At its recent user conference, Interactions 2013, Interactive Intelligence (Nasdqaq: ININ) showcased its extensive product portfolio and its ambitious plans to improve the products both technically and functionally. I have written more than once about the complexities of building a contact center, which is getting even more complex as companies begin to support more channels of interaction as inbound ones are distributed around the organization including sales (59%), marketing (46%) and CRM team (41%) and distribute to many different contact center sites according to our customer relationship maturity research. To keep up with developments, I divide contact center systems and applications into five groups:
- Communications includes voice, email, fax, mail, chat, mobile access, instant messaging, portals, social media and universal queue for interaction routing.
- Workforce optimization covers interaction recording, agent quality monitoring, workforce management, e-learning, coaching, compensation management and agent-related analytics.
- CRM focuses on marketing, sales and service.
- Analytics includes structured and unstructured data, event monitoring and big data.
- Customer experience management deals with customer feedback, the agent desktop, natural-language processing, customer portals, mobile interaction and virtual agents.
Interactive Intelligence (InIn) offers products and services in most of these. Its flagship product is Customer Interaction Center (CIC). The core functionality includes a software-based PBX and IP-PBX, a software-based ACD, IVR, an outbound dialer and multimedia queuing and routing: These are all the core capabilities required to manage voice-based communications. Companies can add optional capabilities to manage email, chat and a customer portal, which give the product a multimedia dimension. CIC also supports workforce optimization with capabilities for multimedia recording, desktop screen recording, quality monitoring, workforce management and agent-related reporting. InIn enhanced its workforce management capabilities through the acquisition of Bay Bridge Decision Technology, which added long-term resource forecasting, planning and analysis of required agent numbers. CIC doesn’t include CRM per se, but it does support knowledge management and tools that enable integration with major CRM systems from Microsoft, Oracle/RightNow and salesforce.com. These tools support tight integration between the products, predominantly through CTI connectors, and companies can embed windows for CRM into CIC or vice versa.
As well as standard reports and analysis of contact center and agent performance, CIC includes a real-time speech analytics product. This is a recent addition that is just beginning to gain adoption. Companies first build a library of words and phrases that they want to spot while calls are taking place. Users can set up rules to trigger predefined action if a particular word or phrase is spotted; for example, a supervisor could be alerted to listen in to the call. The rules can also be set up to raise alternative actions if certain words or phrases are not spotted, such as if the agent fails to inform the caller of a required regulatory statement. The recordings of any calls in which designated words are spotted can be tagged for future analysis and use in quality assessments.
InIn now is taking a stronger position in the customer experience space where, in addition to managing multimedia communications, CIC includes a software-based IVR application that can be configured to request feedback from the caller. The results can be used in the quality management process and as input into analytics. InIn was one of several vendors that during 2012 announced a product that enables companies to build mobile customer service apps, an area in which demand is growing. This set of tools enables companies to build mobile apps that take advantage of smart device capabilities such as touch screens, integrate the app to back-office systems that use location information to enhance responses, and perhaps most importantly include a call-to-call button that allows callers to bypass IVR, route the call to the agent most qualified to handle the interaction, and keep the call in context by providing the agent with information the caller already entered into the app. I detected that, despite the exponential growth of smart devices, InIn, like other vendors, is disappointed by adoption rates for the product so far, but it did indicate that several customers have trials under way.
All these capabilities add up to InIn providing the broadest coverage of any vendor in the capabilities required to build a modern contact center. It is also important that these applications are tightly integrated which enables sharing of data between applications, common administration capabilities and a common user interface. InIn also has improved the underlying architecture to be more reliable, scalable and distributable. This last point is key to InIn’s strategy of making the system deployable on premises, in the cloud or as a combination of both, which it calls a hybrid environment. At the conference the company presented figures showing an increasing trend for organizations to opt for at least some capabilities in the cloud. In my own research into the contact center in the cloud, 40 percent of companies indicated they would be moving to cloud-based systems over the next few years and almost three quarters (73%) are doing this to improve agent performance through training and coaching. This seems to be particularly true in Europe where InIn said half of its new business is cloud-based. The improvements in architecture also enable InIn to offer a new option, CaaS Small Center. This is a version of the cloud-based option for communications as a service (CaaS) that is targeted at centers of up to 50 seats, although I suspect the size of user sites is likely to increase over time as new cloud-based hardware options become available. Small Center doesn’t include all the capabilities of the full version, but InIn said it has plans to expand capabilities to include everything currently available; even then, however, it will be in available only in the cloud, which for me begs the question which option is right for which.
On another front, InIn has released Communications-Based Process Automation (CBPA), which I covered recently. In summary CBPA routes work items to the employees best suited to handle them, tracks progress in performing them and provides an analysis of the end-to-end process. Looking ahead, InIn announced a new product, Interactive Content Management, that will provide management of all forms of content such as text images and video; it’s an enhanced version of document management for today’s needs.
As well has giving a company overview update, InIn CEO Don Brown hosted a session on new developments that he said in his view will have the most impact on contact centers in the future. There were a couple of in-house developments and a three from partners. There was a demonstration of the integration with salesforce.com. This essentially uses the new salesforce.com CTI connector to share data, and allow configurations that either allows ININ to be a window in a CRM screen or vice versa. There was also a demonstration of a new mobile application for contact center supervisors that will enable them not only to access performance information about those they manage but also to carry out certain configuration tasks such as routing of interactions to different queues and locations.
There was an intriguing demonstration from a partner called Orgspan that describes its product as “cloud-based employee directory on steroids.” Using it companies can extract data from any number of internal data sources and build profiles of employees and their place in the organization. Integration with CIC offers the option for callers to see a profile of who is available to take their call and then to select the person they prefer; this is a complete reversal of skills-based routing that I am not sure will appeal to many contact center managers. There was also a demonstration from Vidyo of its video platform which when integrated with CIC can add video as a channel to support some forms of interaction. In the example the presenters used (not as funny as I think they thought it would be) a biker called in asking how to blow up a tire; the agent used video not only to communicate with the biker but to point to where the valve was. This is perhaps not the most valuable application of the tool, but, as my research on the contact center in the cloud shows, video is an emerging channel, and as consumers use video more on their smart devices, it is probably a channel for the near future.
Against the background of all these product announcements, case studies from selected customers and news off a growing ecosystem of partners, Don Brown expressed concern about “the innovator’s dilemma.” InIn has grown from a startup that brought innovations to the communications marketplace to a successful big vendor with a growing portfolio of products. Even though it goes against what his financial advisors would like, Brown said, the company continues to invest 20 percent of its revenue in R&D. The dilemma is whether this is enough to prevent another little innovative company coming along to pull the rug from under it. I doubt that will occur because InIn pays close attention to what is happening in the market and is working hard to stay ahead.
If I have concerns, they relate to whether it is trying to do too much. As this discussion has shown, InIn now has a very large portfolio of products and it is trying to be the best in class” with each of them. In my sphere will always be small innovative companies with niche products that excel at a few capabilities. The trick for a “portfolio” company is integration. All my research shows that organizations face an increasing challenge to be more customer-centric. To achieve that they must break down barriers between the lines of business (especially marketing, sales and service), allow processes to flow across different activities (as from marketing to sales to service, agent performance to customer satisfaction, and quality monitoring to training and coaching) and be consistent across communication channels, all in a quest to deliver quality customer experiences. As saleforce.com has done and continues to do in disrupting the CRM market, I believe InIn should focus on doing the same in the contact center and customer engagement markets and retain its reputation as a vendor to watch.
Richard J. Snow