Most people associate SAP with enterprise software: ERP, CRM and more recently with business analytics and business intelligence. The majority also see the company as committed to providing these as on-premises applications and having only begun its presence in cloud computing for business applications. But there’s more to the story, as I recently discovered. With its Business Communications Management (BCM) software SAP has quietly diversified into the contact center market, while at the same time increasing its presence in the cloud.

BCM originated with SAP’s acquisition of Wicom Communications, a Finnish company, in 2007. Wicom developed its product from a customer project and had some success selling it in the Nordic countries. SAP has built on this foundation and is now offering BCM globally. It is a multichannel, VoIP-based communications management application that helps companies control their interactions with customers. It is designed so that calls are kept locally but where they are routed and which are recorded can be controlled either locally using an on-premises application or in the cloud. BCM includes call recording, IVR and unified interaction routing (interactions from multiple channels are routed through a single queue). It has a built-in directory of valid users that works in conjunction with presence capabilities so that one user (agent) can identify others who are available on the network, either to collaborate on the resolution of an interaction or for one user to transfer the interaction to another. The directory lists users’ skills to help one pick out someone who has the right skills to handle a particular customer interaction.

All of BCM’s capabilities are fully integrated with each other, and there is a single point of administration. This close coupling makes it possible to centralize reporting and analysis and to combine information from multiple sources to provide a broader base of information for reports and analysis. Integration also extends to other applications, particularly others from SAP such as SAP CRM, ERP, ByDesign, BOBJ and BI for more extensive reporting. These integrate at the lowest level, thus providing more out-of-the-box interoperability than normally is possible between third-party applications. Other non-SAP applications can be integrated using Web services.

The products are available from SAP on-premises and in the cloud from its partners. SAP also provides consulting services to help customers get up and running. In summary the set of products provides tightly integrated capabilities with VoIP-based smart PBX functionality, core capabilities of unified communications (presence and collaboration), multichannel routing, and reporting and analysis; alongside tight integration with CRM. This does not make a fully functional contact center, but the communications management supports companies as they try to improve the way they handle customer interactions.

SAP positions BCM as enabling “communications-enabled business processes.” I have two issues with this concept. In my experience most call centers don’t think about “process” but rather a set of activities such as handling incoming calls (and other interactions) that have to be delivered to the most qualified person and enabling that person to get on and resolve the call; for many people technology just gets in the way.  Second, in my experience applications are not very friendly to call-handling; callers  don’t seem to structure their conversations in the logical way that applications work and don’t respect what screens have to accessed and what data has to be entered in what sequence; that is, the applications don’t flow the same way as conversations flow. So I’m not sure about communication-enabled processes, but from what I have seen and heard BCM does enable smart interaction management and therefore should help companies improve the way they interact with customers which is something I have extensively researched into customer interaction technology. SAP is clearly deepening its focus with CRM as my colleague expressed recently.

Are you ready for communications-enabled processes or customer interaction activities and technologies? If so, I’d love to know what you are doing and what technology you use to support your efforts.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director