Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Next Quantum Leap in Device Convenience

I was asked the other day to describe the next generation of technology and how it would change our daily routines.  I suspect the question came up after having viewed an interview with Intel’s “futurist” and their thoughts about technology.  

When I look at my daily routine, I start with the common thread.  “What do all my activities have in common and what makes each unique?”  

From what I can tell, the only things that are common among all my activities are my physical body and my communication skills.  Thus, a device or service needs to always be available to enhance both of these regardless of what I am doing.  

So let’s take a look at the other things that this new generation of technology needs to do to meet my ever-changing activity list.

I wake up in the morning.  My device knows my preference for my desired wake-up time and then adjusts for early appointments or flights.  Rules I set handle the 80% and I manually adjust the settings for the other 20%.  As soon as I turn off the alarm, my device notifies me if I have any e-mails that have arrived overnight from designated senders I consider important.  When my device knows I am sleeping, it mutes the ringer except for calls or messages from people I have tagged as vital.  

I am always asked if I want to hear the messages and I can “snooze” the offer until a later time, cancel the offer or accept the offer.  

I tell my device to create my morning setup:  The setup consists of which lights I want on, what TV or radio channel I want to hear, the HVAC temp I want and if I want the blinds opened.  Everything is WiFi enabled so this is not a challenge.  I get ready to head out the door and I tell my device to switch to “work” mode and things shut off and the thermostat changes.

NFC in my device followed by a voice recognition match unlock my car.  I place my device in the dashboard cradle and immediately my seating preferences, mirror settings, radio settings and temp controls are all set to my preferences as stored on my device.  Both telephony and data services while driving are based on extending the functions of my device once connected.  Antenna boosters help avoid dropped calls and lost data.  GPS is device based with the in-dash head unit providing the viewing screen.  In fact, I can access and control all the functions of my device from the head unit.  AM/FM will be car radio supplied but downloaded music is played from my device through the amplifiers in my car’s audio system.  

Voice recognition is used to allow me to be notified of important incoming communications as well as the ability to engage in outgoing communication activities.  

As I arrive at work, NFC allows me clear all building security systems and reach my office.  Once at my desk, I “dock” my device and it quickly synchronizes designated data files with the company storage systems.  Phone preferences and all messaging preferences are in place on my device and imposed on my desktop equipment via the “dock”.  

Attending a meeting, I “undock” my device from my desk and dock it with my tablet.  Once again, the device becomes an extension if not the “CPU” of the device to which it is docked.  

If I go out for a lunch meeting or to visit a client, my device will offer me GPS maps if it knows I am going to a location I have not been to before.  As it has my detailed calendar, I can call the party I am meeting or confirm the reservation through a voice request.

During any appointment, the device changes notification modes reflecting my knowledge of manners and etiquette.  If I travel near a location associated with an item on my ToDo list, I am asked if I want to stop to handle the task.  GPS instructions are offered if I decide to tackle the task list item.  

At the end of the day, I return home and reverse many of the steps.  As my home is filled with “docks” in a variety of types and locations, I can move my device as I move about the house.  Voice commands are always available to adjust the entertainment system and environmental systems.

All of what I have described can be done today but it isn’t being done for a variety of reasons.  Cost is probably the largest obstacle.  There is such a wide variety of devices in one’s home that can be automated but the cost of the automation is extreme.  WiFi thermostats are readily available.  WiFi to IRD controls are available for almost every entertainment device so that part is covered.  Blinds are easy.  Even the “docks” are available today.  It’s the manufacturing scale that will not allow the prices to come down to a highly consumable level.

Automotive connectivity is a bit of a tough nut.  Detroit likes the revenue it generates from selling added electronics.  I am not sure what it will take to establish a standard for “automotive personalization” that would allow me to personalize a rental car as easily as my personal car but that is what needs to happen.  I can easily see that each car manufacturer would design their own software apps thus a traveler would need to carry around the application for each car manufacturer and possible model in order to have a clean experience.

The rest of the model comes down having enough horsepower in the device that it can perform the speech and logic functions I have described.  The device also needs to fit in the palm of my hand.  

If this sounds like today’s smartphone extended in all sorts of useful ways, you are on the right track.  It may well be that the “brain” is something that is placed into the smartphone just as it is connected to the desktop, car or tablet computer.  If the devices into which the “brain” is connected provides all the input and output services, the smartphone becomes just another type of dock for the “removable brain.”  It may also be that the “brain” docks in a devices that docks in yet another device thus my smartphone docks in my car with the “brain” docked in the Smartphone.  That removable brain fits in my pocket, is fully encrypted and has plenty of storage for all my important data beyond just my preferences.  Upgrading the “brain” becomes rather easy so long as the form factor remains stable.  

The balance of the requirements come down to intelligence to know how to connect to all the communication and data services of the “dock” to which it is connected.  

That’s my idea of what the next generation of technology will bring to us.  The technology is already lining up behind a few key barriers.  When those barriers come down, our daily habit patterns will undergo a dramatic shift.  I am looking forward to that shift.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Missing Element in Performance Measurement

Can you imagine having your work performance measured and analyzed every minute of every day?  Today, most call center agents know exactly how that feels.  Today’s modern call center is designed to capture performance measures about every aspect of every interaction an agent has with a customer.  In fact, outside of the computer chip plants, I suggest that customer service interactions are the most instrumented parts of most companies.

All this measuring and all this evaluating in order to deliver the highest level of service possible and yet there is a big hole in the entire process.  While there are daily measures of agent performance, when was the last time you heard of an agent’s current knowledge levels being measured?  In fact, in a great many companies, once an agent has attended training and passed the exams accompanying the training, the assumption is that “knowledge gained is knowledge retained.”  I beg to differ.

Studies have shown that information learned but not utilized is quickly forgotten.  A recent study of physicians attending an eLearning course found that the doctors had forgotten 50% of the material in 8 days and 90% of the material in just 8 weeks.  I cannot imagine that the retention rate of the contact center agent is any better.

It is time for companies to regularly measure knowledge just as they regularly measure performance.  Agent knowledge levels have a direct effect on agent performance.  Where knowledge gaps are identified, gap-filling training courses needs to be delivered. 

Agent performance measurement is an ongoing and continuous process in all contact centers.  It is time to incorporate knowledge measurement into the equation and fill a vital yet mostly ignored characteristic of all high performers; they know the material they need to know.