Interactive Intelligence Integrates Contact Center Interactions

Interactive Intelligence (ININ) recently invited partners, consultants and analysts to Portugal to hear about the latest developments in its products. Not surprisingly given the extensive range of products it now supports, none of us had much time to enjoy Lisbon but were put through an intensive program of presentations and discussions.

On the surface, it appears that ININ supports three separate product lines: the contact center, enterprise IP telephony and business process automation. Dig a little deeper and you find that these are all built on the same foundation, Customer Interaction Center (CIC). This is an integrated software application suite that runs on a single multichannel platform, which has been architected to support both Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). Don Brown, the company founder, president and CEO, explained some architectural changes that enable CIC to support all of the components required to operate a multichannel contact center and also that all of it has been developed in-house or rewritten to fit the overall architecture and internal standards and integrated as one solution, although components can be purchased one at a time. They include standard and IP-based PBX, ACD (multichannel queuing, and call and email routing), multichannel support for phone, fax, email, Web, SMS and e-services, outbound dialing, IVR, agent desktop, quality monitoring, feedback management, workforce management, knowledge management, call and screen recording, an ever increasing number of analytics products and integration capabilities including monitoring of social media. On top of this, the suite also includes functionality to support enterprise-wide business process automation. Each of the modules has been or shortly will be revised with new features to enhance functionality and improve reliability and scalability.

The products are available as on-premises or cloud-based systems. ININ says that the latter is proving popular for the communication features, with Communications as a Service (CaaS) proving to be the best-selling product at the moment. As I have written several times, cloud deployment not only reduces the cost of supporting several high-end communication facilities but also gives companies more control over their interactions with customers by adding flexibility, ease of configuration and an architecture that supports even the most distributed operating models.

ININ has developed a comprehensive third-party program to support marketing, sales and delivery of its products. One partner of interest to me is RightNow. Its CX product has three basic components – RightNow Contact Center Experience, Web Experience and Social Experience, which support a dynamic desktop that provides customer case management, Web self-service, chat, co-browsing, email management, and social media monitoring. The two companies are working closely together to integrate their full range of products and offer one of the most advanced, fully integrated communications, contact center, customer experience management and social media solutions on the market.

I have been in the contact center industry for more than 20 years now, and my experience and research confirm that three things are holding back companies as they struggle to improve their contact centers to meet today’s new demands: cost, complexity and awareness. My latest research into the state of contact center technology illustrates the first two issues. Most companies have less than 10% of their operating budget to invest in new technologies yet they now have to build multichannel centers to support all manner of communication channels and business requirements. Traditionally this involves spending lots of money and integrating several systems, most likely from several vendors. The ININ suite changes both of these factors – it is fully integrated, includes most of the functionality companies need (and ININ is investing to add more) and the cloud deployment model helps dramatically from a cost perspective. It therefore offers companies the opportunity to innovate in the ways they interact with customers, with less risk and lower cost than previously. Interactive Intelligence continues to advance its technologies and since my analysis last year.


Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

Alight Does Agile Planning

Alight Planning sells planning and budgeting software mainly to midsize  companies and stresses its software’s ability to support a more effective approach to corporate planning and budgeting. It calls this “agile planning,” a term used to contrast a traditional, highly deterministic method of drawing up and executing plans with an “agile” mindset that is better able to deal with the high level of economic volatility that most businesses confront today. In many respects Alight’s approach is consistent with what Ventana Research refers to as “integrated business planning,” which I have written about as a business priority and an area that I have extensively researched.

 What distinguishes agile planning (and integrated business planning) from budgeting is this: In the end, the purpose of budgeting is to create a fixed budget for the finance department that constrains spending and attempts to hold people accountable to financial results. In contrast, the purpose of agile planning is to create a plan that enables a company to achieve its business objectives and then generate (as automatically as possible) a financial budget consistent with that business plan.

 The most distinctive feature of Alight’s software – an explicit unit-times-rate structure for building plans – does a great job of supporting a more advanced approach to planning and budgeting that is consistent with a performance driver planning methodology. The unit-times-rate method disaggregates the planning of “things” (for example, how many units will be sold and how many sales calls it will take to sell this many units) from the financial consequences of those activities (that is, revenues and cost of selling). Keeping units and rates explicit during the planning process can lead to a more effective allocation of resources. For example, executives can quickly compare average sales per employee by store or region or invoices processed per employee to see if headcounts are appropriate. Keeping units and rates explicit also can make the process of planning and (as important) replanning faster and more accurate because things and their prices are stored and calculated separately. For example, over the course of time, a company may find that its sales funnel model (the description of the progression from lead generation to closing a sale) remains accurate, but the cost of some components (such as an in-person sales call or the structure of sales incentives) changes. This approach also facilitates more effective contingency planning. Continuing the example, sales executives are able to calculate the impact of changes in average travel costs in real time to discuss and determine the best response if those changes come about.

 Moreover, compared to line-item budgeting, the unit-times-rate planning structure is more conducive to keeping everyone in the company focused on the important drivers of the business. It recognizes that the planning process should explicitly project the most important “things” that take place in business (for example, sales calls are made, units are sold and labor hours and materials are consumed) and the financial consequences that stem from these activities (travel expense, revenue and cost-of-sales impacts). When the time comes to compare actuals to the planned results, rather than just comparing accounting figures and trying to divine whether the difference was driven by units, the price of these or some combination of the two, executives and managers can see the explicit factors at work. By contrast, when companies do line-item budgeting, they can waste time on irrelevant items and become distracted from understanding and resolving important business issues (such as a declining close rate) because the drivers are not necessarily obvious.

 Alight Planning also stresses the importance of improving the maturity of a company’s planning process as a way of gaining greater business advantage from the planning process by using driver-based planning (and focusing only on the drivers that have a material impact on a company achieving its goals), integrating actuals into reviews (that is, incorporating operating, CRM, HR and any other relevant information, not just accounting data) and increasing the amount and sophistication of a company’s contingency planning.

 All dedicated planning applications compete with spreadsheets, which our research shows continue to be used by a majority of small and midsize companies. By stressing the need for a more effective approach to planning and budgeting, Alight is making the case for dropping desktop spreadsheets in favor of a dedicated planning solution; we concur with this because desktop spreadsheets are not capable of handling a dynamic, driver-based, operationally focused planning process.

 Alight Planning competes with a range of on-premises and hosted solutions aimed at midsize companies (which we define as those with 100 to 999 employees). These include Adaptive Planning and Host Analytics as cloud-based solutions, IBM Cognos, Infor, Prophix and Tagetek, as well as to a lesser degree, Budget Maestro (which focuses on small business and smaller midsize companies) and Oracle Hyperion and SAP Business Objects (which overlap at the higher end of the midsize spectrum). Alight’s most distinctive positioning against these companies is its focus on the unit-times-rate approach to planning and its advocacy of maturing the process.

 Companies should focus their forward-looking efforts on planning rather than simply budgeting. Our research continues to uncover reasons to use a dedicated application rather than desktop spreadsheets to manage the process so as to achieve the greatest business value for time spent. Some organizations are moving in this direction. For example, in 2010, Ventana Research gave Pittsburgh Mercy Health System our Overall Business Analytics and Performance Leadership Award for its implementation of a more collaborative and interactive, business-focused planning process.  I recommend that organizations that want to make their planning and budgeting process a more valuable management tool use software that will support those efforts. If you’re at a midsize company looking to purchase a dedicate application and gain greater business value from the time spent, I recommend including Alight Planning on your list of software to evaluate.


Robert D. Kugel – SVP Research