The average person doesn't even know what a private branch exchange (PBX) is, let alone what one would cost. But telephone network engineers and call center directors do know, and it's not a price they want to pay. With the advent of the IP PBX and Internet telephony in general, the money may not be as steep, but it's still an investment. That is, unless you use Asterisk, the industry's first open source PBX, developed by Digium and provided free of charge to users.
The impetus behind Digium Asterisk can be traced to Mark Spencer, founder and current CTO of Digium. When Spencer was faced with the high cost of buying a PBX when he founded Linux Support Services in 1999, the Auburn University engineering student coded his own with Linux. Eight years later, Asterisk is still free and still open source.
Spencer, now 28, does not have the overabundance of ego that sometimes stains young hotshot executives. Quite the opposite; in January 2007 he assumed the new post of chairman and CTO, appointing Danny Windham, former president and COO of ADTRAN, a provider of networking and communications equipment, as CEO of Digium. Like Bill Gates, the chief software architect of Microsoft, Spencer recognizes his own strengths and will cater to them, improving Digium's technological edge while Windham takes care of the business strategy.
"Mark Spencer already thinks about the telecommunications industry now the way we need to start thinking about it," says Sheila McGee-Smith, president and principal analyst for McGee-Smith Analytics. "If we want to communications-enable the applications we use every day, Digium has the vision, and will help us get there." --Marshall Lager
Mark Spencer, founder, chairman, and CTO
HEADQUARTERS: Huntsville, AL
Some software vendors attain success through creating a reputation for tried and true technology that takes years to establish. InQuira is not one of them. With fresh technology and ongoing releases, InQuira has positioned itself as a true innovator. Its cool-kid-of-Web-support status is helping its star not only rise, but rocket.
"They are so visionary," says John Ragsdale, vice president of research for the SSPA. "They are at the head of [all] of the trends." Some of these trends include the company's focus on microsites and Web 2.0, which has helped to improve customer experience in nontraditional channels, as well as bolster sales. InQuira increased its market share and widened its customer base with a growth of 60 percent in 2006.
Last May InQuira released its newest edition, InQuira 7.3, which included improvements in embedded search, content usage analytics, workflow process, and content integration.
While creative technology will certainly mean greater success for InQuira in 2007, it is not certain yet what this success will look like. Ragsdale says that the possibility of acquisition exists: "I suspect they have multiple suitors." Zachary McGeary, associate analyst at Jupiter Research, says, "They are trying to move away from being a branded search technology company and towards more of an applications company." With a strong vision and a sharp understanding of what customers want and how companies can deliver this, it is almost certain that in 2007, InQuira will stay in style. --Jessica Sebor
SnapshotMike Murphy, CEO
HEADQUARTERS: San Bruno, CA
Since its inception in 1994, the depth and breadth of Voice Print International's technology reside in its interaction recording and monitoring capabilities. But with its partnership with workforce management vendor (WFM) Pipkins and performance management (PM) and e-learning provider Syntora announced in August, and then its October acquisition of Syntora, Voice Print (now known as VPI) made strides to bolster its workforce optimization (WFO) chops. Because of all this, we recognize VPI as a Rising Star.
VPI certainly wasn't the first company to understand the concept of WFO; companies like Envision Telephony, NICE Systems, Spanlink Communications, and Witness Systems have all taken steps to expand their solutions. But the October deal will allow VPI to bolster its Activ! Performance Suite, which enables users to capture, evaluate, and analyze not just traditional voice, but also VoIP, video, and Web interactions, with Syntora's e-learning and real-time analytics offerings.
Even prior to the deal, however, the company took steps to strengthen its suite. In August it partnered with Syntora and Pipkins to develop Solutions Made Easy, an integrated WFO suite that includes call recording/QM, WFM, PM, speech analytics, and coaching.
Another feather in the company's cap is that it recognizes the importance of speech analytics: VPI partners with speech analytics solutions provider CallMiner to provide its customer companies with the ability to dissect customer interactions. "If you look at the big trends in quality monitoring other than analytics, such as VoIP recording and extending the results throughout the enterprise, they offer a good solution," says Seema Lall, an industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan. --Colin Beasty
SnapshotAndrew Marsh, founder and president
FOUNDED: as Voice Print International in 1994; renamed VPI in 2006
HEADQUARTERS: Camarillo, CA
M2M Holdings,a privately held company jointly owned by Battery Ventures and Thomas Cressey Equity Partners, was a long way away from becoming a familiar name--even as recently as eight months ago--in the CRM and e-service markets. Its product lines primarily focused on broad manufacturing ERP software and industry-specific manufacturing ERP offerings. But with its mid-and late-year moves to acquire midmarket and enterprise CRM vendor Onyx Software and e-service player Knova Software, gaining M2M entry into the full suite CRM and knowledge management spaces, the company clinched its slot as our 2007 Service Excellence award winner.
"The combination of Onyx's strong process-driven CRM and [Knova's] impressive KM and NLP search tools could give SAP and Oracle an immediate run for their money," says Martin Schneider, senior enterprise software analyst with The 451 Group.
Onyx now operates as a business unit of the holding company; M2M will take the same approach with Knova (the latter deal hadn't been completed at press time). Clearly, the deals open M2M up to cross-sell and integration opportunities. They also privatize the companies, arming them with strong financial backing and stripping away the costs and scrutiny associated with being a public company. This is particularly noteworthy for Onyx--it's been lauded by analysts for its robust functionality, but plagued by a thick competitive environment filled with enterprise CRM vendors pushing into the midmarket and on-demand providers clamoring for that coveted customer base. It should be noted, though, that in February 2006 Onyx announced that 2005 was the first profitable year in its history. With the acquisition, Schneider says, "It can stand on its product and not its stock share price."
Schneider also says that M2M needs "to get on board a little more with some hosted [solutions]...to be across-the-board highly competitive with not just [companies like] SAP and Oracle on the larger side, but with what Salesforce.com is doing." But overall, "watch out for M2M," he says. "They could be the new big kids on the CRM block." --Coreen Bailor
Snapshot Jeff Tognoni, president and CEO
FOUNDED: as Made2Manage Systems in 1986; M2M Holdings created in 2003 by Tognoni and Battery Ventures through acquisition and privatization of Made2Manage
HEADQUARTERS: Indianapolis, IN