The “unified communication space” is a weird space. It has been around for ages (I used to be in charge of that product line for Orange at the turn of the 21st century). Now a new player in that field is rising, and they are no newcomer. Interactive intelligence is coming from the call-centre world, vs. most players in that area, coming either from the Web world (pure-players) or the Telco world (convergence). A little while back, I interviewed Donald Brown who founded Interactive Intelligence 20 years ago in Indiana. He turned his business into a $ 450m revenue machine. The software vendor’s model has evolved into a cloud multi-tenant model filled with innovation and features at cloud prices, some of them quite amazing and incredibly cheap. The hoosier company has performed a complete turn-around and is now planning to take over the world of a) collaboration software b) PBX in the cloud c) turnkey cloud-based call-centres. Here is the result of my interview with the Indianapolis entrepreneur.
At the time you founded your company, Interactive Intelligence 20 years ago, there was no such thing as “the cloud”. Could you walk us through how you started by developing solutions for contact centres before turning your business into this huge software company?
Back in 1994, the internet was still in its infancy. So we built a communications platform on a Windows NT server. It was a system that could act as a PBX, IVR, ACD, Voicemail system and provide everything an organisation needed for communication.
Today, we are about 2,300 people around the world. About 3 years ago, we decided we needed to bite the bullet. So we developed an all new multi-tenant cloud solution based on Amazon Web Services. And we invested about $50M in it.
You decided to invest all this money on R&D and come up with a cloud-based solution. This made you change your business model, moving away from contact centres. Can you explain your new strategy?
We really see a convergence happening between employee/client collaboration, of business communications and customer engagement. The lines are blurring to the point that everybody in the organisation needs to be thinking about their role in customer engagement. In fact, collaboration technologies are increasingly being used in customer service.
When you had to start from scratch, did you eliminate your client server solution to go into the cloud on Amazon Web Services?
We did not omit our solution; we still sell it. There are large organisations that still prefer to buy and own a premise-based solution. But we also developed this all new multi-tenent cloud solution because we felt that’s where the future was going.
Interactive Intelligence has 3 business cases to offer to clients. Can we start by discussing the Collaborate product?
PureCloud Collaborate is a freemium product. It includes an employee organisational directory, because it is important for people to find the right person with the right skill at the right time. It’s like an internally focused LinkedIn. It also includes real time communication tools such as instant messaging, multiusers chatrooms, video conferencing for up to 5 users and screen sharing as well as cloud storage. We even offer 1 Terabyte of storage for free.
We offer freemium products despite the costs because we want Interactive Intelligence to be known for collaboration and IP telephony in general.
However, clients can increase the functionalities within the service for 10€ per month. They can get support that is not included in the free package. They also get additional storage as well as increased number of participants in videoconferencing that goes up to 20.
Now can you tell us more about the second type of product: Communicate?
This cloud-based unified communication solutions is built with proven IP-PBX. It also comprises advanced functionalities used in communication systems such as voicemail, extension dialling, 911 etc.
It costs 20€ per user per month. And for large businesses, we offer some volume pricing.
The third product is Engage, that is closer to your older type of business. Can you tell us more about this service?
Engage is indeed a high-end contact centre offering. We are one of four companies listed in by Gartner in the Leaders’ quadrant along with Cisco and Genesis.
Engage is a full contact centre seed with omnichannel routing for phonecalls, emails, text chat, with full recording quality monitoring and real time supervision. It includes everything clients need for professional customer service operations. So, the operators can be anywhere, as long as they have a web browser and an internet connection. It is just like a call centre, but in the ‘cloud’.
Engage costs 99€ per user per month.
To the eyes of your clients, you are on 3 different modes: collaboration, communication and engagement. You are competing with 3 different types of companies. Could you clarify this part of the strategy?
Increasingly, the lines are going to blur, and the functionalities are going to merge. We believe that customer engagement is really everybody’s job. Collaboration and communication require increasing interaction with customers.
And, let me end this discussion with a question on your ambitions for the future?
We are recognized as being one of the leaders. Well, we would like to be THE leader of cloud based customer engagement solutions.