2009 Hot Topics

Here we go…my maiden blog post. Okay, so far it doesn’t seem so hard. Just think of something and start typing. Well, as I’ve been out reading in the blogosphere I’ve seen a lot of 2009 predictions for our industry. Most of them predict some gloom and doom about the economy and then look deep into a crystal ball and try in true fortune teller style to predict what is going to happen. I get a kick out of those posts for one reason – I never see the predictors going back and cover how accurate they were with their predictions from last year. Is it because they were way off base and don’t want to admit it? Is it because they are using the same list they used twelve months ago and don’t want to get busted for it? Or is it simply that they can’t find the list of predictions from a year ago? Whatever the reason, I’m not going to fall into that trap. I’ll take the more cowardly route. So at the end of each year, in preparation for the next year, as a group we pepper industry analysts (Gartner, Yankee, Frost & Sullivan, Datamonitor, IDC, etc.) in an attempt to determine what will be the "hot topics" for the upcoming year (okay, this is starting to sound like a prediction list). We do this to try and see what things we should focus on – trying to stay aligned with the market. This isn’t just an "Interactive Intelligence" list. Instead, we think it’s based on some good investigative work on our part (no crystal balls were used). Here’s the list:

  1. Hard ROI. This seems to be at the top of everyone’s mind. Gartner’s Drew Krauss told us that for some companies the ROI needs to be as strong as buying a fire extinguisher to put out the fire that is already burning in the office. The 2007/early 2008 days of "sure we’ll give it a try," seem to be gone. Deliver a good, strong ROI or the wallet stays shut.
  2. Multimedia in the contact center. Interestingly, we found multiple analyst firms who were planning on some additional quantitative studies on the penetration rates of multimedia in the contact center. This might be because 2005 was the latest research we could find published by anyone. We saw our own multichannel customer deployments increase by 20%+ in the last year, so I’d agree that this is one that could be hot. SMS and webchat are still new in contact centers, but email in the contact center as a way for customers to communicate with you makes too much sense to not do.
  3. Remote agents. The ROI behind a good remote agent strategy can be really strong. Companies are finding it is also a way to reduce turnover and better service customers.
  4. Software-as-a-Service. Or as we call it, more appropriately, Communications-as-a-Service. With the constraints being placed on capital expenditures, this "pay as you go" model is getting a lot of traction and attention. IP telephony is the thing that makes this much more attractive than the old Centrex model. This has applicability for contact center, messaging, enterprise telephony and other software applications used as part of the communications infrastructure.
  5. Voice of the customer. This one is really interesting. When buyers become fewer in numbers, companies focus on their installed base and how to keep them satisfied and keep them buying more. One challenge is how do you gather input and feedback from your customers. What do they like about you? What do they dislike about you? How would they rate their experiences in dealing with you? Using good technology to capture this "voice of the customer," instead of guessing the answers looks to be a hot area.
  6. Mobile communication applications. Okay, this is one that we heard a lot about from analysts, but I’m not convinced it will really be that hot in 2009. There is certainly a lot of sizzle to these applications. They are cool! However, when money is tight, I refer back to the first item on this list – hard ROI. Most mobility applications are about "increased productivity." That is soft ROI and IMO it won’t make the spending cut in 2009.
  7. Video conferencing. This one is already on fire and seems to be ready to continue in ’09.
  8. Web conferencing and collaboration. Showed good traction in 2008, watch it continue in 2009.
  9. Presence. This is the basis for so much of what unified communications is all about. There have been announcements about federated presence, or synchronized presence between vendors. That will only elevate this one as an important item.
  10. Unified communications. This one will continue to get a ton of press, but in its early, often misunderstood phase, 2009 still won’t show a lot of true UC deployments. Deployments of UC parts, yes. But not full-blown, include it all, UC.
  11. Business process automation. This one is the sleeper. Not a lot of analysts brought this one up, but we think that is in part because they don’t quite get the huge value that it delivers. We are seeing more and more UC analysts start to talk about UC in the context of integration with business processes. That said, for us it goes way beyond integration or "communication enabling" of business processes. Done right, communications-based process automation has an ROI that is amazing and the ramifications to businesses and the industry are huge. Stay tuned on this one, you’ll see a lot of blogging from us on the subject.

Well that is the list of hot topics, at least as we see them. What did we (and I mean the collective we) miss? And a promise I’ll make… I’ll be sure to revisit the realities of these in January 2010.

Joe Staples – blogmaster (I always wanted a cool title like this one, had to use it at least once)