Defining a niche

Philip Howard

Written By:
Published: 3rd March, 2008
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

One of the interesting things for an analyst and one of the problematic things for a vendor is when said vendor has a product that fits into no defined category or niche. Such a company is eg Solutions and its product is eg operational intelligence.

Let's start with eg Solutions, which you probably won't have heard of, despite the fact that it is a public company (listed on AIM) and has been in business for 20 years with offices in the UK and South Africa. This is because for most of that time it was a pure consulting house, specialising in operational efficiency. However, it is also because it is not very clear what "operational intelligence" is.

When I first heard of eg I thought operational intelligence had something to do with operational BI. It doesn't. Essentially what the software is about is about improving the efficiency and management of paper-based or virtual paper-based operations through historical, real-time and predictive operational intelligence. For example, processing mortgage applications: these may arrive by post or be submitted via electronic means, but in either case there is a substantial manual effort involved in handling these. Moreover, it is not merely a question of handling a few such applications but many, and they need to be assigned to relevant personnel or teams of personnel. All of this is what eg's software does.

There are a number of elements within operational intelligence. You start by defining an organisation structure, which is hierarchical. Dotted line responsibilities are not catered for but that probably doesn't matter in the environment at which the software is aimed. Similarly a person cannot have a home in multiple hierarchies though they can have a presence (for example through secondment) in multiple hierarchies where there is a business need.

Next, each person's skills, abilities and experience are captured so that work can be assigned to appropriately qualified members of staff. Further, the software will capture details about how quickly and accurately each employee works at particular tasks (interestingly, eg reports no resistance to introducing such metrics—presumably because staff are happy to be measured against how good they are) so that the software can work out how many (virtual) documents can be processed by any particular team within a working day (or other period). Thus the software is able to make recommendations to supervisors as to how best to allocate work.

Going beyond this the software handles rework, quality metrics (which drive risk analysis), generates appropriate capacity plans, derives milestones against which SLAs (service level agreements) can be monitored and it allows teams to barter or lend team members to each other, depending on workload. Tasks can be automated for the best fit or can be automated against a pre-defined business plan, as required. If used in a call centre, say, the software can take feeds from systems such as Blue Pumpkin (for attendance information) or the software can be plugged in, as appropriate, to BPM (business process management) software. In the latter case it is possible to turn off features in eg operational intelligence than may conflict with those in the BPM module(s).

In effect, what we have described is a workforce management tool. However, other such tools typically only apply at the activity level rather than going down to the task or process level, as eg does. Moreover, eg provides dashboards, a large number of pre-defined reports, supports ad hoc enquiries and provides forecasting, activity based costing reports, pipeline data (what's coming next week) and various other features including a quality questionnaire. The graphics in this part of the product aren't great but you can export to Excel if you want to.

This is a neat product and eg does not really have any competitors. The company has a blue chip client list and, best of all, you don't have to make full payment for the product until it has proved its ROI (agreed in advance between you and eg). Whatever niche the product fits into, and regardless of whether you like the term operational intelligence, eg is certainly worth exploring if you have issues around the areas described.

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