One of the great things about events like Interactive intelligence’s annual meeting with its customers, partners, consultants, media and analysts, is the opportunity to meet with CEOs and other high-level management to get their views on the state of the industry and their companies in real-time. Here at Interactions 2012, Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) CEO Dr. Don Brown had a free-wheeling session with industry observers, and he shared his thoughts on a wide variety of subjects. They speak to many of the issues, challenges and opportunities everyone in the evolving contact center solutions community are currently grappling with and strategizing about.
The cloud and nothing but the cloud
Not surprisingly, all things cloud-related were top of mind for everyone in the room. In fact, Brown noted how much of his company’s growth was coming from cloud-based contracts and what Interactive Intelligence is seeing in their pipeline and actually turned the tables by asking the industry experts in the room if we believed that by 2015 over 50 percent of new installations would be cloud. The answer back from the audience was a bit surprising. In fact, it was not until the threshold was lowered to 25 percent that a majority raised their hands. This set off a lively exchange as to why.
The short answer was analysts who have run the numbers stated that the all important answer to customer total cost of ownership (TCO) calculations show that premises-based solutions are far superior to those going to the cloud. The reason being that the cost of outsourcing an IT department expense to a hosted solutions provider on an ongoing basis that is pay-as-you go and grows over time is expensive. Intuitively, this makes sense, but Brown had a few extremely salient points to make on the subject:
- The value of contact centers in the cloud, especially to large enterprises goes well beyond just TCO. In fact, doing an apples-to-apples comparison is a challenge in itself because of the value the cloud represents in terms of scalability, extensibility, the time it takes to upgrade, staying on top of updates in things like security and compliance etc.
- Interactive Intelligence, because it plays in premises, cloud and hybrid solutions that have been in the market for a long time and provide customers options based on their unique circumstances may be seeing the fruits of its labors differently from those who do not have such a broad portfolio or experience in meeting customers unique needs.
As Brown noted, the cloud may not be now or ever what everybody needs, especially as it pertains to specific requirements regarding individual company requirements for the control of what they deem to be mission critical information and processes, but as it matures as the success of SalesForce.com and others proves, it is going to play an increasingly important role.
On other cloud-related topics, Brown was quick to point out that Interactive Intelligence is quickly expanding its data center footprint around the world to meet the demand for cloud capabilities, and is working through a series of relationship opportunities with partners, VARs and looking to better engage consultants to maximize the value of using hosted capabilities for the entire ecosystem. He also noted that as a result of getting cost and pricing issues resolved, Interactive Intelligence and its partners are now well positioned to move down market (under 100 agents and moving toward between 50 and 100) to monetize the SMB opportunity.
Expanding the business
In response to a question about Interactive Intelligence’s recent acquisitions of partners in key geographic locations like South Africa and Belgium, Brow stated that, “We now have good geographic coverage, but obviously will always be opportunistic, but will be concentrating more on shoring up application gaps.” He cited workforce optimization as a place where acquisition for the purpose of gaining expertise that currently is not organic is an area he and the team are looking at.
He also could not resist pointing to the transformative and critical role contact centers are playing in the areas of business process optimization and their critical nature in properly being able to measure and analyze big data to improve not just process but give agents (and internal departments like sales and marketing) the tools to provide improved customer experiences. This means expanding the integration, be it for contact centers whether cloud or premises, with CRM systems, UC capabilities, mobile apps and social media.
The message was that the company’s push into process automation was important, and that adding value by assuring great multi-channel capabilities was a place not only where Interactive Intelligence can add value, but is where the market is headed.
Update on Mobilizer
The recently announced Interaction Mobilzer capability that enables CIC customers to create their own mobile apps is clearly something Brown is proud of, as witnessed by it being the only demo Brown used during his opening of the event. While the company is not yet ready to announce the first commercial customers, he said interest is intense. Contact center administration are tantalized by the value of letting customers be notified of when they would be getting a callback and having their context transferred when they are —providing simultaneously cost reductions from putting people on hold and agents waiting to have context along with improved customer satisfaction as waiting and resolution times are decreased. In fact, Brown noted that the next step to be addressed is actually creating a library of useful mobile apps that customers can drawn upon in their own app development efforts. This will be not just for public app stores, but for what is expected to be an explosion of enterprise app stores as IT managers look to control the BYOD phenomena.
Professional services and security
Two other areas of the session are note worthy, professional services and security. Brown made the interesting statement that it is his goal to “kill the professional services organization.” That of course got people’s attention. His reasoning was that customers hate customization and that the goal is to automate as much of what professional services organizations do as possible to save time and money, and relieve what customers see as a major headache when they desire to upgrade capabilities.
On the security front, Interactive Intelligence is very sensitive to the sensitivity on this subject especially since agents have been and will continue to be a major challenge. He did note that Interactive Intelligence offers a secure IVR capability to automate as much as possible customers providing personal information when doing a transaction. It was also brought up that Interactive Intelligence recognizes that security is a big obstacle to cloud adoption and is in the process of getting SSAE-16 certification as validation by independent third-parties as to the company’s ability to mitigate risks.
One last remark that is worth sharing was Brown’s response to Clayton Christensen’s keynote remarks about the dangers of outsourcing. Brown’s answer struck a chord. He said that while he understood the dangers Christensen outlined, the reality was every company has to look at what is intrinsic to its existence and must be kept as a core competency as well as look at the skill sets it brings to the table. This is an evaluation process that must be constant in a changing world. In other words, Christensen was right to demonstrate the point, but it is management’s job to be vigilant and execute not just tactically in the short-term but strategically to avoid surprises.
As noted at the top, there is nothing quite like having the opportunity to hear it in person from the CEO. I am looking forward to hearing more from his team about how this is being translated into new capabilities and what their radar is telling them about the future.
Edited by Jamie Epstein