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Thoughts on Interactive Intelligence Partner Meeting

I was fortunate to be at this week's Interactive Intelligence annual partner conference as a consultant/analyst attendee (and presenter). Also in attendance were several other No Jitter bloggers, including Jim Burton, Blair Pleasant, Nancy Jamison, and last, but not least, Sheila McGee-Smith. Interactive Intelligence is one of the very few enterprise communications market start-ups from the mid-1990s still around today and thriving (22 consecutive profitable financial quarters). Though best known for its contact center offerings, e.g. Customer Interaction Center (CIC), Interactive also plays in the IP telephony system market and recently expanded into the business process automation with its new Interaction Process Automation (IPA) offering.What impressed me most about the conference was the restraint the host company exhibited by limiting discussions and presentations on the topic of Unified Communications (UC). Although Interactive has a strong UC portfolio (highly rated by consultants in my annual STC/CTCA survey) the general focus of the conference was mostly divided between contact centers and the company's new IPA offering. I am sure that some analysts (names will not be mentioned) will try to straightjacket IPA as a UC solution, but that diminishes the function and role of automated business processes as a self-standing discipline.

During a panel session exclusively for analysts/consultants, three customers discussed their Interactive solutions and fielded questions from the group. I thought it more than interesting that each customer expressed interest in the new IPA offer, but had yet to implement UC-type solutions. Also interesting was that the customers had remote home agents behind their centralized contact center solutions, but used traditional land lines and telephone instruments instead of a VoIP solution for agent voice transmission requirements. VoIP quality and reliability is still an issue for more than a few contact center customers.

Another topic popping up throughout the conference was Communications as a Service (Caas). The Interactive CaaS offer for contact center automation and outbound notifications is built on their proven application suite and is available as a scalable service designed to deliver more functionality with a better ROI than most in-house communications systems. Don Brown, founder, Chairman of the Board, and CEO, addressed CaaS in both his opening talk to all conference attendees and his closed talk to analysts/consultants. Interactive intends to promote its CaaS offer to customers interested in higher value contact center services.

I attended several of the dealer-focused sessions focused on a specific competitor. As a competitive analyst of 30 years' standing I was more than curious to hear how Interactive viewed the competition and how they positioned against them. A few themes were apparent in sessions covering such competitors as Avaya, Cisco, ShoreTel, and Microsoft. Interactive's single server solution for enterprise telephony, contact center, and messaging was in sharp contrast to each competitor's requirement for many more configurable servers/boxes to support like functionality. The presentations also emphasized the fact that Interactive's Interaction Center suite was originally designed as a tightly integrated platform, compared to competitive offerings that appeared as kluged solutions consisting of many discrete elements. The presentations were only slightly biased in favor of Interactive, sometimes including immaterial straw man-type arguments or issues, but generally honest in nature.

As regards Microsoft, Interactive emphasized that they have worked with the software giant for many years (Interaction Center runs on a Windows 2000 server platform) and that their value-added contact center solutions would effectively overlay on an OCS 2007 implementation. Interactive also stressed that they work on a Cisco communications network infrastructure.

I highly applaud Interactive for mixing analyst/consultants with business partners during the conference (no session was off-limits to the former category of attendees). It helped to provide us with a strong insight to how they work and support their partners. I also liked the frank answers the company's executives provided to questions. For example, Joe Staples, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, agreed with me that the Interactive Intelligence name is a mouthful to pronounce and type, but what could he do? The shorthand use of I3 (for Interactive Intelligence, Inc) is frowned upon as is InIn for referring to the company.

During his stands at the podium, Don Brown was also very candid regarding the current and future direction of the company. I enjoying hearing about Interactive's strong commitment to mid-market customers (though the company certainly welcomes business from any large-market customer), a market segment too many competitors downplay in deference to Fortune 500-types. Interactive knows who it is, what strengths it brings to the table, and how to survive in a dynamic market space populated by companies several magnitudes its size.