Interactive Intelligence was among the first vendors to provide a software-only product for telephony management. Built entirely in-house, All-in-One provided software-based automatic call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR) and PBX and functionality that enabled companies to avoid the costly and often complex task of buying proprietary equipment from vendors such as Alcatel, Avaya, Nortel and Siemens. Being software it was also much easier to integrate with other systems, so companies could “mix and match” it with traditional on-premises equipment. Since that product was launched in 1997, Interactive Intelligence has been steadily working to improve scalability, flexibility and resilience, and to add new functionality such as quality monitoring, skills-based routing, a knowledge base, predictive dialing, speech-enabled IVR, call and screen recording, workforce management and, as the latest addition, customer surveys. Along the way, the vendor introduced compliance with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), so its products could be integrated with other SIP-enabled systems. Interactive also introduced a reporting and analytics product with which to produce analysis based on data from all its other products.
They fall into three functional categories: unified communications, the contact center and reporting and analytics. The unified communications products include IP-based PBX, presence, conferencing and desktop control of calls. The contact center group initially included ACD, IVR, predictive dialing, call recording, chat and instant messaging, post-call surveys and knowledge management. The third group includes prebuilt reports and analysis that includes data from all the other products. They have been sold through licenses and deployed on-premises, but recently Interactive Intelligence has been one of the first vendors in this market to make its products available through cloud computing. Together in the new deployment model, they came close to enabling customers to run a contact center in the cloud.
The components obviously missing were workforce management and an equivalent of customer relationship management (CRM). The latest release addresses workforce management as a cloud-based option. CRM is available through integration with the customer’s own system via prebuilt interfaces to common CRM products, and a tool kit helps customers build their own interfaces or have them developed. These additions complete a full contact center in the cloud, which has the usual benefits of monthly usage fees instead of upfront licenses and annual maintenance charges, no new hardware purchases, rapid implementation, less risk and less need for IT involvement. Companies also have the option to mix and match on-premises deployments with cloud-based systems, and to start small and grow.
Interactive Intelligence call its approach communications as a service and includes a portal so companies can view up-to-date billings and administration changes, access call recordings and even to listen silently into calls. One final piece of new functionality offer the option to include “outbound IVR” that supports outbound automated messages, text-to-speech outbound messages, IVR prompts and transferral to a live agent.
As well, Interactive also recently released Communications-Based Business Process Automation, which extends call routing and workflow to manage non-voice tasks such as e-mail or claim forms by a set of rules; it sends the task to the right people or partners and then tracks it to completion.
These developments call into question the necessity of a centralized contact center. I think of interaction-handling as having four main components – multichannel communications management (or unified communications), agent performance management, customer experience management and customer and contact center analytics. Now that Interactive Intelligence has made them available in the cloud, companies can seriously consider handling customer interactions through a combination of in-center, home-based, on-shore or off-shore agents and employees in other business units and branch offices. This creates an opportunity for even small companies to better manage customer interactions and give the customer a better experience without having to build what we currently think of as a contact center.
Comparatively, salesforce.com is marketing its Service Cloud (See: “Salesforce Cloudforce – Socializing and Servicing Customers in the Clouds“) but does not yet have all the necessary components and so is supplementing its offerings with those of partners; Interactive Intelligence has the capabilities but has not invested sufficiently in marketing its potential. It needs to provide validation of customer deployments to be part of my formal recommendation to our clients. With better presentation of what it offers, Interactive might be able to make the cloud a concrete business opportunity that will make its shareholders happy.
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Richard Snow – VP & Global Research Director