Interactive Intelligence conquers collaboration market from the cloud

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.

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The Cloud helps you build relationships with your customers

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.

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Gartner’s Vision Of The Future Of Mobility; Should Users Be Afraid?

The opening session I attended this morning at the Gartner symposium was entitled “by 2017 your smartphone will be smarter than you”. The speakers were Martin Reynolds and Carolina Milanesi from Gartner and the moderator was Charles Arthur from the Guardian. As a matter-of-fact, the discussion ended up being far more interesting than the title suggested. The panel started to review the future of Smartphones and wearable devices and connected it very well to the issues of data privacy and user benefit, which are central to the use of big data.

Carolina Milanesi introduced the subject by saying that “smartness is achieved through sensors and also geolocation. Yet, “we are not there yet” according to her, and mostly if “people don’t want to share their location information, smartness may not even happen”. I think she exposed the issue very well by emphasising the fact that innovation related to Smartphones will not just be a matter of technology, but of user acceptance and benefits.

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Gartner’s Martin Reynolds and Carolina Milanesi today in Barcelona

There are, according to those 2 Gartner analysts, 4 phases of what they call “cognizant computing”. “We have caught glimpses of each of these phases at the moment depending on the vendors and the services, but we are nowhere near complete smartness” Milanesi added. She and Reynolds went on describing these four phases:

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Gartner’s four phases of “cognizant computing”

  1. “sync me”: this is the most obvious phase, the one which most of the Computing giants have achieved; it is composed of storage and the syncing of personal data,
  2. the “see me” phase: this is all about our digital footprint. “This phase is still not very intelligent, and not many companies are taking advantage of this” the Gartner analysts said,
  3. the “know me” phase: this is about understanding who the user is, what he likes and what he does through the data he stored; so that he can be presented with offers and messages which are relevant to him,
  4. “be me” phase: this is where services are acting on the user’s behalf based on learned or explicit data.

Yet, looking at how many companies do this show that there is still room for improvement:

  • the “sync me” and “see me” phases are pretty common and are mastered by most high-tech giants like Evernote, Google, Apple, Amazon etc and Facebook of course,
  • the “know me” and “be me” phases are more restricted at the moment to mostly Google and also Apple. “Google now” is a good example of that, mostly on Smartphones: it is able to suggest ideas, for instance a restaurant which is relevant to your tastes, when you might actually need one and one is available in the vicinity. Apple’s Siri is a bit different. “It looks smart but is not” said Gartner’s Milanesi. When Carolina’s daughter spoke to Siri and said: “Siri, I don’t like you” he responded “now, now”; that’s because it was cleverly programmed but it doesn’t mean that it’s smart at all, Milanesi said.

clip_image006So all in all, we are several years away from smartness, Martin Reynolds explained. “Smartness will happen when your phone is able to ring 30 minutes earlier because there is to be heavy traffic and you have a meeting with your boss” he added. Yet, “if the meeting is not with your boss but just with a colleague, then the system should be able to send an email to say that you are going to be late”. That’s an example of how smart and predictive a service can be. I must admit that some of the stuff that I see from Google on my Galaxy S4 smartphone (the service is called Google cards) at the moment is already very close to this as Google is able to propose quite a few things (sights, public transport, stocks, birthdays, all based on social data…) already without me asking for anything (see screen grab).

Only a limited number of companies have that ability

Only a limited number of companies have the capacity that Google has gathered over the years in order to store and compute all this data. Others are following now said the Gartner analysts. Microsoft is on Google’s heels with an amazing catch up in terms of how many servers they are investing in at the moment, Reynolds said. Apple, and even Amazon too, but to smaller degree, they said.

But the real question is “how does this innovation affect regular businesses”?

“Some of these ideas will be disrupting traditional businesses” Martin Reynolds said. Through a combination of mass storage and Twitter feeds (Martin thinks that companies which don’t have a proper kept Twitter feed will soon be at a disadvantage) you will be able to reach a proper strategy which will project your company in the future.

What will change by 2017?

Carolina demonstrated a Plantronics prototype headset which is “a lot smarter than existing headsets” insofar as it knows what its user is looking at. Applications for that innovation could be found in video conferencing, but also in the user shopping experience, live navigation in Google Street view (as demonstrated live to us this morning), and even insurance applications for bikers and hikers, for instance, who would be able to record road accidents even before they happen.

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Gartner’s Martin Reynolds and Carolina Milanesi

Powerful motion sensors

“There are also new motion sensors which make it possible for online services to know exactly what it where you are going and at what speed” Martin Reynolds added. “You will be able to record all your movements” he said. “Companies like Google and Apple, and even possibly carriers, will be able to map out where people go; even your house will be tracked” said Martin, and you will be able to see where you, but also your guests, are actually sitting and moving about in your house.

Avoid crossing the “creepy line” (Eric Schmidt)

Where is the boundary between storing a lot of personal information for statistical purposes in order to bring value to the user and prying into personal data in order to be able to track what people do? That is the real question. A lot of that issue boils down to who actually does the tracking in fact, and how much trust the user is putting in them. Governments definitely seem to be out of that game (at least if I believe the responses from the audience to Gartner’s questions), but also possibly carriers (for the same reasons). Strangely enough, companies like Google, and to a lesser extent Facebook, were perceived as less intrusive by the audience because “they bring more value to the user” according to Gartner. So the “creepy line” is less about the usage of personal data as it is about the value that the service brings in the users’ eyes.

As a Conclusion, what will be the future made of?

“The unlocking of all the data that is being stored at the moment will always take place” according to Reynolds, but the real question is “whether this is being done with the objective of bringing value to the user or third-party”.

According to the Gartner analysts in the panel today, value will also move away from the handsets and therefore we will witness a shift in prices and a lot of pressure on the manufacturers in the next three years. Even then, it’s difficult for us to see that happening in the very near future, given the recent demise of Blackberry and Nokia which left a very significant market share to Samsung and concentrated the market in a few hands. Also, “Consumers are starting to get more interested in the ecosystem and applications than the hardware itself”, Reynolds added. A sign of this being Apple’s decision to give away its software for free (as they did with “Pages” and other apps on iOS recently).

So what will be the future made of in 2017? And how smart will our Smartphones be? Certainly, more wearable devices will be available out there. And Smartphones will probably not get much smarter than they are at the moment as intelligence is bound to shift into the software and the ability to do predictive things using the data that users have provides… that is to say as long as they agree with that!

A pictorial guide to my Business portable Samsung Galaxy S4 office

mobile-large_thumb.gifAs I am preparing for the Gartner symposium in Barcelona, due to take place on November 11 – 14, having been kindly invited by Samsung to join a team of bloggers, it seemed only natural that I would write up a little story about how I am using my brand-new Samsung Galaxy S4 as a portable office. I have not yet studied all the possibilities, and my device hasn’t been fully customised either, but I have already set up a number of applications and spotted a great number of things to my liking. Let me share them with you here in a few pictures:

1. first and foremost, I have sorted out all my apps by category. Just below my Google screen (the android search feature is very useful I find) I have put a number of utilities, namely related to multimedia functions which I use rather often. Page number 2 shows a number of my most used applications including email, cloud storage spaces, maps, Kindle, Evernote and a few newspapers including the Independent and flip board. other pages are devoted to utilities and personal stuff. I haven’t had time to install my many online banking apps yet, but I can add as many as I wish on the large screen.

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2. Evernote premium is probably one on my favourite applications. I am using it across all my devices. I have 242 living notes in my notebooks at the moment, but many more have been deleted in order to unclutter the space on my desktop. Evernote is one of these applications you cannot put down once you’ve tried them. I use it to update my posts on the go, after they have been processed through voice recognition and stored in that application for editing.

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3. One of the nifty business applications I have found on Google play and installed on my Samsung Galaxy S4 is the camcard business card reader which scans any business card, or almost any business card, and turcs it into a proper virtual card for for your Exchange contacts list.

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4. as a business professional, I spend my time reading and reading and reading and reading. And I’m not just reading novels. I buy my books from Amazon and store them on my Kindle application on my S4. It’s very convenient because the screen is large and very comfortable so that reading is plain and easy on this new device. I love it and keep reading all the time. By the way, for those interested in innovation, I definitely recommend Edmund Phelps’s mass flourishing opus.

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5. as a digital professional, I spend a lot of my time in blogs and writing pieces in WordPress. The WordPress android application makes it easy for small corrections and editing to be implemented. It’s quite convenient to be able to update your blog on the fly. Here I’m showing my own personal blog, but of course I do this for business most of the time and manage quite a few of them.

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6. the Samsung S planner is the standard calendar application for the Samsung Galaxy S4 and I find it very convenient. For one, you are able to mix different calendars which is very good because I have 2 of them (one on Google calendar, for personal events, and one on Exchange for business events. It is important for me to keep things separate). The tabs on the right-hand side make it easy for you to access different views including tasks.

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7. the Samsung S memo application is something I discovered quite recently. As long as you have a screen-friendly soft stylus, you will be able to add handwritten information into your Samsung Galaxy S4 in order to keep that information at the ready. It’s very convenient and you don’t need to type on a quirky software keyboard. After all, handwriting is probably the most advanced technologies of all!

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8. working with pictures as far as I’m concerned is not just a hobby. It’s part of my job. One of the things that I first noticed on my new galaxy S4 is the fact that my Picassa albums as well as photos from the camera and screenshots etc. were all put together into the gallery application. For even more convenience, I have selected the option which backups all pictures to dropbox on the go. As a matter of fact, as soon as I get back to my desktop, I can download all the pictures taken from my phone into whatever blog post of document in which I wish to include those pictures.

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9. Last but not least, the ability to read attachments directly, be they office documents or PDF files like this one, is a very useful business helper.

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As a conclusion, there are very few things nowadays that you can’t do without a mobile phone like the new Galaxy S4. I’m not even mentioning NFC payments or security features. Imagination is the limit. Combined with cloud computing and Software as a Service, we are moving closer and closer, every minute, to Mark Weiser’s ubiquitous computing dream.

As a conclusion, there are very few things nowadays that you can’t do without a mobile phone. I’m not even mentioning payments or security passwords. Imagination is the limit. . Combined with cloud computing and software as a service, we are moving closer and closer, every minute, to Mark Weiser’s stream of ubiquitous computing.

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A Free Yet Legal Copy of Microsoft Office on Your Tablet With Cloudon

Let’s make the most of the summer with a bit of light reading and what I would call the application of the week: cloudon. I have selected a number of applications which I find particularly good or changed my way of working, or of entertaining myself, unless it’s both. This week, I will dwell on the cloud on iPad application, which I find really extraordinary, and I really wonder whether these guys are making money out of this and how. Is this the latest mystery of the new economy?

We will start with a visit to the application website in order to confirm that the application is available both for android and iOS. The application is available for both iPhones and iPads, and I will focus on the iPad version here in this blog post.

Step number 1: once the location has been installed, fire it up. First and foremost you will have to fine-tune the settings so they have access to your online cloud discs: four spaces are available with cloud on, which you can use concurrently. As far as I’m concerned, I have set up Google drive and Skydrive (by Microsoft’s, by far my preferred, because I was one of the first users, so that I have access to 25 GB free of charge). I left dropbox and box on the side for the moment by can you back to it later and at them to my final if I so wish. All that is needed to complete this setup is to let cloud on access your online disc by clicking the button “authorise”.

Step number 2: once your online disc has been selected (here I chose Skydrive), the folder structure of your disk is then displayed to you, and you can choose the list or icon formats from the top menu.

Step number 3: Once I’ve changed the display to icon mode which I find more convenient, I can then select the folder in which I have stored all the draft pieces for my blog. I call it “blog posts”.

Step number 4: I then select the relevant blog piece in word format. I can see on the screen but it was last changed on 24 June at 7:39 AM.

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Step number 5: once you’ve clicked on the right file, it is then downloaded from the Internet. It is subsequently displayed, see the following screen grab, directly on my tablet into a Microsoft word window, more or less identical to the one I have on my PC (in fact it is a simplified version of Microsoft Word 2010, similar to the one you can find Skydrive itself). The greatest weaknesses that I spot in this application, is in my minde the relative slowness of download of the file (even more so if the file is really big like the entirety of our forthcoming book typescript for instance). My hunch is that we will see performance improving significantly within the next few months if this kind of applications remain in the future. As a matter of fact, what we are witnessing here is more than just another application but the implementation of something which I have described many times on this blog, which is called “ubiquitous computing” and was invented, I mean the concept, by the late Mark Weiser in the late 1980s. The missing link though is connectivity, as always, even though enormous headway has been made in the past few years. My guess is that it will take another 2 to 3 years, maybe 5, before we enjoy seamless connectivity coverage, with the kind of comfort that I experience while sitting behind my PC, connected via Ethernet on my 100 Mbs fibre access.

Step number 6: I can then write directly into the file which is editable in real time ; in order to prove this I have underlined a word by clicking at length on it, which triggered the contextual Microsoft menu which everybody knows. This the tablet equivalent to the right click of the mouse on a computer

Step number 7: then click the icon on the top bar which represents a compass on the top right-hand side of the screen, and this will open the menu which will make it possible for you to create a new file: either a spreadsheet (maybe not the most convenient type of file for tablets), a wordprocessing Word document, or a PowerPoint presentation. I decide to choose the latter…

Step number 8:  I then rename this new file which will be saved directly  in the original folder.

Step number 9:  an empty PowerPoint file will then be opened , which I will be able to populate exactly as if I were on my computer,  with a simplified version of PowerPoint 2010. This is a simplified version,  but yet, it is very usable, and it caters for basic Microsoft templates for instance. in order to create a presentation with a personalised template, I recommend that you use a presentation which you have created beforehand (with no content preferably ) in order to make the most of all the available screen layouts. This will save you a lot of time and will make it unnecessary for you to spend hours twiddling page templates on the tablet which is not very convenient.  You can then focus on adding text but also clipart, images, video etc. It is in fact very easy for you to modify an existing PowerPoint presentation and even create one directly from the tablet, and then synchronise the file directly on your computer , or vice versa.  I remind you that, with Skydrive, you do not need to own a local version of Microsoft PowerPoint, because it is available online too. Personally, being a teacher and benefiting from the special teacher/student price for Microsoft Office, I still think that owning a local Microsoft license is preferable.

Beyond the fact that this application is nice and convenient and mostly free of charge, one may ask oneself a few questions. On the one hand, what will be the business model of Microsoft in the next few years ? I could actually bet on the fact that access to software will be increasingly “cloudified”, namely from the moment that connectivity is really improved and made seamless and ubiquitous. from then on, I really wonder whether software which you either install or download is a model which will survive for very long .  This, however , is the model on which Microsoft thrived for so many years. Besides,  I really have a few questions about the business model of cloudon itself; I mean beyond its potential acquisition by Microsoft one day.

I also found it very strange that cloudon has had little coverage on the Web since 2012 , even though a great number of downloads have already been  performed  by users . I would be surprised if the Palo Alto company decided to remain silent , and maybe one day , what Geoffrey Moore calls the early majority will catch up with the “visionaries , dreamers and doers”. Wired pointed out  rightfully  that  the application’s limits came from the fact that the data was stored on the cloud, which rendered the display a little blurry but usable anyhow. this is a valid remark, but I couldn’t find that problem with PowerPoint, which I found to be the most useful application of the three.

There are a few limits with regard to the use of this application in presentation mode, but in our case I would recommend a more specialised application which I will describe in a forthcoming blog post.  As Wired pointed out, it is still very difficult to use such applications in order to create a presentation from scratch and the use of cloud on is , probably for today, limited to minor edits.

My hunch is that the self-proclaimed “visionaries” of Palo Alto shall not be deterred.

Time will tell…

These Norwegians Who BOOST Mobile Advertising – #mwc13

innovationOn my third day at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I stopped by the Boost communications booth in order to have a chat with some of the world’s trailblazers and innovators in the mobile marketing market. It’s true that mobile advertising is the next big thing, but not much has happened yet by way of innovation in that area. All we are given to see is plain banners which divert people’s attention and takes them away from the page once they have clicked on them. Yet, new models are possible, and tools are being built by the likes of Boost, a Norwegian company now expanding on the UK market. Here is the report of my encounter with one of the company’s founders, Øystein Skiri (photo).

Oystein R. Skiri, CEO and co-founder of Boost Communications

mobile marketing since … 2000!

Boost communications was founded 13 years ago and the 2 co-founders started working on mobiles from day one, which was very visionary. Their idea was that “[they] could use them for more than just making calls”. They pioneered early solutions like SMS and MMS messages as soon as 1999. This is a period I can remember very well for I was in that industry too at the time. Today, “the world has evolved towards the landscape of paid, earned and owned media but a lot of the principles which were laid out in those days and are still valid”, Øystein Skiri, one of the two founders, declared. “One can actually increase the rate of advertising and direct marketing through the use of pertinent information, permission marketing” and, to put it plainly, the respect of users. This is typically what the founders of Boots Communications started to experiment at the end of the 1990s.

As Øystein Skiri showed me in the picture below, the company started very early on with the idea that customers had to give their consent about what kind of information they wished to receive, how often, and how pertinent this information had to be with regard to their needs.

Permission Marketing, the 2001 way

[permission marketing pioneers – Skiri points at a 2001 permission marketing form for direct marketing; Seth Godin will appreciate]

push marketing is never going to disappear

Yet, even with more respect, “push marketing is never going to disappear” to put it in the words of the founder of Boost Communications. Marketing has to evolve, and mostly on the mobile where click-through rates are very low because of the extensive use of disruptive mobile banners. “Mobile consumption has evolved” Skiri added. “Now that all are using smartphones and tablets, and we can now do display adverts, rich media and video advertising. The problem is that when we are using banners, the user who clicks on it will leave the current page so we had to create a device within the banner which is not going to divert attention.”

This is particularly the area in which Boost Communications has been innovating by creating new display banners that look different. “Display banners don’t quite work at the moment. Mobile advertising needs to be taken to a level higher through the understanding and interpretation of reading context, location and the understanding of previous user behaviour” Øystein Skiri said.

I have been able to see 3 kinds of innovation in the field of mobile display which I found particularly interesting:

  • first and foremost, a new kind of banner which revolves around itself; through this “flipping advertising”, Skiri said that click-through-rates can be enhanced 7 times. Obviously, the real banner can be smaller than the one displayed on this particular demonstration screen

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[mobile banners that flip click-through rates 7 times!]

  • The two other examples are interactive banners in which the user is not leaving the screen but is actually interacting within the banner itself either for a scratch game or even to shoot a penalty kit on the screen. Even though I wasn’t given numbers of how much click rates are improved with that kind of banners, one can easily imagine that users stay there for hours playing on the banner rather than leaving the page.

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[in-banner scratch game on mobile keeps users interested]

Mobile banner ad innovation -3

[in-banner penalty kick game on mobile – this time it’s a goal!]

Boost communications is also responsible for the madmaker application, a self-service panel for producing banners and landing pages, mostly aimed at small and medium-sized businesses. The application can be used as is or delivered as a white label service. Publishers and agencies love that feature and end-customers in the B2B arena can also use the software directly. This technology is very straightforward and easy to set up; it is producing mobile land pages in the responsive design standard which are available on all kinds of screens. A partnership with the Google ad network will be provided in the short term Skiri added.

Madmaker.com (alpha V2) interface

[madmaker screenshot: tools on the left-hand side, preview in the middle, settings on the right]

Boost communications employs 55 people and is based in Oslo, Trondheim, London, Dubai and Johannesburg. It was founded through the Norway VC scene and received funding of 25 million Norwegian Kröner last year. Its objective now is to grow interest in new projects and new geographies on very fast-growing markets.