Saddletree Research Blog

Saddletree Research Blog

Thursday, 29 March 2018 08:44

Taxing the Bots?

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This month I received an unsolicited e-mail press release from the University of Surrey in the U.K. The press release was promoting an event at the University in which a professor will discuss artificial intelligence (AI) and the challenges AI presents to current law.  Lawyers at the University of Surrey are proposing the creation of a “robot tax” that taxes the use of robotic labor the same way governments collect taxes from human workers. They argue that without such a law, companies are essentially encouraged to automate, which will reduce tax revenues and reduce the number of people gainfully employed.

In November of 2016, voters in Arizona approved Proposition 206 to boost the state’s minimum wage and require employers to provide paid sick time.  Called the Healthy Working Family Initiative, the proposition calls for the minimum wage to gradually grow from the minimum wage in 2016 to $12 per hour by 2020.  In addition, employers with fewer than 15 employees must provide each employee 24 hours of paid sick time each year.  Employers with 15 or more employees must provide each employee 40 hours of paid sick time each year.

I have to admit I was thrown for a bit of a loop when I got the news that Jim Demarest had passed away on Thursday, June 22nd.  Jim was an analyst relations (AR) guy for Nortel for many years, then for Avaya after they acquired what was left of Nortel in 2009.  It’s not like Jim and I were great friends or anything like that, more like business acquaintances.  But I always considered Jim to be one of the good guys in an industry vendor community that isn’t populated with as many really decent people as you might expect. 

I wasn’t invited.

 

Enghouse Systems is hosting an analyst briefing next month and I wasn’t invited. As it was explained to me, only the top contact center industry analysts were invited to this briefing. I guess after 26 years of serving the industry and with a deep reach into the end-user community through my association with the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) at The University of Southern Mississippi, I’m still on Enghouse’s “B” list of analysts.

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 09:41

Contact Center M&A Activity: About to Heat Up?

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There’s always one tell-tale sign that things are starting to heat up on the mergers and acquisitions front.  I start getting phone calls and e-mails from people at banks and private equity firms looking for free industry information and, usually, information about specific companies in the contact center industry.  The inquiries always come from the same types of people – junior researchers who I’m sure have been told by the senior analysts and bankers to research the market and the companies, and have been given zero budget to do so.  I used to try to courteously tell these junior people that I didn’t work for free any more than they did.  These days I don’t even respond to their inquiries.

I consider myself a bit of an authority on millennials.  I raised two of them so I feel I have the inside track when it comes to understanding the psyche of the millennial generation.  Most of these self-congratulatory assumptions I made about myself and how well I understood millennials were recently confirmed by the results of a study conducted by Aspect in conjunction with Jason Dorsey, who calls himself the Gen Y Guy.


The results of the study were released during the SXSW conference in Austin, TX earlier this month.  As a former resident of Houston and a member of the generation that embraced outlaw, Americana and Texas music, I was familiar with the SXSW event as an alt-country, indie-music sort of affair, which is what it was back in 1987 when SXSW began and I was a carefree, millennial-free graduate student.

My history with legacy Aspect goes back to the earliest days of the company. Jim Carreker, who was the founder of Aspect, had an office directly across the street from Dataquest in San Jose when I worked there from ’89 – ’93. I have followed Aspect as an analyst practically since the company’s inception.

While I have always greatly admired Aspect and the impact it has had on the worldwide contact center industry, the company has also had its share of ups and downs over the years. For example, toward the end of the ‘90s Aspect jumped on the CRM bandwagon and proclaimed itself to be a CRM company. That strategy backfired and Aspect had to go through some gyrations to get back on track.

Monday, 11 November 2013 15:11

Random Thoughts on Veteran’s Day

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In 1987, I was sitting with a career counselor in the student services office at Santa Clara University, where I had just received my MBA. She was reviewing my resume for me as I launched my job search after graduation. In the “Other” section, usually found at the bottom of a printed resume in the prehistoric, pre-Monster.com days, I had added that I was a veteran of the Vietnam era, honorably discharged after six years of service. The counselor advised me in no uncertain terms to remove any reference to my military service and veteran status from my resume.

This morning I took my truck in for service at the local auto repair shop. I was wearing the “Veteran” ball cap that I usually break out on Armed Forces Day and Veteran’s Day and a young man who I had never seen or met before came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for my service.

I logged onto e-mail this morning and found an e-mail from my longtime industry friend and colleague, Ryan Hollenbeck, which simply and succinctly thanked me for my service on this Veteran’s Day. Ryan is a senior vice president at Verint and has incredible demands on his time, but he took the time to send me a personal note this morning.

I just submitted my November column to Contact Center Pipeline magazine.  The topic of the column was putting veterans to work in the contact center industry.  This is the third time I’ve written about this particular matter, the first time being in the March 2011 issue and the next in the July 2012 issue of the magazine.  I’ve also taken the fight to the field, so to speak, in my attempts to get the contact center industry to rally around this problem and find a solution.   The result has been deafening silence.  Companies with huge profits and expansive resources have shown no interest that I can detect in getting involved with giving back.  The singular focus is usually on a relentless pursuit of ever greater profits.   Since this narrative is beginning to sound a lot like a classic Charles Dickens novel it is time to introduce the ray of hope – a light of good in the otherwise dreary story of greed.  A few weeks ago I was introduced to a small contact center cloud company in the San Francisco Bay Area called BrightPattern.  They are taking on the problem of unemployed veterans and are taking on challenges that companies a hundred times their size don’t have the (guts? nerve? fill in the word of your choice here) to take on.   I was introduced to BrightPattern by my longtime friend John Reynolds, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the not-for-profit Veterans2Work (www.veterans2work.com).  What BrightPattern lacks in company size, they make up for in the size of their heart.   Yesterday I saw another hint of industry heart in a news release from Interactive Intelligence soliciting grant applications for the Interactive Intelligence Foundation, a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to use available resources and funding to improve the lives of at risk youth around the world with a primary emphasis in their hometown of Indianapolis.  The Interactive Intelligence Foundation was born when executives at the company saw a need in the community and took the unusual step of doing something about it.  The Foundation idea was proposed to Interactive Intelligence’s CEO, Dr. Don Brown, in 2010 and an industry charity was born.   Today the Interactive Intelligence Foundation supports a diverse group of charities with missions that range from the care of abused and neglected children to a group that is fighting hunger in central Indiana.  The Foundation raises money through a variety of activities, including an annual gala that raised funds exceeding $53,000 for the Foundation this year.  Interactive Intelligence employees volunteer their time to run the foundation and Interactive Intelligence picks up the tab for the Foundation’s overhead and administration.  Aside from the direct costs of the gala, every penny raised for the Foundation goes to the charities it supports.   Last time I checked Interactive Intelligence seems to be doing pretty well.  I imagine stockholders probably don’t complain about the money the company spends on the Foundation instead of putting into dividends, and giving back to the community doesn’t seem to have had a detrimental effect on Interactive Intelligence’s industry standing or performance.   Differentiating factors are everything in today’s competitive contact center industry.  While most companies look toward product differentiation, the companies mentioned in this blog differentiate themselves in a way that will live on long past the heyday of whatever technology solutions they offer.  These companies distinguish themselves in a way that isn’t measured in quarterly profits and year-over-year financial performance.  These are companies with heart and in the long run, that’s what will really matter.

During a recent phone conversation with Kevin Hegebarth, who is the VP of marketing at HireIQ, Inc., he brought to my attention a contact center story that would be hard to believe if it wasn’t so well documented and there wasn’t a government agency behind it.  The story involves the recent establishment of a contact center in Contra Costa County, California.  It is one of three contact centers to be established in the state of California for the purpose of fielding Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, calls beginning October 1st.

In July the county advertised the availability of 152 new, full-time Obamacare contact center agent jobs.  They received 7,457 applications.  1,947 of the applicants passed the civil service exam and moved on to the next phase.  600 applicants went through the interview process before the final 152 agents were hired.  Some of the successful applicants were people emerging from a long period of unemployment, some were people coming from small home-based businesses that they started to try to weather the recession and many were people who left other full-time positions in the hope of finding greater stability in a county government contact center job.