Pipkins, Inc. Executive Interview
An Enduring Vision Drives 33 Years of Success for a Cornerstone of the Contact Center Industry
In the ever- evolving world of contact center technology—particularly in the ultra-competitive workforce management space—only the strong survive. While it is a relatively young industry, the list of companies that have gone by the wayside could fill a phone book (if anyone used such anachronisms anymore.) One shining exception is Pipkins Inc., a St. Louis MO-based WFM software specialist that has been one of the most vital forces shaping progress since 1983.
The face of the company is Dr. James Pipkins, who began his career in the late 1970s as a plasma physicist after earning his Ph.D. from Renssellear Polytechnic Institute. He worked for General Atomic and hoped to participate in a fusion experiment for the oil industry to be conducted in Oak Ridge, TN and went to McDonnell Douglas who was going to be the primary contractor. But as the economic scene shifted from the “oil shock” shortages caused by regime change in Iran and unrest in the Middle East to an oil glut in the early 80’s, the experiment was put on the back burner. Seeking new opportunity, Pipkins turned his attention to the growing need for more efficient staff scheduling solutions in the emerging call center market.
“In those days, companies were using Linear Programming techniques to create the algorithms for staff scheduling, which made for a very restrictive environment to come up with solutions to meet the rapidly evolving and changing needs of call centers,” recalls Pipkins. “I was able to come up with a method of solving the problem in a more general environment that worked well even within the technological confines of the time, such as 186 processors and 16-bit registers. What I arrived at was an algorithm that evolved to meet changing call center requirements. ”
When Pipkins founded his company in 1983, its first customer was British Telecom, later known as BT. “They wanted to mechanize and computerize their staff scheduling procedures and had a unique set of requirements that we had to meet,” he said. They were large enough to sustain us until we began to penetrate the US market. This early experience taught Pipkins the importance of having the ability to shape the application to meet the needs of the customer without customizing individual solutions. “Our system has always been designed to be implemented to a customer environment rather that adapting the environment to the system,” he said.
Over its distinguished history, Pipkins Inc. has been responsible for numerous industry firsts, such as
• integrating Back Office processes that were not phone related into scheduling applications in 1994
• introducing Merlang, the company’s modernization of the Erlang C traffic modeling formula used in call center scheduling in 1992
• unveiling its Vantage Point enterprise forecasting and scheduling solution plus skills-based routing and web agent access in 1996
• smartphone support in 2008
The accomplishment that Pipkins sees as perhaps most significant is offering one of the first WFM SaaS (Software as a Service) programs in 2001. “When we started it, we used it to support our premise-based applications. But over the years, it has grown into the majority of our business.” The company maintains its own servers and its own databases in Dallas and Houston. We have control of our own IT part of the world. We know where our servers are and what databases are hidden.” The company uses third party services to provide data encryption and password access for security.
Over its history, the company has seen many changes, but views the broadening of the scope of WFM as the most important difference. “In the beginning, if you could create a report from the mainframe that gave you schedules you could post on the board, you were pretty happy,” said Pipkins. Now there’s a constantly expanding network of capabilities…..empowered agents, technological integration between different devices, working with HR and payroll, managing phone activities., integrating Work-at-Home agents…all of the disparate elements that now make up workforce management as opposed to simply forecasting and generating schedules.” Of course, technological growth has made it all possible. We couldn’t even load our payment tables today onto the 512K RAM, 640 byte systems we had in the ‘80s. Companies now want the capability to manage 1000 queues at one time with real-time data off the ACD.”
What keeps Pipkins at the forefront when many competitors have gone on to what Pipkins calls “that great graveyard of workforce management suppliers? “We didn’t try to expand too quickly and get behind the curve of revenue and operational costs. We’re now growing organically and expanding our growth by focusing on R&D. We‘re heavy on development, and spend more on creating new capabilities for the market than most companies of our size.”
Contributing Editor: Genia Stevens