rider is very small and driven by data source and typically a all-inclusive fixed fee in the range of  $25K fixed or $50k fixed for a large implementation. The fee covers installation assistance, implementation assistance, first production implementation, formal staff training for administrators and end-users,

SM: I completely agree with the challenges of a user-based licensing model. Especially given the world of acquisition, divestitures, layoffs, outsourcing there is a perennial churn in the workforce in every company.

RW: One of the benefits we are reaping with that is we have a tremendous list of customer references and some of the things we are proud of is when customers say “This is a great organization to work with” and “Software actually works as advertised”.

SM: Rob, I would like to thank you for your taking time and talking to us about your company, product and views on the world of BI. I would like to wish you the very best with your company.

Company Profile

Name: hardmetrics_logo
Product On-Demand Analytics for Call Center based businesses
Key Customers Sallie Mae, AAA, Motorola, Time Warner Cable
Critical Problem Solved
  • Provide ability to get a single view to all the call center, customer interaction related data
  • Quick implementation of analytics with out of the box data acquisition capabilities with no IT involvement
  • Ability to combine financial and call center data to review business performance metrics

Also read – 9 ways HardMetrics can help you

Case Studies

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