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[November 12, 2003]


By Blair Pleasant and David Zimmer

Interacting With Interactive Intelligence Inc.

Interactive Intelligence hosted its first analyst and consultant conference recently, bringing together company execs, customers and partners for the analyst and consultant community to grill. And we liked most of the answers we received.
After discussing the company history, financials, products, sales and marketing and client services models, Interactive Intelligence had not one, but two customer panels (one for its contact center solutions, and one for its enterprise solutions).

One of the best things about this conference was that the analysts got to talk to customers without PR people standing over us. The customers were open and willing to answer all of our questions both while on stage and in private discussions. Let me tell you, these are happy customers. Even after a few after-dinner drinks, they still didn't dish any negative dirt. While they admitted that they don't always get five nines reliability with the Interactive Intelligence software (primarily because it's based on Windows 2000), it certainly didn't seem to bother these customers.
One Communité customer did not want to disclose too much information because she feels that her company's particular use of Interactive Intelligence's unified communication product will give them a competitive edge, but she did indicate that some exciting and innovative applications of Communité are in the works that will set her company apart from its competitors.

As far as the Communité product is concerned, there have been some nice features added, but there are also some omissions.

Communité provides services supporting unified communications to the enterprise end user. Its primary user interface is Outlook, so the basic, voice-fax-e-mail in the same mailbox is presented to the user. While we have seen this trick done many times before, Communité added a few niceties.

First, is the ability to view faxes and listen to voice files without the need for a special "viewer." Again, a trick we have seen done several times simply by using standard .TIFF and .WAV formats. But what Communité did do differently was to include special viewers that gave additional functionality not available from the standard issue viewers. So, it gives the best of both worlds. Usually, you only get one choice or the other. For those enterprises that prefer to be cautious, conservative and like to push as little software onto supported PCs as possible, Communité is a viable choice. For those enterprises that prefer the bells-n-whistles of extra functionality, they can also have the specialized viewers.

Communité also provides consistency between interfaces. Whatever can be done via a PC screen can also be accomplished via a voice phone, PDA or Web interface. So, users could change various parameters of their Communité system regardless of their location or device. We felt this was very powerful. We have seen too many systems where users could tweak all the parameters while using an office desktop PC, but were very limited when away from their desks.

Of particular importance in the unified communications space are real-time communication contacts, traditionally incoming phone calls. Interactive Intelligence defined UM to be "all those things that happen after a message is left" and UC to be "all those things that happen before a call is answered." Based on that premise, the company has developed a sophisticated system that lets users direct incoming calls to best suit them. The call routing process is rules-based and works by directing calls using the identity of the caller's phone number (this is in addition to time and status-based routing capabilities).

The user can establish routing rules based on the caller's identity. For example, if a spouse is calling, the call could be routed directly to the recipient. If the call comes from an unknown party, it could be routed directly to voice mail. If it is from a known friend, the call could be sent to the desk phone but no farther.

We believe that the features they provide are very strong and met many of the needs of business users today. But, we have a few concerns. Considering this is the second release, the implementation is certainly acceptable, but needs some further tuning for the next release.

The idea of integrating with Outlook is good since it is the predominant messaging interface out there today. But in order to manage the powerful rules and contact features of Communité, the user is required to use a Web browser to control the various functions of Communité. While this is not overly inconvenient, we feel that if it could be done directly through Outlook's native interface, the user would have a more cohesive experience. Interactive Intelligence should not do away with the browser interface, but simply integrate it into the native Outlook interface.

We loved the rules-based routing of incoming calls. Very powerful! In fact, Communité supports the ability to specify partial phone numbers so that ranges of phone numbers could be matched easily. We applaud the company for such insight. For the next release, we would like to see that a person's name could be entered, as well. The person's name would represent ANY contact address. So, if Joe has a home phone, desk phone, cell phone, and three e-mail addresses, all of which he uses to contact us, we should simply put in Joe's name and all those contact modes would be covered by the same routing rules.

Part 2

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