What Customers Want From Telecom and IT

We spend a lot of time talking about what business customers want and need  both from telecom and IT technology and from their trusted advisers. At the best of times, these conversations are based on impersonal  demand-side data; at the worst outdated thinking. What was true five years ago may not be true today. What may be true for one may not be true for another. The modern business’ relationship with technology has become more complex and more strategic. It’s not just an line item expense, but a business enabler.

Indeed, Gartner’s fourth quarter survey of global CIOs reveals their top business priorities includes entries like “increasing enterprise growth,” “attracting and retaining new customers” and “attracting and retaining the workforce.”

Whether the “IT department” is the business owner or a team of full-time professionals, its objectives are changing dramatically with the introduction of disruptive digital technologies like cloud, mobility and social media. The corporate view and use of these and other technologies is changing and in many cases becoming integral to the delivery of its core services.

To find out more about how companies large and small are confronting the challenges of a new era, Channel Partners spoke to seven technology decision makers about their technology priorities and pain points as well as how technology is creating business value for their companies and what they expect from their trusted advisers.

Sands' Tina McLaughlinTina McLaughlin, Director of End-User Services, Sands Corp.

Tina McLaughlin is a perfect example of a technology decision maker whose objectives are focused on business enablement. “Our primary goal is improving guest satisfaction and my team is a big part of that,” said McLaughlin, who is director of end-user services at The Venetian and The Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas. Among McLaughlin’s 2013 technology initiatives are transforming the call center and customer loyalty programs, for example.

Previously, the company tackled improvements to its guest experience with valet services by implementing an automated system that provides an up-to-date listing of vehicles waiting to be retrieved, identifies how many transactions occurred on an hourly basis, and  tracks occupancy and repeat guests. “The process prior to implementing a solution was manual, and our statistics were not reliable,” she said noting that the automated system has provided visibility into accurate metrics from which the company can set goals for improvements. “We have improved our guest wait times and we have improved our valet agent productivity to conduct extra transactions during their shifts,” she said.

McLaughlin has the added challenge of making technology changes in a 24/7 service environment. “Our business partners and our guests expect little to no disruption in their services at all hours of the day,” she said.

She counts on several technology advisers to help her avoid missteps and share industry best practices. “Our expectations for a technology partner are to understand our culture [and] our business goals, to be a customer advocate and to always keep our guest experience in mind,” she said.

Anthelio's Vince LeviVince Levi, Enterprise Network Services Manager, Anthelio Healthcare

Like McLaughlin, Vince Levi is focused on the guest experience, but in his case the guests are patients. Levi is the enterprise network services manager for Anthelio Healthcare, which is an outsourced IP department for hospitals and health care providers. Anthelio’s mission is to help hospitals increase the quality of customer service and patient care by leveraging technology and clinical domain expertise.

“Technology is allowing them to think differently about how they provide health care,” said Levi. As one example, he said video technologies are allowing providers to expand services to rural facilities. The satellites are staffed by nurses, and doctors conference in for consultations solving the problem of finding a local physician in small towns while providing needed care to more patients in a cost-effective way.

Levi’s personal responsibility at Anthelio is the network connection that the video traverses. Indeed, the network is a critical component of the health care industry’s increasing reliance on technology. What’s driving that is the move to electronic health records (EHR), Levi said. “A network outage for half a day used to be an inconvenience, now it’s more critical because they can’t get  access to patient data,” Levi said explaining one business impact.

Anthelio recently upgraded its WAN for increased speed and redundancy by deploying a meshed Ethernet network with the help of one of its advisers, Telegration, an agent and reseller. Levi said Telegration suggested the network design and also streamlined vendor selection.

While Anthelio is a technology company itself, Levi said it looks to advisers that are going to help it create the best solution for its customers.

Peckham's Mike BehrenbrinkerMike Behrenbrinker, Technology and Information Systems Manager, Peckham Inc.

Mike Behrenbrinker also keeps his customers’ needs top of mind, but in this case his “customers” are his fellow employees. Behrenbrinker is the technology and information systems manager for Peckham Inc., a Lansing, Mich., not-for-profit organization focused on employing people with disabilities or other barriers to employment. Its affirmative businesses include supply chain solutions (logistics and fulfillment), business services (contact center and document management), environmental services (cleaning) and manufacturing (apparel, automotive and general).

The company’s mission can sometimes butt heads with technology best practices. A case in point was improving the efficiencies and reporting capabilities of its third-party logistics (3PL) business. Behrenbrinker said the obvious answer for most 3PLs is automation, but automation can eliminate the very jobs Peckham works to create. Behrenbrinker’s compromise was to retain the manual workers but improve their efficiency and the accuracy of their reporting using handheld scanners.

Behrenbrinker keeps in touch with the needs of his customers with a twice annual Town Hall meeting. Peckham’s Business Services division, which employs disabled people in more high-paying skilled jobs as contact center agents, was one result. That means Behrenbrinker’s team also runs a facilities-based call center employing 600 knowledge workers.

While Peckham doesn’t operate under the same financial metrics as for-profit organizations, instead reinvesting its profits back into the businesses employing disabled workers, Behrenbrinker still must be mindful of his technology budgets. That’s a main reason his No. 1 priority in 2013 is looking for opportunities for migration to the cloud. “We spend a lot of money on infrastructure,” he  said, noting that with Microsoft Office 365 delivered at $5 per user per month for nonprofit organizations, cloud services are attractive. “From a price perspective, I cannot not consider it.”

Behrenbinker and his team take care of day-to-day technology management, but makes good use of technical advisers, which he calls “virtual partners,” for expert guidance on new or specialized technologies. “We are unique so we seek our partners in alignment with our mission of helping people with disabilities.”

Bank of Alameda's Andrew HernandezAndrew Hernandez, Information Systems Officer, Bank of Alameda

In his post as information systems officer for the Bank of Alameda, Andrew Hernandez also relies on solutions provider partners increasingly so since he became a department of one. In an all-too-familiar scenario, the  CIO left the company about a year ago and was not replaced. Now, Hernandez is in charge of IT for the community bank, which has six offices serving Northern California. Solutions providers help Hernandez with tasks such as inventory management, network monitoring, hosted VoIP, carrier services, data backup and virtualization.

The company also is outsourcing several functions, such as email and help desk and is considering virtual desktops as a service. Hernandez said running VDI on its own has proved unreliable, and downtime is not well tolerated. “We see a lot of value in outsourcing, but we see value in keeping it in-house, too,” he said. “I can’t control it if I can’t get to it physically. That’s a challenge for support reasons, so service levels are key.”

While financial institutions tend to be fairly progressive technology consumers, Hernandez said that community banks fall back on old ways of doing things. “The community bank culture is more personal service,” he said. “When lenders and business development officers are in the field are talking to customers, it’s still face-to-face.”

But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to communicate back with the office. Presently, Bank of Alameda doesn’t have a mobility strategy, but Hernandez is planning a BYOD initiative. Other initiatives are upgrades to network security and employee workstations.  

Downey Insurance's Steve DowneySteve Downey, President, Downey Insurance

Like community banking, the insurance sales business is not a hotbed of technological innovation, but that’s changing. Eighty percent of insurance shopping is now done online, said Steve Downey, who is president of Downey Insurance, a general insurance brokerage offering home, auto, health and life insurance to individuals and small businesses from offices in San Diego.  

In response to that, Downey created a spinoff software company to develop a groundbreaking application called SuperAgent that brokers and employers can use to present health insurance plans in a comparative and interactive fashion.

Handing out a brochure is the traditional approach for insurance companies, said Downey. “That’s not where it’s going; agents need the ability to deliver information on their smart phones and websites,” he said, adding that that information cannot be static, but needs to be dynamic, analytical and personalized to the buyer’s situation.

Downey Insurance, not surprisingly, is a user of SuperAgent. Downey said he can present analytical information over the Web using Go-To-Meeting. The combination is increasing sales 15 percent, Downey said, but also “enhancing our reputation as experts in the field.”

Just as people seek out Downey when in the market for insurance, Downey consults with technical advisers on his telecom and IT decisions. He does have a beef though: “There’s great technology out there, but it’s hard to get them to discuss it in a manner I can understand,” he said. That’s why Downey started a project called Bridge to IT as a way to help bridge the communication gap between IT pros and business owners.

Downey is keen on outsourcing as much of his technology management as possible. “I don’t want to think about passive technology,” Downey said, saying the value of a technology adviser is what they can take off his plate in terms of proactive management. And, he likes to have them around as a sounding board for new initiatives.

Target Solutions' Jon HandyJon Handy, CEO, Target Solutions

Jon Handy also makes technology decisions for his company from the corner office on his San Diego-based online training company, Target Solutions. “To run any business in 2013 you have to come to terms with the technology requirements,” he said, but this is especially true for a technology company like Target Solutions. “It would be hypocritical for us not to do it.”

Handy, a self-professed tech geek, said he surrounds himself with the best and the newest gadgets in his personal life and the best IT staff internal and external in his business life.  Handy, who is in his 40s, is the elder in the company, which is staffed by 20- and 30-year-olds who have always had technology and expect it.

The company implemented Cold Fusion Reactor software to graphically present statistical metrics from its online training platform, which delivers 10,000 classes a day and tracks 25,000 record-keeping tasks primarily for fire departments and law enforcement agencies. Salespeople can make a big impact with prospects by showing the information live from their smartphones, tablets or laptops. And, in the office, the dashboards are projected using a SMART Board interactive whiteboard. Handy said the real-time metrics offer employees visibility into company performance and create enthusiasm (and accountability) for achieving bonuses tied to sales goals.

After 14 years in business, Handy said he’s learned that it’s critical to make smart financial investments at the right time before you need them. That’s why he relies on solutions providers perhaps a dozen for advice. He’s looking for subject matter expertise, honesty (“tell me how it is”) and service (delivery and follow-up). “Tell me what I need, what’s new, what works and what’s coming,” he said. “So, I don’t have to be an expert.”

With the help of technology adviser Voice Smart Networks, Target Solutions recently upgraded its phone system to UC with mobile integration to support sales and management executives on the road. One of its goals this year is to upgrade its storage area network.

Bally Technologies' Ron GuidryRon Guidry, Director of Operations in IT, Bally Technologies

As with Target Solutions, technology is the product and business enabler for Bally Technologies, a Las Vegas-based company that  designs, manufactures, operates and distributes advanced gaming devices, systems and technology solutions worldwide.

As director of operations in IT, Ron Guidry oversees wireless and wireline contracts. He has four peers handling systems engineering, network engineering, desktop engineering and UC, respectively. Guidry also is charge with leading the cost savings initiatives for the entire IT department.

On that front, Guidry is making good progress, having lobbied successfully for the company to make investments in automated systems for mobile device management and telecom expense management to help keep costs in line. The MDM platform has been in play for about a year and the TEM platform cut over in January. This foundation is enabling the company to look at other initiatives, such as a BYOD policy, and bringing its global offices under the corporate network contracts and into the TEM tool.

Guidry said the asset and inventory controls are critical to controlling costs, being able to reallocate savings to other IT initiatives and freeing up resources previously tasked with invoice processing. While this is desirable in any company, Bally also provides circuits to casinos that participate in its Wide Area Progressive Games, which provide jackpots across multiple casinos. A dedicated circuit ensures uptime, but also incurs unnecessary costs if not canceled when the game contract is done, Guidry explained.

Bally also is taking advantage of mobile technologies to enable its sales people to demo games and applications on their mobile devices.


Hear more about “What Business Customers Want” in the Keynote Roundtable at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, Feb. 27-March 1, in Las Vegas.

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