Interactive Intelligence To VARs: Test-Drive Our Cloud-Based UC Platform

As customer adoption of Communications-as-a-Service, or CaaS, trends slowly upward, solution providers still encounter plenty of skepticism over the reliability and security of the model.

Enter Interactive Intelligence's new Quick Spin program -- a free try-before-you-buy offering targeted at CaaS-wary customers and equally hesitant VARs – which comes as the company looks to bolster sales of its fast-growing cloud services portfolio.

Quick Spin, unveiled earlier this month, essentially lets customers test-drive Interactive Intelligence's CaaS platform through a Web portal, using a subset of features found in the vendor's CaaS offering.

Joe Staples, chief marketing officer and senior vice president, said most of Interactive Intelligence's customers still prefer to deploy on-premise-based unified communications and contact center products and solution providers still prefer to sell them. That was another driver for Quick Spin, he said: It doesn't require a lot of time and investment by channel partners to demo it for customers.

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"The partner looks very much the hero in facilitating this," Staples said. "Very early in the process, they can talk to a prospect about it, sketch out what the workgroups and skills would be, and then once they're up and running, monitor it all along the way with reasons to go back to the prospects."

Outside the contact center and UC market segments, Interactive Intelligence flies somewhat under the radar, at least compared to better-known competitors such as Cisco and Avaya. It commands a loyal community of channel partners, however, which according to Staples numbers about 300 resellers in North America.

"We've been pretty disciplined in terms of how we've added distribution," Staples said. "There's the ability of a partner to knock on a door and bring some uniqueness with an Interactive Intelligence [product], where there may be five VARs in the mix selling the same competitive product."

Interactive Intelligence began offering hosted contact center and UC services in 2005, and then in 2009 launched a full-fledged CaaS service using virtualization and other more robust platform features including what it calls a local control model, in which its service uses a customer's existing telco lines, trunks, calls and recordings.

Interactive Intelligence relies on six CaaS data centers around the world. It also uses a separate virtualized server for each of its customers and staffs a network operations center providing 24x7 support for all of its CaaS services. The CaaS offering includes nearly all of the same UC and contact center features found in its premise-based system, including IP-PBX telephony, desktop call control, conferencing, IVR, multichannel routing, quality monitoring, outbound predictive dialing, customer feedback surveys, unified messaging and realtime speech analytics.

According to Interactive Intelligence, which is on pace to do more than $200 million in revenue for its fiscal 2011, the company has seen 58 percent revenue growth in its CaaS platform in the first six months of 2011 and 146 percent growth in orders. CaaS orders made up about 26 percent of total order dollar volume for the first six months of the year.

Users of Quick Spin, which will be broadly available in North America in November, can have up to 10 users and three workgroups and name five skills -- functions used in the program -- and 10 phrases. Interactive Intelligence's system "listens" for certain phrases, such as "let me speak to your manager," in a customer interaction that triggers either an automated response or alerts supervisors.

Users will have access to Quick Spin for 14 days or 2,500 minutes. They do have to submit to a short qualification process, Staples said, and solution providers offering Quick Spin as a demo need only be authorized Interactive Intelligence partners.

Interactive Intelligence doesn't yet offer a white-label option for the service to VARs, though among some of the larger, more equipped partners that has definitely come up, Staples said.

"We're kind of keeping the door open on that," he said.

NEXT: Interactive Intelligence Partners See Value In Quick Spin

Bruce Anderson, president and CEO of Altivon, a Phoenix-based solution provider and Interactive Intelligence Platinum Elite Partner, agreed that customers are often hesitant when it comes to CaaS solutions. About 80 percent of Altivon's Interactive Intelligence sales are still on-premise, he said.

But Interactive Intelligence’s local control model offers a level of assurance to customers concerned about CaaS security and reliability, Anderson noted.

"It provides much greater peace of mind as the customer’s circuitry remains 'locally' connected and is a paradigm that they're comfortable with," Anderson said.

Altivon has been a partner since 1997, Anderson said, and focuses exclusively on Interactive Intelligence solutions for sales in its segments. His Interactive Intelligence business has doubled each of the last two years.

Anderson said he sees Quick Spin as a good way to get customers engaged with CaaS and plans to offer it to prospects immediately. Other Interactive Intelligence partners concurred.

"It's very compelling," said Brian Holdampf, president of Adapt Telephony Services, an Oak Brook, Ill.-based solution provider and Interactive Intelligence Platinum Elite Partner. "I like the interface for it and that it gives people an idea of how simple it is. I mean, you could basically show it to them during a sales call, walk somebody through it, get it running right away with just a Web client."

Adapt's Interactive Intellligence sales this year will wind up about 15 percent above the last fiscal year, Holdampf said, and have grown at least 10 percent year over year in each of the 14 years it has partnered with Interactive Intelligence.

Adapt focuses on banking and financial services customers for which CaaS security concerns are often a hurdle, he said. Customers can also get tripped up when they're walked through too many different contact center or UC features that make management seem tricky.

Quick Spin can solve that, too, Holdampf suggested.

"One thing that can happen during our presentations --if we're not tailoring our demo to see just the things a prospect is looking for -- is the 'it's too much for me' answer," he said. "But this is so simple. Anyone could set it up without much training."

Solution providers and analysts agree that the free trial of Interactive Intelligence CaaS isn't unto itself a moneymaker. But customer interest is strong enough so that it may be the nudge customers need to get them to buy the system, they said.

"The buzz Interactive Intelligence gets among customers is strong," said Jon Arnold, principal of J. Arnold & Associates, an independent analyst firm focused on IP communications. "If they're now offering a free trial, on one level, that makes the channel's job easier."

Programs like Interactive Intelligence's are a sign that cloud-based platforms for contact center have moved out of the early adopter phase, Arnold said.

It also can mean greenfield opportunity for solution providers in that customers who couldn't otherwise afford premise-based contact center solutions might be more receptive, Arnold said.

"If this is the future, it's better to be on the right side of it now vs. scrambling down the road when people have more mature ecosystems in place," Arnold said. "It's not really a question of future-proofing, but if you're thinking a little more strategically about your business, this is a pretty good way to kick-start it."