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December 24, 2006
Executive Interview: Interactive Intelligence Helps Enterprises Migrate to “Total” UC Faster
As I and my UC Strategies colleagues have been pointing out lately, with everyone in the computer-based information and telecommunications industry trying to become a critical part of the converging world of business communications, i.e., “unified communications” (UC), it is still difficult for both enterprise business management and IT management to understand what to do about it. Even though the legacy telephony network infrastructure is gradually being displaced by VoIP, the real challenge for every business organization, large and small, is the migration of existing telephony applications to multimodal UC.
We had the opportunity to talk about this market problem with an experienced member of the industry, Joe Staples, who joined one of the pioneering developers of software-based computer telephony solutions for the UC environment, Interactive Intelligence. Interactive Intelligence has also long been a working partner of Microsoft, supplying a software-based IP PBX that’s tightly integrated with Microsoft’s desktop applications. Joe is the Senior Vice-President of Worldwide Marketing for Interactive Intelligence.
For the purpose of this discussion, we assumed that Interactive Intelligence understands the concepts and the objectives for integrating IP telephony with both messaging and automated business processes in the same way as all the other providers in the “UC industry.” This includes the value propositions for increasing both internal end-user and “customer” productivity, as well as reducing future infrastructure support costs. What we were most interested in, however, is how the company is approaching the practical implementation and marketing issues for all aspects of enterprise UC.
1. Unified View: What segments of the enterprise market has Interactive Intelligence been targeting?
Our primary markets are any organization that needs a solution for both customer-facing and internal IP telephony communication applications. We built our offering from the ground up as a standards-based “all-in-one” software platform that includes converged applications for both customer contacts and enterprise personnel. This applications-oriented framework cost-efficiently streamlines a big chunk of UC integrations, while facilitating business process integration and providing end-to-end SIP support for maximum contact interoperability.
2. Unified View: What are you seeing in the marketplace regarding movement to enterprise UC?
UC is a very nebulous concept for most companies and they don’t really ask for “UC.” On the business/operational side, they usually focus on specific communications applications that are important to them, such as managing customer interactions, supporting remote teleworking, and more recently, providing wireless mobility. On the technology infrastructure side, security has become a bigger concern because of the vulnerability of open IP communications, while network capacity is going to be more complex because of dynamic usage across modalities of communication. Finally, business continuity and the opportunity to use hosted applications services versus traditional premise-based systems, will make UC migration easier and more cost-efficient.
3. Unified-View: What impact has the growing mobile workforce had on UC migration?
Although mobility has always been a driver of UC, the current perceptions of workforce mobility are still too narrow. They don’t include key UC capabilities like wireless messaging flexibility, presence management, and business process integration. Also, mobile communications are often viewed only as an off-premise “road warrior” need, when there are actually many practical on-premise mobility needs, where users are just away from a wired desktop, such as “corridor cruisers,” people in meetings, hospital personnel, retail clerks, etc.
The dynamic availability of mobile users requires easy access and simple availability management by contact recipients. We see that happening through standardized “status” conditions that control basic accessibility rules that don’t have to be constantly changed by end users. This approach will simplify personal contact management, resulting in features such as “on-demand” single button pushes and automatic, preprogrammed rule changes based on time of day, location, or calendar information.
We see this kind of simplistic interface for presence and availability management as being extremely critical to gaining end-user UC adoption, which, in turn, is key to enterprise migration activity.
4. Unified-View: What have been the biggest barriers and issues for UC implementation within business organizations?
As mentioned earlier, the nebulous definitions and complexities of UC are a problem to everyone in the enterprise, from IT and business management to end- users. Not only is “UC” hard to put into legacy product and service perspectives, but it is also difficult to correlate with costs and ROI payoffs. Talking about implementing just “UC” doesn’t resonate with many enterprise prospects for this reason.
IT departments won’t go out of their way to promote these applications unless end-users start pushing for them, and that won’t happen until it’s very clear how these new capabilities will help employees do their jobs better, faster, etc. Enterprise IT staff just won’t feel comfortable about replacing technology that still works without such demand and, even then, there are strategic questions about how to make the migration to UC graceful and efficient.
While smaller companies and “greenfield” locations can more easily replace existing telephony technologies, larger, distributed organizations can actually realize greater cost benefits from the move to software-based UC applications. Since we have upgraded our platform for greater scalability, and since we didn’t have to re-architect it as a “UC” solution, we’ve been increasingly successful selling into this larger enterprise segment.
5. Unified-View: Many companies have standardized on the Cisco data network infrastructure, which often leads to the conclusion that an IP-based phone system from Cisco would also make the most sense. Why would a company that’s standardized on a Cisco network choose an IP telephony system from another vendor, such as Interactive Intelligence?
Cisco is trying to capitalize on its large installed base of data network equipment, which gives it account access. It also gives it brand recognition, as in the old days when you won’t get fired for buying from IBM. But IP telephony and UC are not just about a converged network infrastructure. They are also about converged communication applications that will sit anywhere on a data network and must be device-independent. This particularly affects the complexities of real-time telephony functionality, and, therefore, an applications software server architecture that is based on open standards to maximize both application interoperability and performance efficiency.
This is what Interactive Intelligence has already done with its “all-in-one” platform, and this has been the company’s sole focus since it’s founding in 1994. We urge organizations to critically evaluate UC technology providers based on both efficient application infrastructures and end user functionality, because that is where the business process productivity payoff will come from. Just because a vendor has a track record in networking infrastructure, doesn’t mean it’s a leader in all applications that sit on the network. Remember, from a user perspective, its becoming all about application software and endpoint device independence!
6. Unified-View: Despite the convergence trend, many still believe that a best-of-breed approach out-performs products designed as part of a single-platform suite. How does the Interactive Intelligence software suite perform against these “point” products, and why would a company choose a suite approach vs. best-of-breed?
The migration challenge for IP telephony and unified communications is whether “you pay now or pay later.” There really is no free lunch!
To maximize operational efficiency and application flexibility, tight integration between voice applications are a given and have always been a problem for proprietary TDM-based telephony solutions in the past. In addition to integration and performance issues, having different business process application systems also creates greater support and maintenance problems and costs. Interactive Intelligence successfully focused on eliminating that problem for core telephony applications with its standards-based “all-in-one” IP telephony software suite.
This focus includes traditional call center activities where most enterprise “customer productivity” payoff comes from, and which is now dramatically changing because of IP telephony, mobility, and UC’s multimodal communications. A recent Benchmark Portal survey of enterprise call centers with more than 250 agents found that, on average, with “best of-breed” point products, 14 technology administrators were needed for technology support, compared to only two for “all-in-one” software suites.
However, we do recognize that migration from legacy point solutions will take time for larger, more distributed environments, so we do integrate with existing systems, including PBXs, desktop telephones, contact center ACDs, dialers, voice mail, and IVR. This means that a customer can start with whatever IP telephony applications are easiest to install or replace, but still interwork with other existing technologies until it is ready to replace them. The key factors for such migration, however, must be the business process benefits that will be realized through new communications applications, not just future cost savings in technology support.
7. Unified-View: Interactive Intelligence made its name in the small to medium sized contact center market, and is now going after the large enterprise market. How has the company’s server-based software changed to deliver maximum reliability, scalability and resiliency? What about Interactive Intelligence’s ability to successfully service and support these large companies?
As the telephony industry shifted to VoIP and SIP, we were able to expand the integration flexibility and scalability of our “all-in-one” software platform so that the needs of large, distributed organizations could cost-efficiently be accommodated. We can now deliver a capacity of 5,000 users per server, and we can cluster servers for a virtually unlimited number of users. We achieved greater performance by separating media processing from application processing. This also means we have greater application reliability for business continuity.
Especially important to larger enterprises is our open, more flexible applications architecture, which lends itself to their varied business process customization needs, as well as ongoing business process changes brought on by UC and wireless mobility. We offer all of these applications on the same platform so larger enterprises don’t have to buy separate products from different vendors for a “complete” solution, then sink a bunch of money into costly integration projects.
We also recognize that, as important as the scalability of our technology is, we are also competing based on credibility. Interestingly, with all the big vendors now touting VoIP networking, SIP, software-based IP telephony, Unified Messaging, and Unified Communications, our credibility has actually grown significantly. We used to be seen as competing on our competitors’ turf – either the entrenched legacy telephony vendors or the data networking players. With SIP and UC taking center stage, however, the playing field has shifted to our turf – that of open, converged, and centralized software application solutions. We can now boast a longer track record for providing these solutions.
With large customer deployments under our belts, including customers such as Microsoft, Motorola, BMW and many others, we’ve successfully proven ourselves in this large enterprise market.
8. More companies seem to be considering a hosted service option for IP telephony and UC, rather than traditional CPE. What plans, if any, does Interactive Intelligence have for hosting UC and/or contact center services? Will you support service providers like the new AT&T or Verizon who want to offer UC application services developed by others?
We’ve also seen a growing interest in hosted services and are in the process of expanding our disaster recovery and hosted notification services to include direct support of a variety of applications. This model helps focus the responsibilities of enterprise management on the practical value of application usage, rather than on just supporting infrastructure technology. We see our distribution channels in the SMB market segment being very valuable for selling such hosted services as an alternative to purchasing our software products.
And, yes, we also see opportunity in offering our software as a hosted service through the public carriers, thus we plan on pursuing this model as well.
What Do You Think?
The Math of Customer UC: blog. (http://unified-view.blogspot.com/)
Read our exclusive articles below on UC for Customer Contact applications:
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