I was reading the latest issue of CrossTalk, a publication for NEC Associates, and ran across this great article from Garry Laxdal, who is the president of NECSI (a leadership council of NEC Associates). I hope you have a great time reading.
Remember the press tour? Every so often, vendor execs, with their PR reps in tow (or vice versa) would sojourn across the country, visiting the offices of trade publications and analyst companies, sometimes with a product announcement, but frequently just to press the flesh and update us folks on what their companies were doing and thinking.
The press tour is a luxury for vendors in this economic climate, and probably seems increasingly anachronistic anyway at a time when more and more interactions take place over the Web every day.
Still, would it kill you to visit once in awhile? You never come see us anymore.
That’s why it was nice to see Jeff Kane, president of NEC Unified, show up in our conference room, together with Kris Kozamchak, NEC’s excellent director of corporate communications. Jeff always comes across as a pretty straight shooter, so it’s always useful just to sit around talking with him for an hour. When we did that recently (before, I should point out, the most recent news on a potential Nortel breakup), here’s some of what Jeff had to say:
* On the economy: NEC Unified’s edge in this time of turmoil is its lighter exposure to verticals like banking, in favor of strength in health care, which is a better place to be right now, relatively speaking, according to Jeff Kane. NEC also has strong positions in state governments and in federal departments including Veterans Affairs and the Department of Agriculture.
Being part of a Japanese company also lends some perspective, Jeff said. His Japanese counterparts aren’t as fazed by the prospect of a bad year or two: “They say, ‘Our last bad year was the ’90s.'” As in, the whole decade.
He does say, however, that SMB spending is all but dead for now–“On the small business side, there’s no money.”
* On Unified Communications: Jeff Kane said that 30% of NEC’s systems go out with some Unified Communications applications enabled. SMBs’ rates of UC implementation had been growing at 125% per year before the crash. More importantly, he said, “Customers are starting to ask really good questions” about UC. The 3 questions he said every customer should ask their vendor about UC are:
1. How long will this technology last?
2. What do I have to do to actually manage the technology?
3. What can I do with it?
I think that’s a really interesting order to put things in, and probably right–no matter what a vendor is promising, you as a customer need to know the most basic thing about the technology: What does it cost me? And you don’t really know what it costs you until you know how long it will last.
And there’s nothing wrong with trying to extend this lifespan rather than shorten it, according to Jeff Kane. “Customers continue to get as much as they can out of what they’ve purchased,” he said, approvingly.
Then, putting management second jibes with the suggestion we had in this recent blog by Gary Audin. Once again, this really goes to the question of what the technology costs you.
The final point, What can I do with it? is of course critical, and I like the way Jeff poses the question: Not, What does the technology do? but What can I do with it? Jeff Kane described this as “letting the business drive the technology,” and it relates directly to how he sees NEC Unified’s role in a customer’s UC future. Jeff kept coming back to the idea that service and support, adding capability and managing the pace of change are critical to implementing UC in a way that actually delivers on the promise.
So we appreciate Jeff and Kris dropping by. And the rest of you: The door’s always open.
JetBlue’s spectacular “Digital Signage Ring” is comprised of 43 40-inch NEC LCD monitors installed in the shape of a giant oval suspended from the ceiling. This deployment creates great visual appeal for the new Terminal 5 at JFK and enhances the travel experience for JetBlue customers. JetBlue selected the NEC MultiSync® LCD4020 model based on reliability, video-wall capabilities and its thin bezel, which creates a more seamless picture. Read the entire article at necdisplay.com.
contributed by Eyal Inbar
Voice Portals and IVR: This is one of the more exciting voice solutions; recently we signed at NEC a strategic partnership with the leading vendor in hosted voice portals, Tellme, a subsidiary of Microsoft Corp.
Think about it as a “voice enables your website” solution. You can take the same database and logic you’ve already built and invested in for your website and provide another user interface to it, a phone. Why is it so important? For one, it will open your market to a completely new audience and will give your customers the opportunity to get the same or better experience they only got through your website, while driving in their cars or calling from their phone at home, secondly it will allow you to communicate your brand and connect with your customers in a deeper level, using the voice and the interaction in a way that will reflect your company’s brand and commitment to those customers.
To demonstrate that, think about this: If you are in the pizzeria business, and have 100 pizza stores across the country, your customers can probably go today to your website and order a pizza. The order will go from a centralized website to your ERP system and the information will be sent to the local store that is closest to the customer’s location.
What happens when the customer calls to the local store instead of going to the website? One of the more likely scenario would be you end up calling the local store getting the pleasure to converse with an 18 years old employee that started working in the store 3 months ago and knows nothing about me as a customer and sometime will poorly represent his company.
With voice portal, the experience can be very different! In this case when I call, I will interact with the centralized system that will immediately recognize me as a loyal customer, the voice will sound exactly like the one on the commercial I was just listening to on the radio on my way home and my experience will be as smooth as the experience you’ve invested so much to optimize on your web site.
The system will know my previous orders and preferences and will be able to offer me my favorite pizza and will encourage me to take advantage of the new promotion that was just introduced the same day.
Of course everyone wins. Implementation of the new promotion took place at the same time the website was updated, and the commercial was ready for the radio; customer experience was great and was repeatable in all the 100 stores. You, as the owner, didn’t have to count on an 18 years old employee to represent your company in the way you want it to be.
Closing thoughts… looking ahead -A personal perspective
The next few years will be a major turning point when it comes to the adoption and implementation of speech and voice technologies. We may see a new generation of people that once again, feels more comfortable speaking than typing.
I believe the phone as we know it today will be very different, it may not look the same, and we will use it for more than just communicating with people, but one thing is certain, it won’t go away! In fact, I believe it will be way more important than it is today.
Imagine this scenario: (let’s call it an “executive assistance for everyone”)
You are stating your day in the office clicking on a phone to start a conversation, the voice on the other side recognizes you and offer its help: “Good morning John, how can I help you?”
“Connect me with Victor” you say, and the computer will be able to recognize that Victor is available to take your call from his vacation home in Seattle (who knew that Victor has a vacation home??) By the end of the call, you’ll be asked again “How can I help you?” This time you ask to schedule a meeting with several people from your organization and a customer. The computer on the other side looks into people’s calendars finds the time and resources available for the meeting and sends them a meeting invite with your message.
Throughout the day, you might be visiting customers while able to use your “New executive assistant” to read you your emails, pull out information about your customers from your CRM system and send you sales reports to your phone, all without typing even once, taking in consideration your specific restrictions to accessing your organization’s information. Try giving your personal phone to someone else and he will get blocked not able to use a highly personal and secure system recognizing your voice and identity.
When you ask the system to book a flight, it searches the best price and calls American airlines. American Airline’s system recognized you immediately and offers you to use your millage for an upgrade to first class.
So far you had a successful day and you are in your way home, from a completely different phone, the system again recognizes you and offer its help, now you will ask it to recommend a restaurant and make a reservation or to buy tickets to a movie. Done! You are all set.
While the above might sound unrealistic at this point, it is important to know that everything mentioned here is available and works today.
The integration between the different pieces might not be as high as it should be but with standard protocols and perhaps more importantly with hosted speech applications, I strongly believe that in just few years, we will all use this kind of “executive assistance” and other voice enabled solutions throughout our personal and business lives.
Voice application open a completely new era in making technology “Human Friendly” Organizations that are taking advantage of it, will defiantly differentiate themselves from their competitors in a much more meaningful way, not only using this technology allowing them to save operational expenses, but perhaps more importantly it will enable deeper connection with their customers and prospects in the most efficient way.
Read the entire article by Robert Smithers and Martin Milner, Network World Lab Alliance, Network World.
Their conclusion states that, “In the UC system tested, we can definitely see NEC’s strength in voice communications (showed in testing by its strong performance and survivability) coming together with the necessary components to bring UC to the masses. The mobility client was superior to that of comparable products we’ve tested. With its well laid out and intuitive interface the NEC MC530 Mobility Client offers seamless connectivity, propagation of presence, is easy to use and offers virtually all the communications features to the mobile worker that are available from within the office.”