Software That Cares
Call-center software, the software that support staffers use when they're answering phone calls from customers, is changing its name and expanding its functions. Now more likely to be called customer-care software, new packages use workflow functions to integrate the call center with the entire enterprise, and also augment phone communication with E-mail and Internet communication.
Central Vermont Public Service purchased PegaWorks, a $200,000 customer-care system from PegaSystems Inc. (www. pegasystems.com), in order to redirect an annual half-million customer calls from its 12 regional offices to a single call center. The software allows the electric utility to tie in a number of processes as well, according to business development and technology manager Greg White.
"For example, if we're making an arrangement with a customer for a payment, the software can access and update multiple legacy databases," says White. "The workflow scripts lead the customer-service rep through the entire transaction, and also deal automatically with back-office correspondence if necessary."
Unlike the more traditional products from market leaders The Vantive Corp. (www.vantive.com) and Siebel Systems Inc. (www. siebel.com), which are often used by manufacturing firms, the PegaWorks product is more targeted toward service industries like utilities, finance, and health care, according to Chris Martins, analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group.
"PegaWorks is for businesses that have a lot of processing associated with customer transactions, such as processing a claim or reallocating fund distributions," explains Martins. "The older systems are more for people who call and ask, 'I bought this thing, how does it work?'"
Another competitive product, Silknet Software Inc.'s eService (www. silknet.com), goes in a different direction, providing customer service over the Internet. All customer-care vendors are Web-enabling their software; Silknet's product is differentiated in part by its ability to handle high volumes of customer E-mail messages. Prices start at $150,000.
----------------------------------------------- --------------------------------- Treasury Software
When Ingram Industries Inc. bought treasury software from Selkirk Financial Technologies (www.selkirkfinancial.com) last year, it mainly wanted a system that was easy to use.
"We wanted users to be able to set up bank accounts and investments and get ad hoc reports without a lot of training," says Thomas Spurlock, financial analyst for the Nashville-based conglomerate. In the Selkirk software, Ingram got what it wanted--plus savings so far of $60,000 in clerical costs, since the system automatically shares data with the general ledger. "We save on data entry," says Spurlock, "and when there's a problem in a checking account, we can research it much quicker."
Treasury systems have begun to draw more attention in the last couple of years, especially since SAP and PeopleSoft announced they would add treasury modules to their enterprise-software suites. These systems handle a variety of treasury-department tasks that are typically handled through manual paperwork and spreadsheets, from forecasting cash flow to analyzing derivatives investments and hedging strategies.
Automation and ease of use are compelling reasons for buying treasury software. However, the driving force in today's market is risk management, according to Emery Kobor, analyst at Reston, Va.-based World Research Advisory.
"Companies are demanding ways to limit risks for debt, investments, and currency exposure," says Kobor. Treasury software helps manage risk by automatically highlighting exposures that may affect cash flow, by offering fraud detection and daily portfolio revaluation, and by enforcing investment rules.
Market-leading stand-alone packages from ICMS International (www.icms.com), XRT Inc. (www.xrt.com), and ADS Associates Inc. (818- 591-2371) typically cost from $100,000 to $225,000. Selkirk's software, a lower-end system, sells for under $100,000. At the high end, the $500,000 treasury workstation from SunGard Treasury Systems (973-575-8333) has advanced foreign-exchange functionality, plus new debt and derivatives modules.