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Despite Business Travel Cutbacks, Interactive Intelligence User's Forum Continues to Attract Healthy Crowd

May 20, 2009

While it’s true that business travel is way down, due to the dismal economy and additional factors such as the recent outbreak of swine flu, it certainly hasn’t affected contact center software vendor Interactive Intelligence’s annual User’s Forum, which this year attracted nearly 300 attendees from across the U.S. That’s down only slightly from two years ago, when the event attracted a record 322 people.

 
“We were worried, at the beginning of the year, about setting this thing up, because we were hearing stores about other tech vendors that were canceling their user forum events altogether, due to a lack of registrations,” said Interactive Intelligence President and CEO Dr. Don Brown during an interview at the event, which was held this week at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, located near the company’s corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind. “So we thought, well, we’ll go forward with it and it really has been something to see attendance so strong, considering the economic conditions. We got pretty much the same attendance we had last year.”
 
The annual event, which is for users of Interactive Intelligence’s enterprise-grade contact center and IP telephony software solutions, offers educational sessions and networking opportunities to help customers resolve issues and get more out their systems. It is also an opportunity for the company to get critical feedback from customers so it can support them better.
 
When asked why he thinks Interactive’s User Forum seems to have been spared from the recent cutbacks on business travel companies are undertaking, Brown said, “When companies adopt this product, it’s central to their operations. They’re using it to run either their entire internal communications or to manage the interface with their customers. And both of those are strategic part of their operations. So that makes it pretty easy to justify sending one or more people here.”
 
“I think we’re also aided by the fact that we’re pretty centrally located, in a relative low cost area of the country,” he added. “So the CFO doesn’t balk as much about sending two people to Indy, as opposed to some boondoggle to Las Vegas. I hope and believe that people see the value of coming here.”
 
These days, software vendors have to do more than just support their solutions they need to act as strategic partners to their customers. That means they have to understand their customers’ business models and overall business objectives, and take a “consultative” approach to helping them get the most out of their systems.
 
That’s what Interactive Intelligence’s annual Global User’s Forum is all about. This is the 11th year for the event Interactive Intelligence first started selling its Windows-based contact center products in 1997 and the first user’s forum, according to Brown, was in 1998.
 
“The early ones were pretty small,” Brown said. “All the customers could sit around the table at that point. But it grew pretty rapidly.”
 
And the content has changed quite a bit over the years as well.
 
“I think the biggest change is the range of topics that we have to cover,” he said. “At this point we have thousand of customers around the world some of them are departmental contact centers in organizations and some are outsourcers. And then we have customers that have bought our products as corporate telephony products organizations that use us as their corporate phone systems. They might have a few contact center agents in there but it’s really the focus of what they do. And then we have our MIC product, our unified messaging product, and we’ve sold that into a bunch of universities, including Harvard, UC at Berkley, Ohio State and others.”
 
“So it’s really a wide range of companies, working in a range of verticals and industries, each with its own particular interests,” he continued. “And that makes it pretty challenging, there’s sort of a ‘multiplicative complexity’ that comes with that -- all the permutations that you get -- all the different types of environments, and all the different types of technology areas that they want to focus on. So what we’ve done is broaden the types of tracks that we offer -- different tracks for different people handling different roles within the organizations -- and covering a wide range of topics.”
 
Sessions offered during the three-day event cover compelling and complex topics such as “Managing Remote Employees,” “Getting the Most From Your All-in-One Contact Center,” “Migrating from a Multi-point Legacy Environment,” “Best Practices with e-Services” and “Mobility Tools for the Mobile Employee.” Some attendees even spent Friday immersed in additional, hands-on sessions at Interactive Intelligence’s headquarters nearby.
 
During the event kick-off on Tuesday morning, Brown gave a brief update on the health of the company, which actually did see some growth in 2008, despite the economic turmoil that swept the world. He said although Interactive didn’t see the “torrid” growth of 2006 and 2007, when it saw profits of about 32 percent ($120 million) per year, it still managed to grow revenues about 10 percent, or about $10 million. He pointed out that ININ recently bought back about $10 million worth of its own stock, which has been trading higher since, plus the company recently bought a new headquarters building and still, Interactive has about $50 million in the bank and “absolutely no debt.”
 
“We assure you that in these uncertain financial times we are in fairly decent financial shape,” Brown told the crowd during the conference kick-off. What’s more he added that last year the company finally made it into Gartner’s Magic Quadrant report for contact centers, plus market research firm Datamonitor recently named the company one of the most “trusted” vendors of contact center and IP telephony solutions.
 
As far as the first quarter of 2009 goes, Brown said “our first quarter revenues were even with 1Q last year -- we turned a profit of about $3 million.” He attributed this mainly to the company’s “conservative Mid-western financial management.”
 
He added that so far this year they’ve won about one new customer each day newcomers include Bosch, Citrix, Rolex and Chevron, he said.
 
He also delivered the big news about the acquisition of software company AcroSoft which it announced on Monday:
 
“Yesterday we announced that we have acquired a software company, based in Columbia S.C. called AcroSoft,” Brown said. “These guys have been around for a number of years they build a very cool doc management system which they sell specifically into the insurance industry.”
 
Brown said ININ acquired AcroSoft “for a number of reasons -- first and foremost their expertise in the insurance industry, which is a very strong market for us. We like that vertical and we plan to do more applications for that vertical. But we also believe that document management, as a horizontal application area, fits in very well with our broader vision for business process automation.” (More news on this is coming in June stay tuned to ContactCenterSolutions!)
 
This is significant news for ININ because, as Brown explained, “we really have not done acquisitions up to this point in our history with exception to a related professional services firm that was already working on our products, that we acquired early on, so that doesn’t really count.”
 
Brown said ININ is currently “investing heavily to extend the capabilities of its platform beyond the contact center into the enterprise.”
 
“We believe that business process automation and document management form a very natural bridge into the rest of the organization,” he said.

Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for ContactCenterSolutions. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tim Gray

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