In 2005, a slew of service vendors shook up the industry with bold mergers and acquisitions, innovative product launches, and organizational restructuring, earning some of them slots on our leaderboard. So, with our second annual Service Excellence award, we're spotlighting a company that did not secure a spot in one of our seven Service Leaders categories, but did position itself as the market-share leader in its space. Also, we're introducing CRM magazine's Rising Star awards, to honor customer service technology vendors that are gaining momentum in their respective spaces. Following are the companies that have customer service pundits talking.
Integration and customization have always been the name of the game at Interactive Intelligence. The company offers one of the most robust, integrated contact center suites on the market today, solidifying its place as one of CRM magazine's 2006 Rising Stars.
Founded in 1994, Interactive Intelligence began licensing products in 1997, and has expanded to include 350 employees who serve more than 1,500 customers. "They have an IVR product, a messaging product, and a PBX product that can all be broken out and [hold their own] compared to other vendors," says Bern Elliot, research vice president at Gartner. "Their bundled suite also allows companies to integrate the contact center controls into the call-queue handling and business processes."
It's been a strong year for the Indianapolis software provider. The company has posted seven straight quarters of growth, thanks in large part to Customer Interaction Center (CIC), its preintegrated contact center suite that helps centers manage phone calls, faxes, emails, and Web interactions. CIC's PBX and IP PBX call processing, voicemail, fax server, and unified messaging give the platform extended reach throughout the organization.
In May 2005, the company enhanced the suite, adding desktop client support via new client interfaces and introducing new Web self-service and email response-management capabilities. In November, it upgraded CIC even further by adding a protocol-based Interaction Media Server, new screen recording, whisper coaching, agent alerts for CSRs, and enhancements to the suite's voice messaging component.
In addition to CIC, Interactive Intelligence offers Interactive Dialer for outbound and blended predictive dialing, Interaction Recorder for multimedia recording and scoring, Interaction Supervisor for real-time monitoring, and Interaction Director to enable multisite routing.
The industry has made note of the company's product portfolio. In September, Frost & Sullivan awarded the company with its 2005 Excellence in Technology of the Year award in the field of customer contact center management. "Interactive Intelligence has really distinguished itself," says Haritha Ramachandran, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, "by designing applications that can be customized by end users to suit their particular software needs and by its use of a standards approach that increases customer choice for wide area networking, service providers, hardware, and devices."
[ Snap Shot ] Donald Brown, chairman of the board, president, and CEO
2005 TOTAL REVENUE: $62.9 million
UniPress Software is poised for growth in the competitive helpdesk and customer support space, both in terms of clients and breadth of functionality.
In 2005, UniPress continued to expand its flagship product line with the August launch of FootPrints 7.0, a Web-based service desk automation tool that includes a new change-management module and easy integrations and links to other third-party applications. The new FootPrints Change Management add-on module handles change requests, including compliance rules, without programming. "They are bringing technology and robust application functionality downstream and packaging it the way their clients wish to use it," says Zachary McGeary, an associate analyst at Jupiter Research.
FootPrints is a Web-based application designed as an easy-to-use tool with fast implementation time for midmarket customers. UniPress does not report revenue numbers, but it announced a record 20 percent growth for 2005, attributed to an increased demand for FootPrints among midmarket and enterprise customers, a stronger vertical focus, and global channel expansion.
Three verticals--government, education, and healthcare--have emerged as the company's strongest ones during 2005. In addition, UniPress added 280 customers to its list of roughly 2,000, including 102 international customer wins. Many existing customers expanded their FootPrints implementations to automate and manage additional business processes like compliance and regulatory tracking, facilities management, and sales support, according to the company. Other products launched in 2005 include: FootPrints CRM Bridge, FootPrints Asset Management, FootPrints LANsurveyor, and FootPrints Deploy Suite.
"There is tremendous growth potential for UniPress. They have a large client base that continues to grow, and each of those deployments are likely to continue to grow as their businesses mature," McGeary says. "They are in a market with lots of opportunity. Their high level of usability and affordability will allow them to maintain a presence and drive new business."
Overall, UniPress is known more within IT organizations than it is in other types of businesses, according to Chip Gliedman, vice president at Forrester Research. But people must realize that the same help problems arise from outside. "Employees are an IT organization's customers," Gliedman says. "You're doing problem management. You need to make sure those things don't fall through the cracks."
The difference comes with the need to integrate external help products with other systems, such as SFA. That is not a problem for UniPress, Gliedman says: "Their heredity was their ability to link things together, so that will be their strength moving forward."
[ Snap Shot ] Mark Krieger, president
HEADQUARTERS: Edison, NJ
2005 TOTAL REVENUE: N/A
FrontRange Solutions gets a Rising Star nod this year for lots of reasons, and they add up to one thing: This company doesn't let itself get held back. It combines history, versatility, and willingness to change into a winning recipe.
FrontRange has built on the history of its seminal GoldMine CRM product with a series of applications that relate directly to service and support. First among these is the HEAT product suite, which contains modules for the service desk, self-service, mobile management, knowledge base, secure customer support, and desktop management. The company's most recent public filing showed approximately $80 million in revenue from service products, says Chip Gliedman, vice president at Forrester Research. "They are clearly not a nonentity in service management." And, according to Kevin Smith, vice president of products at FrontRange, the company's financial momentum is rising. After years of burning cash leading up to 2003, FrontRange has subsequently reported eight quarters of revenue and earnings growth.
Perhaps the biggest recent news about the company was its proposed purchase by private equity firm Francisco Partners in November 2005 for $200 million. The buy was completed in January, and rendered FrontRange a private company (it was unlisted from the Johannesburg stock exchange at the same time). The move, endorsed by Front-Range's board of directors, provides a capital infusion and positions the company for a possible subsequent public offering on a more prominent exchange. "Being on the South African exchange had all of the drawbacks of being public with none of the benefits," Gliedman says.
FrontRange is at a transition point with the launch of its IT Service Management (ITSM) applications, which extend from incident management to change management, enabling IT personnel to master their company's technical environment. Likewise, the expansion of its IP Contact Center (IPCC) products, covering VoIP, unified messaging, and quality monitoring, increases FrontRange's value. "FrontRange's integrated products give customers end-to-end visibility throughout the contact center," Gliedman says. "The single set of metrics lets the customer understand the whole call without resorting to another app."
Ken Landoline, vice president and principal analyst for Saddletree Research, also says that there is more to FrontRange's service offerings than HEAT. The company is moving upmarket with its IPCC applications, and a number of new ITIL-based ITSM products. "FrontRange has identified some tremendous growth opportunities," Landoline says. "Its voice-data platform is robust enough for all voice and data technology needs in the midmarket," where name recognition can help the company. "I asked if they were ready to compete with Nortel and Avaya," Landoline says. "Mike McCloskey answered, 'We don't ever want to--we see the strongest opportunity in the midmarket, and we can pick away at the other vendors' business one customer at a time.'"
[ Snap Shot ] Michael McCloskey, CEO
HEADQUARTERS: Dublin, CA
2005 TOTAL REVENUE: N/A
The New Nuance
The new Nuance Communications, CRM magazine's 2006 Service Excellence award winner, is certainly no stranger to scooping up speech-technology providers to strengthen its competitive footing. For example, in 2001, as ScanSoft, the company acquired the operating and technology assets of the Speech and Language Technologies business of Lernout & Hauspie. In 2003, ScanSoft completed its acquisition of Royal Philips Electronics' Philips Speech Processing Telephony and Voice Control business units and related intellectual property. Just a few months later, ScanSoft added SpeechWorks International, a provider of speech recognition, text-to-speech, and speaker verification for network and embedded environments, to its quiver. And in 2004 and 2005, the company bolstered its size and product breadth by acquiring several speech-technology outfits, including Advanced Recognition Technologies, LocusDialog, Phonetic Systems, Rhetorical Systems, and Telelogue. But it was ScanSoft's 2005 acquisition of its chief speech-recognition rival, Nuance Communications, which positioned the combined company as the clear market leader in the speech technology space.
Now, as Nuance, the combined company has a client list of marquee customers that include Bank of America and British Airways, and has deployed more than 3,000 speech applications. Through the acquisition the company also boosts its collective team of speech and voice user-interface experts, strengthening its ability to deliver enhanced functionality. "By merging they clearly become the leader in speech recognition engines," says Daniel Hong, senior voice business analyst at Datamonitor.
"Prior to Nuance and ScanSoft coming together, Nuance and ScanSoft were often the two vendors," says Steve Cramoysan, research director at Gartner. "You've got that short list, and then it would be a question of whether they went to a third or a fourth vendor. Today our conversations with clients usually end up with Nuance on the short list, and then it's a question of what other vendors they put on that short list to have a competitive RFP."
The newly combined company gained products like the Nuance Voice Platform, a standards-based VoiceXML platform, which, according to Nuance, it will continue to support. Version 3.0 of the release, unveiled in 2004, comprises Nuance Conversation Server, which features speech recognition, text-to-speech, and voice authentication functionality. The platform also includes the Nuance Management Station, which delivers performance management along with reporting capabilities to manage speech deployments. Additionally, it includes the Nuance Application Environment, featuring a drag-and-drop application design and development tool, and a runtime environment used for deploying voice applications and for accessing back-end systems.
It's not all smooth sailing just yet. Nuance has overlapping offerings as a result of the acquisition, but is expected to streamline functionality, incorporating features from both lines. The company's experience with acquisition should help make the transition less bumpy.
The new Nuance must also contend with culture clash. "For the last five, six years they've...been learning to compete against each other," Hong says. And, while it may appear to be a one-man show, the combined company will have to deal with the rising threat of IT heavyweights like IBM and Microsoft, which are making noise in the speech space. But the removal of its main competitor should strengthen Nuance's voice in the competition landscape. No longer having to focus on the former Nuance as a competitor, the company can, Hong says, "go towards more innovation and providing more value-add solutions."
[Snap Shot] Paul Ricci, chairman and CEO
FOUNDED: 1992 as Visioneer; changed name in 1999 to ScanSoft; acquired Nuance Communications in 2005, and adopted the name
HEADQUARTERS: Burlington, MA
2005 TOTAL REVENUE: $232.4 million (includes only the former ScanSoft's revenue)