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Call center market consolidation tricky for buyers

As quality monitoring and workforce management vendors come together under the workforce optimization umbrella, a Gartner analyst helps buyers sort through the choices.

There's little doubt that vendors of contact center technology see the value and promise of workforce optimization (WFO), as the market continues to undergo consolidation.

Yet customer demand and implementations have not yet materialized on a grand scale, according to Jim Davies, principal analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. The WFO market is essentially a combination of contact center performance management, quality management, workforce management and e-learning that allows businesses to optimize the performance of employees, technology and the underlying business processes.

"Workforce management is a very mature market with forecast and scheduling tools. It's decades old," Davies said. "It's the same for quality monitoring -- that's also a very mature market with more than 60% of contact centers adopting the technology. Workforce optimization is bringing those together with other components. Less than 2% of businesses have that unified approach." @24475

Vendors plan to be ready when customers do take the unified approach and are buying one another left and right. Quality monitoring specialist Witness acquired Blue Pumpkin in early 2005, call recording specialist NICE acquired IEX and Performix in April for their workforce management and performance management tools respectively, and infrastructure vendor Autonomy bought eTalk and its performance management functionality last year. The consolidation is unlikely to slow down, according to Davies, as suite vendors continue to buy up the best-of-breed operators.

"In 2006, the market has really exploded," he said. "Two years ago, there were probably only two vendors [that had] credible WFO offerings. Now there's six."

In a recent MarketScope report, Davies evaluated the major players in the WFO market.

  • Witness Systems Inc., through its combination with Blue Pumpkin, now offers a single user interface, and data from Witness Systems tools can influence Blue Pumpkin, Davies said. But it remains fundamentally two applications with different code bases.

  • Envision Telephony Inc., with a background in quality monitoring, has taken an unusual approach by building out its own workforce management tools.

  • Aspect Software Inc., which sells both software and contact center infrastructure and has a strong workforce management product, has a broader offering across the contact center but has a ways to go in integrating a small quality monitoring company it bought recently, Davies said.

  • Interactive Intelligence Inc. has written all its own code, but the product is driven by Voice over Internet Protocol and customers can't purchase WFO tools separately. According to Davies, it remains a decent option for companies launching or overhauling a contact center.

  • SGS Inc., developer of the ContactPoint WFO suite, is a smaller company that has recently relocated from South Africa to the United States. Its approach is based around an agent competency model, building out what a company would consider a "super agent" and building those characteristics, habits and approaches into the application, touching everything from recruiting to scheduling to evaluation. It needs to gain traction quickly, however, Davies warned.

  • NICE Systems Ltd., a leading quality monitoring vendor, has taken a slightly different approach from that of Witness, maintaining its IEX and Performix acquisitions separately and allowing customers to buy everything as standalone products as it works to integrate them.

    Organizations need to think of executing against a WFO framework, according to Davies, whether it's via a suite or best-of-breed integration. Given the maturity of the workforce management and quality monitoring markets, most contact centers already have these applications in place and face a difficult choice between replacing existing systems and integrating.

    "Because QM and Workforce management are mature, companies that want to benefit from WFO want to complement them with a consultancy," Davies said. "You're still effectively running half a dozen solutions with five vendors, lots of coding, and maintenance contracts, and you're complicating matters. You'll never achieve the depth of integration from vendors who provide a complete suite."

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