ITExpo Miami - Key Takeaways

I've been to many ITExpos over the years, and while there's a sameness to many elements, there's always something new. This year, for me, the newness was seeing Martin Geddes speak at the SmartVoice track on Tuesday. He's long been one of my favorite leading lights for where voice is going, and it was great to see him in person. It's all about "Hypervoice" with Martin, and while I still don't totally get it, I absolutely get the future he's trying to envision for us.

Basically, the idea is that many elements that could make voice cool exist today, but they just haven't been pulled together in a neat and tidy way. With Hypervoice, the idea is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so when you combine things like voice recording, biometrics, on-the-fly conferencing, etc. into a unified package, it's a pretty strong value proposition.

The big challenge is that you'll never get there if you think of VoIP as telephony - and that's something I've been writing about pretty extensively lately. The picture comes into focus when you first see VoIP as data, and from there, you see it as information instead of voice. There's an awful lot of data locked up in a VoIP session, and voice is just one of many ways to slice and dice what's possible. This takes us a bit into the world of Big Data, but that shouldn't scare you - too much.

In short, telephony doesn't have a future as a commodity, hence the rallying cry from the session - "voice is dead, long live voice as data". I'm kind of on board with that - I think telephony is dead, but once reinvented, voice has a great future, and Martin is a top guy to follow for what that future holds.

Well, this just takes me to the first two hours of the show, so I'd better move on.

What else to say? Based on what kept me busy, I moderated two sessions on the contact center, and despite all the great technology around us, it's astounding to hear how hard it is to provide great customer service. There are a lot of reasons for this, and interestingly, I'm of the opinion that the technology isn't one of them. The bigger culprit, at least from what I'm seeing is the lack of a customer-centric culture. When you look at what great companies do in terms of customer service, you don't hear them talking about their technology. You hear them talking about a value system that runs through their organization, where everyone in essence is a customer service representative where nobody is afraid to deal head-on with customer issues to make them happy.

As such, my takeaway here is to not get too distracted by all the great contact center technology on offer at the show. These vendors know what they're doing and their solutions are only as effective as the company's commitment to customer satisfaction. When businesses get too caught up in the process of customer service rather than the outcomes, things get impersonal pretty quickly, and at that point, all the Big Data in the world isn't going to be of much help.

Otherwise, it was great to see the TMC brain trust giving presentations, which we saw during the always-informative SIP Trunking workshop run by Ingate Systems. We heard from Rich Tehrani, Erik Linask and Peter Bernstein, with the collective message being that SIP is gaining traction for good reason. Our world is increasingly a multimedia one, and it's easy to forget that SIP was designed for this purpose - it's not just for voice. Of course, this ties into WebRTC, another hot topic at the show. It's not clear yet how the channel will make money there, but this workshop is very much about how they can make money with SIP trunking and all the UC-related applications connected to it.

Got one more thing to touch on before this post runs too long - Big Data. I've got a lot of skepticism on this topic, but yesterday's CIO Roundtable provided some glimmers of hope. TMC did a great job bringing together three CIOs to share their Big Data journeys and lessons learned with us. Clearly, there's no magic formula, as every business will come at this differently. What struck me was the customer-centric nature of these businesses, and that simply reinforced what I was saying earlier about contact centers.

A key idea for me was the observation that Big Data only becomes relevant when businesses understand the value of the data they already have about their customers.You might assume this was always the case, but it's easy to dismiss everyday information about your customers as being noise if you take them for granted. Instead, when you realize that every touchpoint with customers can either create or destroy value around your relationship with them, these become valuable "moments of truth" where it's better to be right than wrong.

When you've reached that point of enlightenment, it becomes much easier to develop a strategy around using data to understand the customer in more meaningful ways. We heard the panelists talk about leveraging Big Data to anticipate - or even predict customer behavior - and by doing so, you can be proactive with your customers instead of reactive, jumping whenever they have problems. A key payoff here is the idea that you can add more value to your offerings, especially by making them more personalized. Without Big Data, you could still do this, but you'd be guessing, so that's not a good long-term plan.

Putting a number on all this is still pretty hard to do, but one of the panelists summed it up best - "the ROI for Big Data is a better customer experience". This sounds simple, but if you're truly customer-centric, this is exactly what you're looking for. When you can deliver that to management, the associated metrics that they really want to see won't be so hard to extrapolate. Big Data is very much a brave new world, but these speakers showed us there is a way forward.