Supercharging Salesforce Portals to Improve Customer Service

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

In today’s socially connected world customer service is more important than ever. You can offer promotions and incentives, but unless you can get those customers to spread positive feedback about your company, you won’t be in business for long. So how can you improve customer service and keep those customers  happy? In this post we will describe how Cloud Extend can be used to supercharge the process of case creation within the Service Cloud portal to reduce the time it takes to process a trouble ticket, whether by customer self-service or via a customer service agent.

So lets begin. A common use of Cloud Extend is to guide portal users through the process of quickly setting up a Case object in Saleforce.  So when the customer calls the support hotline, they are dealt with promptly rather than kept on hold for an eternity.

There are three main considerations in this type of Cloud Extend application:

  1. The Process Guide
  2. Validating Data Entry
  3. Ensuring Business Rules are followed

So let’s address each of these items in turn.

The Process Guides

With Cloud Extend, you can build a process wizard that will guide a Portal user (or any other Salesforce user) through a series of steps. The steps can be a combination of screen steps (which prompt the user to enter data and make choices), automated steps (which do work for the user by creating Salesforce objects, sending email, creating tasks, etc), and data decision steps. Here is a sample Cloud Extend guide:

Cloud Extend guides can be run from a Saleforce portal, in which case a portal user is guided through a process to enter data and create objects in Salesforce.   The Cloud Extend guide will have access to any Salesforce objects and fields to which a portal user has access.

Now let’s examine the second of our three considerations – validating data.

Validating Data Entry

Since a Cloud Extend guide walks a user through all of the data entry steps, and Cloud Extend screens can contain detailed instructions on how to enter the data, errors in data entry are greatly reduced. In addition, Cloud Extend guides can automatically enter data and create relationships between objects based on the context of the Cloud Extend guide.

Of course, there are still times when users will make errors or do the wrong thing. You can design Cloud Extend screen steps so that any data field is required to be entered correctly before the Cloud Extend guide will advance (even if the data field is not a required field in the underlying Saleforce implementation). This is useful because a data field may not always be required (so it not practical to make it a required field in Salesforce), but in the context of a particular step in a process, the data field is required:

It’s always useful to perform data validation on entries for data fields (for instance, to ensure a due date for a Task is not set to a date prior to today). Salesforce has excellent facilities for defining validation rules in the Saleforce implementation, and Cloud Extend honors all Salesforce validation rules.   If a user attempts to enter data that causes a validation rule in Saleforce to fail, the Cloud Extend guide will not advance, and instead will prompt the user to correct the entry.

Now onto our last consideration – business rules.

Applying Business Rules

Because Cloud Extend guides can branch based on user input, many “business rules” (such as “do X if the customer is calling about Product A”, “do Y if the customer is calling about Product B”) can be implemented directly in a Cloud Extend guidance tree:

Cloud Extend can also perform flow decisions based on the values of data fields in Salesforce. Therefore, business rules such as “Do X if this is a Large Company, Do Y if this is a Medium-Sized Company, Do Z if this is a Small Company” can be implemented easily:

And data decisions can also be based on the value of fields in Salesforce.   For example you can set the threshold values or parameters for the business rules individually per process – i.e. the process of lead qualification for one client might define a Large Customer as over $1B in annual revenue, while another client might define a Large Customer as over $50B in annual revenue.

Putting it Altogether

The final step is to combine the three items to create efficient support processes.  For example one customer in the energy industry created a set of guides to handle account creation and querying that drastically reduced call waiting times and increased support throughput (for full details see the guest post here). Another customer in the telecoms industry wrote guides that revolutionized their case resolution processes and  improved service levels by 90% (read more here).

So no matter your industry or your type of Salesforce portal, you can supercharge your CRM with the easy to use Cloud Extend.

European Telecom GO Modernizes Systems with ActiveVOS BPMS

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

In our business, there’s nothing better than customer validation. We’re excited to share another customer story with you. GO, a leading telecommunications operator in Malta, has gone live with an ActiveVOS™ process application that consolidates its legacy systems, modernizing them for flexibility and growth. GO selected ActiveVOS over open source and more complex BPM systems to avoid vendor lock-in, for the ability to develop and automate processes quickly, for ease of maintenance and for affordability.

For details, read the press release below.

Better yet, check out the case study, and see why Josef Bajada, Senior Technical Architect, GO, said “ActiveVOS provides GO with the ability to design effective processes with minimal coding, reducing the required development effort significantly.”

Active Endpoints Named Finalist in Mass Technology Leadership Council Leadership Awards for Innovative Technology of the Year, Cloud Computing

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Exciting news! Right on the heels of our recent announcement of the availability of Cloud Extend Mobile, we were just informed that Cloud Extend is a finalist for the MassTLC Leadership Awards 2012 in its Innovative Technology of the Year, Cloud Computing category. Full press release below.

Mark Taber, CEO, Active Endpoints, says, “We’re honored to be recognized by MassTLC as a Leadership Awards finalist amongst some of the most notable companies on the Massachusetts tech scene. Building on last week’s announcement of Cloud Extend Mobile, this nomination is further validation of how Active Endpoints exemplifies cloud innovation and continues to push the envelope to make it even easier for users to fully realize the power of cloud-based enterprise apps.”

To learn more about Cloud Extend Mobile, feel free to view and share this two-minute video.

Consumerization of IT

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Reading Andrew Nusca’s blog on ZDNet earlier last week from the SAP Sapphire conference caused me to think some more about this concept of “consumerization of IT.”

Today, everyone interacts with enterprise applications in their work life, from Global 2000 companies to mom and pops from sales representatives to health care providers to service technicians to retail clerks. Quite a number of these applications are from SAP. Few like the experience. Enterprise applications have not kept pace with how and where we do our work in the 21st century. This is in sharp contrast to our consumer life. Applications like Facebook and Twitter are fun, reliable and easy to use.  The IT departments of most companies, big and small, are still in the dark ages, writing Java code, creating messes, the way they did in the 80s. This is why we are all so frustrated. There is a better way.

Everyone today (sales, customer service, health care, HR, accounting, etc.) can select the Software as a Service (SaaS) application of their choice, “an anchor application,” along the same lines as Facebook and Twitter are anchor applications at home. There are literally thousands of SaaS applications for just about everything we do, many attractively priced. Once you subscribe to SaaS, subject matter experts can easily customize the experience, creating scenario-based mobile user interfaces (UI), no developers needed. The result would be almost immediate; successful meetings, improved customer service, better patient care and yes, a better quality of life.

However, before we throw the entire IT department under the bus, let’s make sure we acknowledge the fact that Facebook and Twitter are great applications not just because of a pretty UI. Robust runtimes underlie their platforms. To those people screaming, and rightfully so, for the consumerization of IT, I’d encourage an alternative definition: “enterprise-enabling consumer technology.”

There is no reason everyone can’t have the consumer-style UIs and usability features. But good consumer-like technologies are also backed by a set of enterprise-grade IT sophisticated capabilities – exception and error handling, rollback and compensation, persistence, clustering, redundancy, scalability, security, visibility, etc.

While I think that the vast majority of Java developers can and should be made obsolete, and yes even those low cost ones in India and China, the tried and true enterprise IT policies and best practices that have evolved over the last 30 years need to survive. Rethinking “consumerization of IT” opens the door to a union that takes the best of consumer technology, which empowers users with the latest and greatest business features, and combines it with the enterprise-grade capabilities that IT demands. Think of it as consumerization without compromise. Technical issues are abstracted to the point that regular business users can get their work done without help from IT. Meanwhile, IT can rest assured that all of their service availability, uptime, security and other concerns are being met in full.

Given the overwhelming workloads in most IT departments, IT should be all in favor of consumerization and giving their users more control. I am not sure anyone will miss those Java developers.

Big Data Interaction for Sales and Service Teams, Mobile Users and the Rest of Us

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Big Data processing improvements over the last several years have been incredible. Between in-memory solutions and massively parallel high performance analytics, it is just mind-boggling the computations that can be completed almost instantaneously. With the near universal connectivity and information available from both Big Data and transactional data sources, it is now possible to get the answer to just about any question no matter if it is from transaction histories, social media interactions or machine to machine sensors. It all translates into faster problem resolution and greater insight into customer satisfaction, which in turn should help every business create higher value for their customers.

However, enterprise applications have not maintained pace. Not only are they poorly suited for mobile, a topic in one of my previous posts, but today’s enterprise applications are woefully inadequate at integrating all that data into business users’ everyday workflow so they can react ahead of time.

The solution is not more middleware or enterprise application integration, as some of the big stack vendors such as IBM, Oracle and SAP have suggested. Instead, the solution is to divide and conquer, so to speak.

First, keep IT focused strictly on the data, keeping it clean, keeping it secure, making it available from every source (including Big Data sources), providing metadata views, etc. Second, permit business users to create their own processes by using their own wizards that leverage this newfound intelligence over the data.

In this new enterprise architecture, data services, created by IT, become the foundation for how we do our work at our desk or on the road. Each product group, geography and functional area would then create their own “customer centric” methods of interacting with the data and not be held hostage to antiquated applications that need to be rewritten or optimized.

Call Centers, Sales and the “Social Enterprise”

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Those of us on the front lines, especially the ones sitting in call centers around the world, know that virtually everything we do today is more complicated than it used to be. The competitive landscape is constantly shifting, new products and features are coming out faster than ever, and rules and policies seem to be in a perpetual state of flux. Closing our hottest prospects and supporting our most loyal customers become more complex with every passing day.

Today, it’s a given that no sales or support person can retain all that product, customer, competitor, market and other related information in his or her head. In response, marketing people, sales managers and domain experts of every sort try to help by providing vast amounts of information, building knowledge bases, and setting up social networks.

But more is not always better. All those well-intended efforts can overwhelm and confuse sales and support people where huge volumes of undifferentiated, and possibly conflicting information are readily available, especially on a social network,

Don’t get me wrong. Content, knowledge bases and social networks are extremely helpful. It’s really tough to sort through all that stuff when you’re on the phone with someone who’s expecting an answer NOW! On the front line, you don’t need more information. You need context aware automation that delivers the answers you need, when and where you need it. I don’t mind chatting with colleagues or putting a question out to the group, or searching a knowledge base. But to tell you the truth, it is a royal pain and keeps me on the phone too long. I prefer a business user-oriented, easy to use approach such as a wizard, developed by sales, marketing or support (and not IT consultants) that asks me a few questions. The wizard then gathers the information I need automatically behind the scenes, giving me the answer, or a suggestion of what to do next, in “real time.” I’m left to focus on what I do best – selling – rather than information hunting and gathering.

IDN: ActiveVOS Lets IT Provide BPM Building Blocks For Business Analysts

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Recently, we briefed Vance McCarthy, editor for Integration Developer News, on Automation for Analysts (AFA), one of the newest features of the ActiveVOS business process management system (BPMS). AFA lets developers customize and deliver a simplified ActiveVOS Design environment for use by business analysts so they can quickly assemble, deploy and update processes without relying on IT. Read Vance’s story to see why Active Endpoints CTO, Dr. Michael Rowley, believes that AFA will change how business and IT collaborate for BPM.

If you’d like to learn more about AFA, take a peek here:
Short video overview
Top four features

As always, we appreciate Vance’s attention to ActiveVOS and Active Endpoints.

Keeping the Business Life Blood Pumping

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

If information is the life blood of business, then information collection is the heart that pumps life into every team and geography.

However, the mind-numbing, mundane tasks associated with entering information into a CRM sucks the souls out of business people, especially sales people.

Repetitive, routine work crushes creativity, and sales people just won’t do it. This is a problem that applies to every sales team, and I’ve spent most of my professional life managing sales teams. Communication is especially vital when you have distributed teams because you miss the hallway conversations that help you to understand what is going on and so can’t begin to assist without having accurate, up-to-date information recorded in applications like Salesforce.

Beyond business predictability and forecasting, information helps you to identify opportunities and overcome obstacles. Sure, you’re accountable for providing an accurate forecast if you’re a sales manager. But nobody wants an accurate forecast that predicts you’re going to be 50 percent of quota. You really want to discover new ways to find new opportunities, close more opportunities, generate more demand and drive more revenue.

When I manage sales people, a key way I add value is through “brainstorming” with a set of facts. At IBM, we had regimented processes to collect those facts including a signature sales cycle with well-defined sales stages and countless spreadsheets with pivot tables, and at the end of the day, it was unmanageable and out of date. The reports may have been accurate around the time of the forecast, but they didn’t stay accurate going forward. Keeping accurate, current information was still a challenge even when practices and procedures were in place.

How do we fix this? It is clearly not by demanding more reports. We need to find a way to make it easier and more relevant for the sales executive to capture accurate and up-to-date data. The solution is through empowerment, not top down mandates. Business users and sales executives need to be able to self-author their own wizards, or process automations, to simplify their lives, and thereby benefit the company as a whole.

Anti-BPM rant makes a key point: add process to Salesforce, don’t replace it

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

In the last couple weeks there has been a lot of talk about Theo Priestley’s recent blog post, which states that BPM must die, and the follow up post: BPM, The sick man of the enterprise.

I have to say that I agree with much of what he says about the claims made by BPM methodologists. Their claims often boil down to the business equivalent of motherhood-and-apple-pie statements – better customer experience, more revenue, greater efficiency. The problem is that, although the benefits really are possible, the claims are often too abstract and broad. This over-hyping naturally leads to disillusionment – a pattern that has been formalized in Gartner’s hype cycle (which is one Gartner theory that I completely agree with). The hype cycle is more typically associated with technologies than with methodologies, and so it is that BPMS technology is also ready to weather the trough of disillusionment to make it to the nirvana-like plateau of productivity.

But I’d like to zero in on the key points that Theo makes about BPMS technology in his original post – specifically this line:

“[BPMS technology] assimilates and copies most corporate functions with the promise of workflow, dynamic case management and customer focused processes. But so does salesforce.com so why aren’t they BPM ? I wrote two years ago about how they understood process better than half the vendor circuit when they created their Visual Process Manager. “


Theo is on the right track here. The key question is: what application does the user work with most? The answer with a BPMS has typically been that users should use the BPMS UI for starting processes, running reports, working with task lists and ultimately doing work by claiming tasks and filling out the forms that are embedded in the tasks. As Theo suggests, this means that the incorporation of a BPMS seems to mean that you have to assimilate and copy most of your corporate functions. Naturally, this is a deterrent to adoption – both due to the effort, but also because the users are happy working in their CRM (or other app) and don’t want to replace it.

What this implies is that users should be able to work on processes without having to leave their primary application. Process design and execution should be embedded.

When it comes to applications, salesforce.com is the 800 pound gorilla. So is salesforce.com’s Visual Workflow product the right way to incorporate business process automation in Salesforce? It isn’t if you want processes to be created by the person who knows what the process should be – the subject matter expert. For that, you should use Cloud Extend for Salesforce. It is so dramatically easier to use that we recently posted a side-by-side comparison of building a process with each of the two technologies so that you can see for yourself. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

Cloud Extend does not try to make it possible to create any possible kind of business process. This is OK because Theo is right that Salesforce itself provides key benefits like having a single view of the customer – all that is needed is a better way to guide its users to do the right things at the right time, and to do some things for them automatically. This means that the most important characteristics of the technology need to be a completely seamless integration with Salesforce and a design tool that can be used by subject matter experts. Cloud Extend achieves this partly because it does not try to handle more complex business processes, which would require capabilities like event handling or message correlation.

So stop concentrating on BPM as a methodology or even on using a BPMS to replace the applications that your employees use on a day-to-day basis, and start thinking about how you can leverage those applications but allow your subject matter experts to spread their expertise to everyone and improve your productivity.

Active Endpoints and Qvantel Advance Process Automation in Telecom and Media Companies

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Today, Active Endpoints is announcing the expansion of their partnership with European-based Qvantel Oy, a consulting services provider of SOA and BPM custom applications to companies in media and telecommunications. Qvantel has selected ActiveVOS as their preferred process automation platform. Details are in the press release below.

This is another example of the traction ActiveVOS continues to achieve as the process automation platform of choice, based on its openness, affordability, scalability and ability to dramatically increase the speed of application development.

Seeing is believing, right? Join us for a free webinar on March 8 at 10:00am EST, where Qvantel’s CTO, Srikanth Minnam, and Architect, Venkat Koppala, will present real-world use cases of how their customers use ActiveVOS. They, along with Active Endpoints CTO, Dr. Michael Rowley, will demonstrate how Qvantel implements ActiveVOS to help companies in telecommunications and media improve their SOA by embracing BPM.

Active Endpoints CTO Presents on Cloud Computing Panel

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Recently, Active Endpoints CTO Dr. Michael Rowley had the pleasure of participating on a panel at MassTLC’s Software Development Summit. Moderated by North Bridge’s Michael Skok, Michael joined tech leaders Andrew Phillips, PMC Member, jclouds and Stefan Piesche, CTO, Constant Contact, to discuss the implications of application development in the cloud. The panel tackled issues including interoperability challenges, speed and agility vs. flexibility and platform-as-a-service, or PaaS. As you would imagine, the discussion was lively and the panel fielded many questions from the audience.

Watch the replay of the panel discussion for yourself and read about Michael’s insights from the event. Details are in the media advisory below.


Stevey’s Google Platforms Rant

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

I just read the post that everyone’s talking about: Steve Yegge’s Google Platform Rant, and it is fantastic. If you haven’t already read it, go read it now and come back. I’ll wait…

Wasn’t that great? He just did a better job of demonstrating the real world benefits of SOA than anything I’ve ever seen. This “eat your own dog food” mantra that demands “no cheating” is exactly the reason why your business processes should use the the same service interfaces that everything else does. The process and the services must not be tightly coupled.

But more than that, the process itself contains critical logic that should be reusable, so the process itself must provide its capabilities as a service. This is what service-oriented BPM is all about.

The one thing that he missed is the importance of a good, strongly-typed interface definition — one that can truly be treated as a contract. You can’t understand an interface well enough to create solid code that uses it by just prodding it through an exposed REST API (hmm… I wonder what this does). Take a look at the way that Google exposes its APIs. You get a one-line description of a few simple string input parameters. Then you put in some test data, click the “execute” button and see what comes out. That is how you are supposed to determine what the service does and what the result looks like. Test and check.

Are you really going to figure out all the right tests to run to understand the semantics of the service, or even just the syntax of the result document? Also, what happens when they change it? There is no document that says: “this has now changed and here is how”. Yes, some generic announcement might tell you that the service has changed, but to know the precise impact of the change on each of the operations of the API, you would have to go back and redo all your test-and-check experiments. It is completely unmaintainable.

So, I guess I have a problem with the leniency of one line of the otherwise impressively strict edict from Bezos:

“4) It doesn’t matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols — doesn’t matter. Bezos doesn’t care”

I expect this was a bit of an exaggeration. And even if Bezos didn’t really care about the technology used, I hope his ex-Army Ranger enforcer did. It matters. Some approaches are untyped, not conducive to rigorous documentation and/or non-standards-based. Any of those things will get the people who depend on your platform into trouble and so they won’t depend on it. They will go somewhere else.

So, what is the standards-based approach to declaring a good strongly-type API that your users can depend on? If you’ve ever read anything else I’ve written, you know the answer: WSDL and XML Schema. Include that in your edict and you will really see your platform blossom. And what is a service-oriented BPM that you can use to create processes that fit with this architectural approach? You guessed that too.


Active Endpoints’ Cloud Extend Brings BPM, Cloud integration to Salesforce

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Integration Developer News (IDN) editor Vance McCarthy sat down with Active Endpoints CTO Michael Rowley to learn more about how Cloud Extend for Salesforce adds deeper levels of customization to Salesforce, letting users easily share data and knowledge amongst one another – as well as access, integrate and mashup data and processes that live outside Salesforce. Read the story to learn more about how the idea arose from ActiveVOS BPM customers, the architecture and use cases for Cloud Extend for Salesforce. As always, we appreciate Vance’s attention to Cloud Extend for Salesforce and Active Endpoints.

ActiveVOS BPMS core to itfc media asset management system

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Media content management provider itfc (part of the Deluxe group) announces their media asset management (MAM) system is ready for production. The integration of Active Endpoints’ ActiveVOS, a SOA-based business process management system (BPMS) allows for itfc’s clients – content owners and broadcasters – to easily and quickly access parts of its Mediaflex solution in a single location. Read the story on Broadcast.

ActiveVOS BPM: A Tailored Solution for IT and Business

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

We recently briefed Vance McCarthy of Integration Developer News on ActiveVOS 9.0 and the new ActiveVOS Data Center Edition. While the ActiveVOS business process management (BPM) system and SaaS optimized Data Center Edition are designed to cut costs and complexity for IT, improved ease of use for the business user is also addressed in this latest release. We appreciate Vance’s coverage and invite you to read his take on ActiveVOS BPM and making it “cloud-ready.”