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Marketing claims about a company’s innovation have become so common as to be almost meaningless, and this is true in the software business. That’s a shame because it obscures cases in which a vendor really is innovative. For example, at a recent partner and analyst event hosted by Interactive Intelligence (ININ), its CMO told me that ININ has stopped using the phrase “deliberately innovative”  because claiming to be innovative isn’t helpful in getting across its messages.

My research into the maturity of customer relationship leads to me to three conclusions in which the need for innovation is apparent:

  • Companies now have to provide multiple communication channels through which their customer can interact.
  • Many business units within an organization handle inbound customer interactions.
  • From the customer’s perspective, one of the keys to a good experience is consistency, in the way interactions are handled and in the information provided at every touch point.

Meeting these three objectives requires synchronization of processes, information and actions across business units and communication channels, and to achieve that companies need support from integrated technologies. In short, companies have to innovate in the ways they handle customer interactions if they are going to differentiate themselves from the competition and provide excellent customer experiences that produce strong business results.

Interactive Intelligence attempts to supply systems to help in this effort. Its first product was a software-based PBX, which was innovative compared to the preparatory-based systems available at the time. Over time ININ has expanded its product portfolio to include an integrated suite for contact center operations, unified, multimedia communications, business process automation underpinned by intelligent task-routing, and tools to support integration with popular CRM systems and social media. It has also enhanced its reporting and analysis capabilities, including real-time word-spotting.

It has other new developments and enhancements, including integration with Microsoft’s unified communications platform Lync. ININ has a strategic partnership with Microsoft to develop tight integration between their products and mutually market the resulting offering. Although Microsoft claims to have sold a large number of Lync licences, as far as I can tell it is only a few innovative companies are using it and so far very few have integrated it into their contact centers; time will tell how big this market becomes.

ININ was also one of the first vendors in its market to take cloud computing seriously, and it now offers a variety of products, especially communications, deployable on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid architecture that I have already assessed. My research into adoption of a contact center in the cloud shows that this is a wise move. Organizations still have concerns (such as security and performance, which in my view are largely unfounded) about moving to the cloud, and ININ’s ability to offer this choice can address some of them. That said, the research shows that nearly half of companies believe that moving to the cloud can help improve the ways they interact with customers, so I expect more organizations to go down this route.

ININ CEO Don Brown closed this event with a speech promising even more new developments, which will take the company further toward offering products that support truly innovative customer experiences, across all touch points, including mobile devices. I will be watching out for these, so to keep up with developments, please collaborate with me on my analysis and research agenda.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

Like many other observers with a business perspective, I have been skeptical of unified communications, but a day I spent at the recent Unified Communications Expo 2012 went a long way to convincing me that unified communications has entered the mainstream. At this point I think organizations should consider it as a viable option to improve the efficiency of their communications systems, the ability to collaborate internally and with customers, and the effectiveness of their multimedia contact centers. 

The exhibit hall featured well-known communications vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Aspect, AT&T, Avaya, NEC and Nokia, some well-known computing brands such as Dell, IBM and Microsoft that are not widely recognized as being in the communications market, and a host of other vendors demonstrating all manner of communications products. The offerings ranged from fully integrated unified communications systems to communication services, headsets, mobile devices, video systems, and consulting and implementation services, and one or two specialist contact center system suppliers were on hand.

The three broad observations I took away from the show are these:

  • Although there was a lot of specialist hardware on display, software now rules the world of communications.
  • Unified communications is often associated with presence and collaboration, and although these were evident, a stronger focus was multimedia communications.
  • Hard-wired communications is giving way to demand for supporting out-of-office and mobile workers, and customers on the move or in remote locations.

Typifying these trends was the presence of many Microsoft partners offering products and services based on Microsoft Lync. This is a software-only product that unites audio, instant messaging, video, voice and Web-based conferencing. It includes presence so users can easily find and connect with other parties logged onto the system and collaboration tools so users can share data and information such as documents, presentations and spreadsheets. Due to the overwhelming presence Microsoft has in many organizations, Lync offers the possibility of replacing traditional on-premises PBXs with a software system based on non-proprietary hardware; however, several vendors I spoke to predicted this won’t happen for a few years as Lync still lacks some of the capabilities required to manage a large contact center. One major player, Dell UK, has spotted this potential andpresented itself as the leading provider of services to implement unified communications based on Lync.

My primary interest was to assess the impact of unified communications in the contact center. I didn’t have to wander far from the Lync section to find Zeacom, which offers a software-only multimedia contact center product and recently announced full integration with Lync. In the same area I also found two vendors new to me, Aastra and Vocalcom. Among several unified communications products, Aastra was demonstrating Solidus eCare, its own multimedia contact center system. And Vocalcom was launching its Hermes.Net, also a software-based multimedia contact center product. My recent research into the maturity of customer relationships shows that providing multiple channels of communication to support customer interactions is now a must for companies, and with these emerging vendors and the ones I already cover, organizations now have a broad choice of suitable products to support their efforts.

My last observation isn’t about the show as such but about its organizers. They showed they are on top of current developments, and as well as all the usual channels of communications, by providing a mobile app for the show, available on all smart mobile devices. It allowed me to register, find information about the exhibitors, see a floor plan and the schedule of all the presentations, and download videos and presentations; I was pleased to have all that in the palm of my hand. I urge other conference organizers and companies that put on their own events to consider providing something similar; I predict that their audiences will like it as much as I did.

Has your company adopted unified communications? Have you seen how it could benefit your contact center and the way you interact with customers? If so please tell us more and collaborate with me further.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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