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Microsoft Subsidiary, TellMe, Reinforces Two Market Trends with Partner Focus and SaaS Model

TellMe, a division of Microsoft that dishes up customer self-service applications that combine the web and speech technologies, announced a follow up to their partner program introduced four months ago. Partner programs aren't new by any stretch, but this is just another example of a big trend we are seeing in the market for all companies to pick and choose partners to help own the relationship with customers. As TellMe pointed out, partners have full ownership of the customer relationship and they want complete end-to-end solutions delivered by the partner, including integrated, partner-specific applications. For TellMe, this move is a break from their traditional direct sales model, which was something we saw echoed a month ago at the Avaya conference with Avaya's announcement that they would be moving to 80-85% of its sales through channels in the next few years. This is something we are seeing more and more of across vendors.

TellMe also discussed the value-add that partners bring as they create new applications that TellMe doesn't have. This sentiment was echoed when I talked to Gold Systems later that day. Gold Systems, a long-time Microsoft partner, has built many applications on the Microsoft Speech Server platform, but has now built more using the TellMe platform as well, including 1-800-Microsoft. In fact, they created a development framework so that they can create one application and deploy it across both platforms with minor tweaking.

The TellMe announcement also highlighted another trend, which is the move to software-as-a-service (SaaS) adoption by partners, and in turn customers. This trend has been written about increasingly as SaaS offerings proliferate, and as conditions such as the down economy push more companies to look creatively and realistically on how to deploy new applications and replace old ones. As Paul Lopez, GM of NEC Unified's Professional Services Group pointed out, "Customers are looking for predictable revenue and costs in an unpredictable economy." That certainly rings true with what we are seeing customers say across all vertical markets. NEC is eagerly on board with the TellMe program as they move through adding new IVR applications that employ speech, and as they are also taking advantage of the legacy IVR replacement cycle that is in full swing.