With unemployment still on the rise — even if the rate of growth has slowed — many organizations continue to tighten their belts in other ways as well, which means that those fortunate enough to still have employment are nevertheless struggling to implement budget and resource cuts at every turn. Looking to further automate processes and improve productivity for day-to-day tasks, Interactive Intelligence has unveiled its latest offering, Interaction Process Automation (IPA), a communications-based product designed to increase process efficiency and reduce operational costs.
According to Joe Staples, the company's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, while many vendors promise the latest and greatest in technology, many companies remain bogged down by old-school processes and very untechnological stacks of paper. "One company we visited thought it had progressed by having different-colored manila folders," he says.
Staples adds that going into prospective customers' offices and finding scads of folders, papers, and Post-it notes is still the norm rather than the exception — a set of circumstances that influenced certain functions found in IPA:
- contact center–style queuing and routing;
- process presence;
- automated escalation;
- real-time monitoring;
- end-to-end reporting; and
- Voice-over Internet Protocol.
Specifically citing Genesys Telecommunications Labs, Oracle, and SAP as examples, Staples says that a twofold differentiation separates IPA from products offered by competitors:
- the fact that IPA is inherently part of a contact center/enterprise communications system via its process-flow definition and graphical interface; and
- IPA's productized nature limits the need for professional services customization.
Consequently, Staples adds that IPA's ability to capture, prioritize, route, escalate, and track each step of a process flow utilizing communications technology enables companies to accomplish more with lower resource requirements. IPA, he says, can now deliver the hard return on investment (ROI) statistics that have been lacking from unified communications–style deployments to date, and counter the obstacles to adoption that have plagued UC in the past.
Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at COMMfusion, echoes Staples' sentiments. Proving ROI, she says, has long been a major problem faced by UC vendors. "Especially in this economy, companies haven't wanted to invest in anything that doesn't have a quick or solid ROI," she says. "It's easy to explain UC's user-productivity benefits, like making it easier to communicate. That's great, but there's no hard ROI with that."
Pleasant says the road will not get much easier with IPA, but that the release at least represents a step in the right direction. "It's still going to be a challenge," she says, "but there are cases in which processes can be done quicker, such as insurance."
IPA will initially be offered as part of Interactive Intelligence's Interaction Center Platform — essentially adding the productized offering to the stack. Staples says the company has plans in the next couple of years to offer IPA as a standalone offering but, for now, customers must purchase the platform first.
Sheila McGee-Smith, president of consultancy McGee-Smith Analytics, predicts that the requirement will not negatively impact initial sales of IPA. "You have a built-in customer base to take this to," she says. "People already have the desktop, and [IPA] is a single net add as opposed to having to buy a lot of information technology and infrastructure communications. It's all there."
Pleasant agrees, noting the benefit of the vendor's decision to remain focused on existing customers at this time. "Interactive Intelligence isn't breaking this out to a whole new market, so the contact center customers already using the company's products can now use IPA to expand to [the] back office and other parts of the enterprise," she says. "But it's certainly not for everyone. While I think it'll differentiate itself as far as UC, people are still going to be skeptical about why Interactive Intelligence is offering this."
Staples recognizes this challenge, explaining that the onus is on his company to show the connections between a communications company and process automation. He points, however, to statistics from a June 2009 IDG Research survey, which leads him to believe Interactive Intelligence won't have to start from scratch:
- 37 percent of respondents reported communications technology already being incorporated into existing business process automation applications;
- 50 percent said they saw the connection between communications technology and automating business processes; and
- only 13 percent saw no relationship between UC and business process automation.
A final challenge, according to both analysts, is one of definition. Is Interactive Intelligence's new offering an example of UC, communications-enabled business process (CEBP), or something entirely different?
"When I think of IPA, the first thing I think of is not UC," McGee-Smith insists. "It's adding a CRM-light type of application as an add-on to the Interaction Center suite, and the fact that [IPA] is part of it, it is completely communications-enabled. It's an extension of contact center operations, and that's a good thing -- there's a definitive market to sell it into."
Pleasant explains that a very important distinction must be set from the get-go: IPA is more than CEBP. "It's not just communications-enabling the business processes, it's automating them -- and they're really providing the tools to make that happen," she says. "It will be confusing to the market because everyone will initially compare it to other people's CEBP capabilities. So Interactive Intelligence will have a difficult task in really explaining every time what it is they're doing — and why it is, in fact, different."
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