ACCE: OpenSpan makes desktop automation sexy again

Do you remember the good ol’ days of desktop automation? How it was such a hassle to make all the various desktop applications work together to create some sort of automated workflow? It was a world of DDE and COM and proprietary scripts running within terminal emulators to push out keystrokes in order to navigate a mainframe program. Oh, I remember those days! Programs had to be installed exactly where it’s supposed to be and God forbid there’s an unresponsive app ’cause that’ll break the mishmash of automation in a heartbeat.

Be glad that there are companies out there which feel your pain. Alpharetta, Ga.-based OpenSpan is one of them. Since its inception the company has won various awards for doing what it knows best: desktop productivity. Recently OpenSpan was a finalist in the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium Innovation Showcase and a customer, T-Mobile USA, was highlighted in the CIO 100 Awards for using OpenSpan to save a projected $260 million. Impressive indeed.

I must admit, however, that I’d never heard of this company before coming to ACCE — and I live in metro Atlanta! Somewhat embarrassing, I know, but that just shows you how vibrant and diversified the Atlanta economy is (no, I don’t get paid by the city). After David Brunner, VP of Product Management, and I shared our thoughts on the hot humid weather in both Atlanta and New Orleans, we jumped right in to a demo. After all, what better way to illustrate the newest magic of desktop automation than seeing it with my own eyes?

Drag. Drop. Connect the blocks. Drag. Drop. More connecting. Change a property here to disable a textbox input. Execute a method there to hide the form. Done. Run demo. See Eugene’s jaw drop.

I was beyond impressed. Honestly, I was blown away by the ease and capabilities of OpenSpan. As I picked up my jaw from the booth desk, Brunner had more goodies to demonstrate. This time he showed me how OpenSpan can be used to actually create brand new applications without writing code. Simply use the Visio-like interface to drag and drop blocks from the palette, but this time it’s from APIs. For example, OpenSpan can easily be used to create a custom softphone for the contact center — with screen-pop and all — provided that the communications vendor offers a set of Microsoft .NET API to work with (and who doesn’t, right?).

Oh, did I say “without writing code”? Don’t fret, you lean mean programming machines… OpenSpan also allows code-based programming in addition to the intuitive visual-based method. Regarding this Brunner said that the best practice was to have the business users learn the visual-based programming which allows them to tweak the workflows; but encapsulate any of the nitty-gritty program-y stuff with code because developers will find that more effective. And yes, OpenSpan comes with all the debugging features one would find in most IDEs.

OpenSpan Studio is a standalone IDE, but there’s also a Visual Studio 2008 plug-in available. Both are free to developers and downloadable online.

But automation is just what OpenSpan is most known for. There are also monitoring and analytics features. Every desktop event is logged — which app was active, which form was receiving input, what data was typed, etc. — so that management knows there’s a comprehensive audit trail for each agent desktop. According to Brunner, the monitoring feature would serve as a good complement to speech analytics. With speech analytics keywords are filtered and searched and can be cross-referenced to the accompanying screen capture to discover customer insights. But with OpenSpan this events database is easily searchable, therefore one can quickly discover the inefficiencies of the desktop processes as well as any after-call work tasks, therefore implement improved workflows to shorten the talk time and ACW, which could translate into significant dollar savings.

With all the capabilities of OpenSpan, it’s not surprising that other companies have OEM’d their technology. The company has developers that number 1/3 of total employees, so the commitment to the product is evident. I, for one, cannot wait to see what cool new stuff they come out with in the next few years.


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