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The Power of Knowledge -- Knowledge is Power (Part 3)

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: March 3 2009

Part 1 of this blog series introduced the need for knowledge management (KM) software applications as part of a more comprehensive and strategic service management (SSM) suite. One such broad SSM suite has been advanced by Servigistics, and Part 2 zoomed into the capabilities of one particular part of the Servigistics SSM suite: Service Knowledge Management (SKM).

Potential SKM Benefits Redux

While some possible benefits from SKM deployments were briefly mentioned at the end of Part 2, more comprehensively, Servigistics states that the SKM solution can:

  • Reduce troubleshooting time by solving issues once and making the resolutions available across the service organization for the future;

  • Decrease the number of service calls by empowering customers, technicians, partners, and dealers to reliably and accurately find their solutions through self-service. In other words, organizations can avoid service calls for problems that can be resolved remotely or by the customer. If call center agents can diagnose the problem at the outset, then it would reduce truck rolls (and the “carbon footprint” of the company); 

  • Reduce new service employees ramp-up time by providing a diagnosis framework;

  • Improve product reliability by identifying and tracking quality issues (e.g., the number of problems/SKM uses per solution);

  • Bolster call center productivity;

  • Increase first-call fix rates through early and accurate diagnostics.


Additionally, being a third-generation KM system means that the dynamic and flexible domain model design obviates pesky and rigid hard-coded decision trees and programming of question-and-answer (Q&A) pairs. As explained in Part 2, the solution computes the next best questions to prompt, and then offers the questions to guide the user toward a more precise solution. SKM prompts these questions dynamically, requiring no decision tree maintenance, whereby the user may choose to answer any of the suggested questions rather than sift through the many possible solutions.

SSM Synergy and Value “Multipliers”

Because the SKM solution is part of Servigistics’ overall SSM solution, users could leverage service and part usage history to narrow the search for the right resolution. Once one is found, the user can be directed to the right part and its best source given the customer’s service level agreement (SLA) commitment and location as well as part interchangeability options and availability in the network. The feedback with regard to resolution history and part availability can be automatically delivered as notifications back to the planning process so that everyone’s processes improve.

SKM can also attach possible parts to resolutions, ranked by probability, and provide links to Servigistics Parts Locator to identify the sourcing options. As for the link with the Servigistics Workforce Management modules, with the access to and from the Service Command Center and Service Mobility solutions, SKM could assign the required skill to problem cases in order to identify candidate technicians.

As for the synergy between SKM and Servigistics Pricing Management, companies could integrate part prices with required parts for a rapid resolution and thus drive revenue by making it easier for customers to identify the needed parts at satisfactory prices. The Sourcing Innovation blog post offers some more useful details on SKM.

Why Slow Customer Uptake, Then?

With minimal personnel requirements, anticipated return on investment (ROI) in less than six months, and developed sets of tools and best practices being touted as additional possible benefits, we should expect companies to be harnessing KM solutions in droves, right?

As a validation of the KM market, the combination of former Onyx and KNOVA has allowed Consona CRM  to combine service resolution management (SRM, not to be confused with supplier relationship management!) within the Consona Knowledge Management suite (formerly KNOVA) with the customer relationship management (CRM) offering, Consona Customer Management, formerly Onyx CRM. To that end, SRM/KM adds resolution and case management process to customer interactions, so that organizations are better able to serve customers.

The software not only allows call center agents to more quickly answer questions and resolve problems, but also supports up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. For its part, CRM software adds the customer context to searches. Namely, if the system has access to specific customer details such as the products or services already purchased, this information can be used to fine-tune the knowledgebase search and return only the most relevant results.

This can result in a better experience for self-service customers because they are only exposed to relevant results. The productivity and quality of customer service within the call center could therefore go up due to increased speed and accuracy.

Another more recent validation came from Salesforce.com, who has paid approximately US$31.5 million to acquire InStranet, a privately held supplier of KM software that is used in call centers and web self-service scenarios. The acquisition is the largest to date for the renowned and vocal CRM software-as-as-service (SaaS) vendor [evaluate this product] (in addition to being the Force.com platform-as-a-service [PaaS] provider), beating the US$15m it paid for wireless infrastructure provider Sendia in 2006.

A somewhat strange aspect of the acquisition was that InStranet has mostly (over 75 percent of its clients) been a traditional, on-premise software provider, with the rest being hosted in a single-tenant mode. These modes of operation have been exactly the opposite of the “No Software” mantra of Salesforce.com.

InStranet has also sold its KM products primarily to European telecommunications and financial service providers that have consumer-focused call centers with thousands of agents. More than 400,000 agents and knowledge workers use InStranet, and only time will tell how Salesforce.com will repurpose the software for other vertical segments.

Given all the above facts (including Salesforce.com going out of its way to acquire KM capabilities) that bode well for the KM applications, I was thus wondering why Servigistics cannot yet boast of a healthy roster of SKM customers? The vendor says that any new solution takes a while to percolate and then sell. Servigistics will disclose only that it has many current deals underway; it is waiting for them to close, which is also taking longer than usual due to current economic conditions.

In addition to Consona KM and InStranet, the competition from the Art Technology Group (ATG), eGain Communications, InQuira, KANA Software, and RightNow Technologies might make Servigistics’ selling job more difficult for SKM. Knova and InQuira are also considered Tier One KM products in terms of scalability, install base, search optimization, personalization, and with integrated forums software for peer-service that enables customers to help each other while providing valuable feedback (for new knowledge to be captured).

One could only imagine how these forums could work in conjunction with social networks down the track. As an idea, see TEC’s earlier article/podcast entitled “Social Networks: How They're Turning CRM Upside Down.”

But Servigistics points out that SKM is more oriented towards field service than to the call center and consumer CRM side (where, for example, queueing theories might play a more prominent role). Even though the decision making is slower, the decline in spending could be a boost to service operations as customers/businesses are holding onto their assets longer, holding off replacing them as long as possible.

This means that more service delivery is demanded, which means parts optimization, pricing adjustments, field service, and service knowledge all need to be in place. When the service business is optimized, then businesses can profit on service rather than product sales. In addition, clients could be saving a bundle on spare parts inventory, optimized pricing, scheduling, and routing as well as by meeting SLA’s.

I think that vendors like Servigistics or Ventyx are exactly the type of service-oriented supply chain management (SCM) and/or enterprise asset management (EAM) vendors that can survive today: hyper-focused with very strong technology and footprint. I know some might say that optimization is dead, but not in the pricing or mobile workforce and parts planning space. There are still many problems to be solved in those areas that are too messy and ugly for Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, or SAP to devote many resources to solving.

Dear readers, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about KM solutions in general, and about Servigistcs’ SKM per se? In a more general sense, what are your best practices for aftermarket service (possibly in a strategic manner) as well as experiences with particular applications?
 
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