It’s Gonna Get Ugly: Q&A With TouchCommerce Chair Jeff Stiefler

Jeff Stiefler, Chairman of TouchCommerce, is a former president of American Express and CEO of IDS Financial Services. He also was the CEO of banking outsourcer Digital Insight, now part of Intuit. Stiefler spoke recently with ECT News Network interviewer Blake Glenn about technology and the economy.

The financial crisis sweeping the U.S. economy will cut a wide swath of destruction that will include the fast-growing technology sector.

He predicts a tightening of capital markets, including both venture capital and debt financing; firms conserving their cash and reducing expenses to weather the storm; a significant rise in business failures due to the inability to access needed financing and a slowdown in purchasing by corporate consumers of technology services and products.

Listen to the podcast (18:13 minutes).

Changing Priorities

Firms across the board will be cutting back on technology projects and focusing on those that are mission critical and those that provide proven return on investment. Projects that merely streamline an administrative function, for example, most likely will be deferred, he said.

In fact, he suggests that the acquisition of technologies that increase sales, reduce costs or improve customer retention could actually increase.

When asked about the role technology can play in the crisis, Stiefler quickly points out that there is no technology solution to this crisis. However, the technology sector will continue to be a driver for the U.S. economy, he said.

Here are some excerpts of the interview:

E-Commerce Times: There’s a big elephant in the room right now, which is the financial crisis that’s going on that is impacting the entire economy. Because of your deep background in technology and your background in financial services, I just want to get, first of all, your general perspective on the financial crisis.

Jeff Stiefler:

I’m not sure I have any more information than anybody else who reads newspapers or watches news on television or listens to it on the radio. Clearly, we’ve gotten ourselves into a position where, for a variety of reasons, institutions have not been able to bail themselves out of credit-related problems and the government has had to step in in a major way to help them do that. It’s, I think, a very unfortunate turn of events, and it’s going to create a deep set of problems that we’re going to have to work our way out of as a country, but we clearly will work out of them, it’s just going to take some time.

ECT: From your perspective, what kind of impact do you think this crisis is having on the technology industry, whether it’s in terms of getting loans, or getting venture capital, or any other kind of impact? What kind of impact do you see happening right now?


Getting capital in any form is always challenging for firms, whether they’re younger firms trying to get venture capital or more established firms trying to raise debt. As a consequence of that, companies are shepherding cash, which means they’re not using their cash to expand in the way that they’d normally use, and they’re trying as hard as they can to reduce expenses wherever they can to help them use as little cash as possible. That’s true across the board, it’s true in companies of all sizes and in all industries. It’s probably more true in financial services than it is in other places because that sector’s been the hardest-hit, but it’s a condition that exists everywhere.

ECT: Do you think that this is going to cause a shakeout among some of those emerging growth technology companies that may have received some venture capital but may not have enough money, or have the wherewithal either to raise the next round of financing or the money to make it through this financial crisis. What do you see happening there?


I think there’s going to be a significant rise in business failures of all types, because again there’s very little access to capital, and buyers of the services of these venture-backed companies will often be cutting back on their purchases, so the cash coming into these companies will erode to some degree. So firms that need a lot of capital in order to be able to turn the corner and can’t revise their business models fast enough are going to fail.

ECT: What do you see as being the current state of the information technology and Internet sectors right now?


As it relates to the problems that the economy’s going through, the technology sector will clearly be impacted. Firms are going to cut back on investments everywhere, and they’re going to defer projects as long as they can in a lot of places, and they’re going to focus their investments on those areas of technology where there’s a proven and certain return on investment. They’re going to go through a very disciplined process, prioritizing the investments that they make. I think firms that provide technology that’s nice to have but not mission critical are going to struggle.

ECT: What are some of the technology areas that you think are going to continue to get some of the funding from the financial community?


I think technology that helps people drive increased sales or helps them reduce costs or helps them improve customer retention and generates higher revenues per customer are all things that will be really difficult to cut back on, and in fact, one could argue, may even increase in value. I think major systems changes that improve to some degree the quality of an administrative function are things that are likely to be deferred.

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Knowledge Management: The Silent Star of Modern Service

Think back to March 2020; the arrival of the pandemic disrupted your home life and your work life, as public and private organizations struggled to implement virtual solutions to keep work, school, and the economy going as best it could. Daily life quickly became a transition to working over video connections, homeschooling our own children; ordering groceries online, and learning to cook became new mandates.

Even adjusting to virtual happy hours and navigating virtual-only IT help and office support were new challenges. Employees working in contact centers or service roles were suddenly sitting at home with only a computer, attempting assist customers with service issues — with no supervisor or colleagues to lean on for assistance.

Accomplishing these tasks back then was virtually impossible without the ability to find information and knowledge online. The pandemic’s impact on business operations rallied organizations to push for new and better KM solutions. Nothing like a pandemic to help us understand how knowledge underpins service operations!

Today, the start of the post-Covid business environment reveals knowledge management is making even stronger strides, strengthening hybrid approaches to working and supporting the ability to implement AI and machine learning application innovations at scale.

The Power of KM Tools

Knowledge management is a business process formalizing the creation, capture, management, governance, and use of an organization’s intellectual assets. It consumes the top of spend for AI apps for customer service organizations and it powers virtual assistant and smart bot utterances.

According to Oracle’s KM platform developers, knowledge management has shone a spotlight on the need to access what organizations know, regardless of where their employees are located, whether in home offices or regional work centers. It provides organizations with the know-how needed to support agent work processes. This includes fluidly mixing home and work lives, sharing internet connections and home space among working parents and kids in virtual classrooms.

In essence, KM helps to bring the wisdom of the office environment to the desktop. Since 2020 people have been meeting by video calls 50 percent more than pre-Covid. During that interim, close to 70 percent of full-time employees have worked from home.

Knowledge management helped make this possible in four critical ways:

  • In today’s virtual world where we cannot just ask the person sitting next to us for support, KM becomes the new foundation for service. “What we know” is available to employees regardless of “where they may sit.”
  • KM provides a single source of truth helping employees determine good information from bad. The increase of information means more data to go through to determine what is good and what is bad. The explosion of data creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, making it hard to determine the veracity of the information being shared.
  • When contact centers and support services were either offline or completely overwhelmed, knowledge management came to the rescue, allowing customers the ability to solve their own issues on their own.
  • Knowledge provided the backbone for organizations to quickly spin up virtual assistants, chatbots, and AI to fill in the gaps of employee shortages.

It’s safe to say that knowledge management really is the brainpower of the organization. Oracle’s Knowledge Management platform enables the organization to “know what it knows” and enables employees and agents to flag gaps in know-how and problem-solving information knowledge underpins every customer touch point. In this new future of service, KM is the fuel to power smarter, faster, and virtually accessible information management.

New World, New Challenges

Today’s deluge of data so swamps businesses that they fail to meet their customers’ expectations and drown in $75 billion in lost revenue yearly.

To find that buried data takes some 3.5 billion searches per day. On average, Google now processes more than 40,000 searches every second.

More remote employees means more dispersed information, and more need for organizations to harness data to provide their customers and employees with a unified, cohesive experience.

Time is money. Employees spend an average of 36 percent of their time each workday searching for information. That is a tremendous impact on their workloads considering that 88 percent of the organizations worldwide made it mandatory or encouraged their employees to work from home after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

Given this sea of information floating around, think of the KM platform as a both rescue and a transportation vessel for billions of business bits and bytes. Oracle’s tools do more than preserve knowledge. They allow workers to quickly preview content with accurate formatting and embedded assets.

The Future

It’s become evident that virtual or hybrid work environments are likely to become standard fixtures for organizations. Knowledge management will continue to play and imperative role, as the need for collaboration and the ability to share and find organizational information virtually at any time only increases.

The growing need for other technologies such as content management, enterprise search, CRM, and IoT devices and support is increasing demand for a single source of truth which can only be offered by enterprise knowledge management.

Oracle’s knowledge is a powerful solution, which in integrates seamlessly with other technologies, allowing organizations to easily meet the demand of both employees and customers in this new workforce reality.

The future of everything is data. Oracle — as a data company — does data better than anyone; and our differentiated service automation tools — including knowledge management — empower businesses to run as efficiently as possible while creating competitive differentiations which enables organizations to drive efficiency and facilitate org growth with agility, precision, and speed:

  • Articles are tagged with essential meta data to make know-how findable by product, category, and content collection type.
  • Knowledge Search enables agents to ask a natural language question and get precise, helpful results back, easily scannable in a search results page.
  • The Article History function shows all the article versions and their respective meta data.
  • The Side-by-Side option lets authors quickly identify what has changed between versions.
  • Editing articles is proficient with the included WYSIWYG Editor that provides rich text authoring with HTML support. Comments let authors collaborate and track suggestions and edits.
  • Hierarchical Products and Categories tool helps users organize the knowledge base, while the Control Visibility option lets content creators disperse the article to ensure the information gets to the correct audience.
  • Search and Browse Knowledge provides a free-form search that agents can use to augment their product understanding and training.
  • Recommended Knowledge leverages machine learning to find articles that match the service request. Its search parameters allow agents to find more articles that help resolve the service request.

How Organizations Benefit

Now, more than ever, the ability to have a central repository of organizational know-how, assets, guidance, and learning is critical as employees must work together while physically apart. Oracle has a broad portfolio of cloud-based knowledge, content, and learning products to compose employee and customer-centric experiences that address the needs of hybrid and at-home workers.

Oracle Content Management offers comprehensive digital asset management, including video indexing and storage, while Oracle Knowledge helps manage answers to frequently asked questions, and Oracle Intelligent Advisor enables coaching, guidance, and policy orchestration that can automate a variety of organizational process flows.

Oracle Learning products (Guided Learning and Learning Management) can onboard and coach employees from day one through their exit interview. Oracle Digital Assistant offers intelligent conversational UI capability to help employees navigate their digital workspaces and Oracle Virtual Builder Cloud Service provides a low-code application development framework to deliver knowledge, content, and advice to employees when they need it, to get their work done no matter where they are working — at home, or in the office.

Bottom Line

Few organizations have been able to carry on business as usual. The pandemic’s impact on business operations rallied organizations to push for new and better knowledge management solutions. Oracle’s service solutions now provide a way to sustain momentum and accelerate growth.

Trust Oracle for a contextual knowledge and content offering that enables employees to know what they know, capture what they learn, and share that learning and knowhow and content when needed to achieve their goals.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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Oracle Service Empowers Organizational Growth With Automation

Automation is the key to future-proofing a company’s customer service journey. Oracle’s innovative solutions solve two inherent stumbling blocks with turn-key effectiveness.

One is providing effective customer service by having the ability to respond to every customer’s unique issues. The other requires the agility to respond to changing customer preferences and behaviors impacting your company.

With automation features integrated into your customer service platform, businesses can be prepared to manage both problems. Such as the recent global challenges surrounding the health care crisis, manufacturing delays, and skilled worker shortages.

Successful customer service organizations must go beyond answering questions and fixing problems. The service you provide must be predictive, unique, and hyper-convenient. Driving these experiences through automation will also drive growth.

Keep in mind that growth means more than just increasing revenue gains. Growth also comes from empowering employees to provide service inline with both current customer trends and employee work styles. To accomplish this goal, an organization must adopt a growth mindset.

This is where automation comes into play. In the face of constant transformation, you must drive your company to thrive and not just survive. The only way to meet both customer and employee expectations today is through automation.

Extend Corporate Reaching Power

Oracle’s service automation strategy helps win over customers and employees. This is critical when looking at current market trends:

  • Automation use is rising. By 2024, 80 percent of all service interactions, engagements, and processes will be automated.
  • Some 80 percent of consumers will view the world as all digital with no divide, according to Forrester.
  • Digital sameness drives the competition to break the digital template.
  • An increasing number of adults regularly buy from brands that align with their personal values. This spurs brands to take actions like never before considered, according to Forrester.

Also, consider that Forrester’s research revealed that 58 percent of consumers expect that companies master their digital resources in order to respond better if the country faces another public health emergency.

How Service Automation Works

Automation fabrics play a vital role in unlocking your business growth potential. Oracle’s automation approach provides essential, connected tools, each purpose-built to your organization’s goals. Oracle’s automation fabric offers several unique automation concepts, operating on one unified platform.

Let’s begin with the first five chapters:

(1) Automate advice and decision processes instantly with Intelligent Advisor, a decisioning engine with a patented algorithm created for business users to manage without heavy reliance on IT.
(2) AI and next best action guides service agents with contexts and recommendations that present different options to interact with the actionable insight through a single Insights Panel.
(3) Chatbots and self-service automation enriching digital-first engagements help to cut operational costs and can be deployed with integrations to Oracle Digital Assistant chatbot, Intelligent Advisor, agent or customer portal, and other systems.
(4) Automating event-based processes and workflows makes it simple for business users to generate, analyze, and subscribe to different events to automate actions to deliver their unique service needs.
(5) The common denominator is a business user-friendly integration framework that enables real-time deployments and adjustments across any next best action determinations. This low-code no-code consistency was built to empower business users to adapt and respond quickly to external and internal events efficiently. That lets you invest technical resources in innovation as new technology and channels evolve.

When Alice Park, senior product manager at Oracle, talks with customers who are automating, she finds they are curious, fearless, and forward-thinking in experimenting with automation. They think of ways beyond what is considered a traditional solution for solving service problems.

“That, coupled with the power of an automation-focused development team at Oracle Service, is what is driving our automation strategy to fuel the need to think differently and create a space and community for our automation solution,” she offered.

Oracle knows that the right automation solution helps organizations manage the constant change of digital transformation. It offers a long-term vision for service leaders to think about automation effective built on APS (Agility, Precision, and Speed). Its service automation is designed with native no-code/low-code integration that emboldens your use in CX, ERP, and HCM use cases across all systems in which your data is housed.

Futureproofing Made Better

Oracle’s service automation tools empower a business to run as efficiently as possible, while creating competitive differentiations that future-proof a brand.

Through the Oracle Automation Fabric, businesses gain three critical components necessary for improved customer service. First, agility lets you adapt quickly to external and internal events. Second, precision personalizes and enriches guidance to delight customers. Third, you get speed and enjoy first to launch innovation and automation experiences at scale.

Oracle’s technology improves employee and customer retention and feeds organizational growth. It is important to debunk the common misconception that service itself facilitates speed, convenience, helpful employees, and friendly service.

In a PWC-based survey, more than 70 percent of consumers rated each of these service touch points as mandatory. The research is clear: digital automation gives you a grip on unpredictable events.

Service Automation Masters Digital Customer Service

Oracle’s innovative software helps brands deliver automated digital customer service in two modes — assisted service and digital self-service. It also is a factor in realizing growth potential, according to Park.

“What is important is considering the growth mindset of imagining what is possible to automate across your business,” she said.

Assisted service uses human agents over digital channels like chat, online video conferencing, email, SMS text, and social media. The platform also supports self-service without a live agent’s help and can even switch back and forth as needed.

Advanced features bring innovations with process automation, natural language processing (NLP), artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, and advice and decision automation. This advanced technology enhances your company’s ability to:

(1) Troubleshoot problems
(2) Explain contract and warranty terms
(3) Automatically reset login credentials
(4) Demonstrate proper assembly and usage
(5) Connect customers with expert advice.

In essence, Oracle’s service automation tools reinvent guided self-service. Remember, digital self-service is the customers’ go-to approach for finding answers and resolving issues. It lets them avoid long call center wait times and puts them in control.

Enriching CX Efficiently

Curious about how automated service helps your customers as well as your company?

Here is one example: Chatbots ask questions that steer a customer toward the best resolution. Oracle’s digital assistant, a pre-trained chatbot built with conversational AI and natural language support, is enabled with front- and back-office data allowing the assistant to take personalized actions on the customer’s behalf vs. serving just a simple means of conducting a digital conversation.

The digital assistant goes beyond a single purpose and recommends or completes tasks like scheduling meetings, checking your balance, and ordering a replacement part.

Here is another example: an online interview flow that presents a decision and a description of how that decision was reached. This last example might be the crown jewel of customer service fetes: evolutionary continuous brand differentiator driven by several fundamental tools and metrics to ensure effectiveness.

This advice and decision automation can be powered to answer any customer question that is dependent on a set of rules that affect the personalized output.

Oracle’s guided self-service strategy includes key capabilities that make service automation attainable. Knowledgebases provide information about your products and services. They are often supplemented in frequently asked questions, white papers, video tutorials, and more. Imagine if you could combine a chatbot, interviews for decision-making, and knowledge articles for a completely differentiated experience.

From an agent perspective, automation can help agents gather customer intelligence and analyze customer information. This data includes their purchase history, behavioral data, or details to provide personalized support.

Decision automation technology can also guide the agent, similar to guiding a customer, through a series of questions delivering personalized agent-facing information and advice.

Automated proactive engagement based on customer activity drives chat pop-ups, suggested knowledge base content, or contextual knowledge options to speak to a live agent.

Fine-Tuned Digital Options for Growth

Providing automated digital customer service is essential to satisfy the preferences of today’s customers for choice, control, and speed. Not all customer service is one size fits all. Oracle’s solutions take this need for customization into consideration.

“It provides automation practices that are unique to their business needs,” noted Park. “Whatever those needs, Oracle’s automation software empowers growth.”

One major consideration is realizing that not all automation is a universal fit, she cautioned. The automation process is not always a one-size-fits-all adoption.

For instance, digital assistants are popular among Gen Z customers. But not all classes of customers will readily use them. So, Oracle’s service automation encourages more customers to use digital channels by providing options that reflect their needs and preferences.

Oracle’s service tools support digital channels at all steps of the customer journey. This means your customers can receive an entire brand experience at any moment.

It gives companies options to make the best use of their resources. These options let customer service leaders establish a threshold to govern when customers can escalate requests to a human agent. As more options and channels to engage with organizations open up, Oracle’s service automation is built to work all together as one single solution, so the customer has no idea what has even been automated.

The ultimate goal is to empower growth. Oracle’s approach to implementing automation does precisely that, added Park. By unlocking new digital experiences, servicing more customers, and creating a framework that can accommodate the changes in customer behavior and preferences, the implementation of service automation can have a huge impact on any organization with a growth mindset.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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