First Take: Oracle Acquires Inquira

This morning Oracle announced it entered into an agreement to acquire Inquira, a Knowledge Management vendor.  Terms of the deal were not specified, neither was price.  Of course, obligatory quotes from all sides were included in the press release on how this is good for everyone.

Is it?

I have written a lengthy research note evaluating the deal, repercussions for end-users and vendors, and looking at what happens next in the market.  It has been distributed to my clients via separate email, but I am going to include three key points I made in it:

  • It was about time, no one is surprised by this move as it was widely expected.
  • As Nitin said, it closes an era in KM – but I am far more excited about the opportunities it opens up for new vendors to create new knowledge paradigms.
  • Inquira’s current OEM partners are the ones most affected by this deal, but they have been preparing for this day to come and they all have alternative plans.
I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in this deal spends more time analyzing the new paradigms of knowledge and how to manage them, not as much the KM world.
What do you think?

A New Pricing Model, New Gaming Features – What's Not To Like About Assistly?

Earlier this morning Assistly announced a new release for their cloud-based eService product.  I had the chance to get briefed last week, and there were a few things I liked – and none of them are features or functions.

First, some background and boring disclaimers.  I’ve known Alex Bard (Assistly’s CEO) from way back.  He has a long-time presence in the eService market (although he is not old, far from it) and dates back to the very first product I met which was awesome (actually, continues to be since it is the core of what is today Moxie (client)): eAssist (yeah, that is where the Assist-ly name comes from, now you know… well, at least I think it is).  Assistly is not a client, nor would I expect them to be simply because of this blog post (I mean, if that’d work – I’d be writing 10 times a day in my blog).  The opinions below are just that, my opinions – including all errors omissions and mistakes.  However, if they happen to be correct – I’d be happy to claim the credit as a visionary and superb analyst.

The feature list that Assistly has is fairly complete for an eService product.  It can do multi-channel, supports social, integration, customer history and some other functions that make a complete eService solution.  They have satisfied customers, I spoke with a few of them, and good momentum in the market.  However, this is now what makes it very interesting.

Assitly is a cloud-based solution, a SaaS offer.  Not a hosted model, or a all-in-one-pretend-to-be-cloud, but a real cloud solution that can run (with minimum setup) in any platform and leverages the three-layer model.  Their architecture gives them great flexibility to offer, in this release, a few items that I have been expecting a true-cloud vendor to offer, the most important among them, a transaction-based pricing model (as opposed to the traditional per-seat or per-name license — even enterprise license — that all other vendors are offering right now).

This new pricing model is very flexible and allows organizations to more fully embrace the cloud; instead off paying a license so that a user can access the system, the organization buys a credit (in the case of Assistly it’s an hour of access) and then use that credit for any activity and any user to access the system.  If they need more access, they pay for more credit.  A couple of considerations that make this different: all enterprise users are allowed or entitled to use the system at any time and do what they want (of course, there are rules and rights, they are not crazy), there are no special requirements (caveat: there are “full user” licenses that Assistly provides for those users that would be in the system all the time, thereby reducing the cost of having those users in the system).  The idea that CRM is an enterprise undertaking, as opposed to a customer service- or marketing-only implementation) gains ground in this pricing model: any employee can access the system and do what they need to do with it, and specialized employees can access specific functions (as well as everything else) on a value-based pricing scheme.  The following screen shot shows you both the full user and the hours that the enterprise has accumulated.

Assistly Admin Interface

 

You are probably saying “so what? a lot of vendors offer value-based pricing”.  However, this is different: this is value-based from the clients’ perspective, not the vendor’s perspective.  This is something that non true-cloud models have a hard time doing since they don’t have the flexibility and integration capabilities to deploy.  Vendors are focused on licensing their product, not providing a service and charge accordingly: licenses are not offered in exchange for value – they are offered in exchange for access to the system.  In this case, the value of accessing the system for an hour, or 20 minutes – or even 5 minutes, to complete a transaction is more important than the fact that they accessed the system: the software is truly offered as a service that anyone who is authorized (whether it’s an employee, a partner, or even a customer in a collaborative model) can access.  The true service-only nature of the offer is what makes the difference.

I would need more space than a blog can afford to go into details, but think about it this way: you cannot be “”renting a service” (which is what the SaaS model is supposed to offer) unless you are really just paying for what you use.  If you have to make a commitment to pay licenses, server access fees, maintenance and what-not, that is not a service – that is software that you purchased and paid for, whether you use it or not.  If you want to use cloud-based software when and as needed, you need a flexible pricing model – that is what Assistly has done — I am very curious to see where it goes, for it holds great promise for the future of cloud computing.

In addition to the new cloud-based pricing model, Assistly offers a new, gamification-oriented administration model that allows the client to earn more of those same hours in exchange for completing administration functions.  Add a new user name? earn more hours.  Link a new Social Media account to Assistlly? earn more hours.  Create a new business rule? earn a few more hours.  This is a very interesting model, again going back to client-perceived value-based pricing, that deserves notice.  As the user. or the organization rather, becomes more involved in the use of the product, they also get more hours to continue to get more involved.  It is a brilliant way to entice the client to use more hours, which just happened to be their access charge.  As I jokingly told Alex when he briefed me – it is almost like an enticing an addictive behavior: enable the user to do more by giving them more free access.  Again, something that is based on the value the user perceives to receive – and I am very curious to see where it goes.  This next screen-shot shows you a screen used to create rules with the offers for more flex time (in exchange for use), and a tracking counter for how much flex time you have created for the month.

Finally, they have created a new admin interface and “onboarding” (as much as I hate that word) process that is very simple and very intuitive.  True, this is not something that is related to being cloud-based, but they have taken what their customers have complained the most about (administration and easier interfaces) and delivered a new model that is very well done.  Alas, it is incomplete – it will continue to migrate to other functions and other areas in the software through the rest of the year – but for new clients coming on board, it is a great way to find out how the company delivers.

OK, past my word count for a blog, need to wrap it up.  I am very excited to see where this goes – this pricing model can certainly change the way we do customer service (and CRM by extension) and finally, finally get us closer to the mythical tale of “even the janitor can help a customer” that we have been repeating forever.

What do you think? I am easily excitable? Is there something there?

A New Era For Feedback Management? (Verint Acquires Vovici)

In case you did not catch the news, Verint (a WFO vendor) announced yesterday that they had acquired / entered into an agreement / wants to acquire / whatever legal language applies to the moment you are reading this Vovici (an EFM vendor).

As my friend and Gartner Analyst Jim Davies will tell you, I have been talking about something like this being necessary for both markets for quite some time.  If you think through the logic, Verint has data.  Lots and lots of data.  They collect it from Performance Management, Operations (IVR and several other channels they monitor), and even CRM systems – not to mention HR and other back-office modules.  They did not have, other than through partnerships and smaller components like one for IVR, a way to directly address the client and find out what they needed.

Vovici, on the other hand, they address the client.  That is pretty much how they get the data (although they are the ones with the tightest integration story among the EFM vendors as well) which then is analyzed to generate insights — and pretty much that is where most of their clients stop.  They did not have an easy way to implement the insights they generated.

Bringing these two together marries the customer intimacy data with the operational excellence data and builds a great platform for organizations embarking, or about to embark, in Voice of the Customer and Customer Experience initiatives.  If they can put it together, this will be very big (I have to be a skeptic, I don’t want to lose my Analyst license).

I recently wrote that EFM was still alive (still stand behind that) but that the value of EFM deployments quickly decreased if the insights generated were not acted on.  The lack of action is, in my research, what sets back slightly more than 2/3 of those that deployed EFM solutions.  They don’t find the value they sought because they are too focused on getting the surveys out, collecting the data, analyzing it, and — storing it.

The integration between Verint and Vovici (Verici? Vovint? I will leave that to the tabloids) will not solve the issue of acting on the insight, but will bring two clear value propositions (once it is all done, skepticism is a healthy habit): aggregate more data for deeper and more tactical insights into operations, and bring actionable insights closer to fruition by making some (or most, actually) of the customer service systems available via Verint’s integration to start implementing those insights, improving experiences and closing the loop.

This merger, you know the drill – mandatory skeptical statement, can certainly change the way we do feedback.

Don’t you think?

Is Facebook a Bubble?

Today’s post is brought to you by Anthony Nemelka, a long-time veteran of the social business technology scene and currently the CEO of Teleplace, Inc.

The best, most easily actionable investment advice I ever received was from my economics professor at college. He told his students that his investment strategy has always been to bet against the cover of Time magazine.

By the way, he was the only professor on campus who owned an S-class Mercedes.

My eyes have been drawn to the cover of Time ever since. And while his principle has proven to be less useful in the world of politics, it has proven to be eerily predictive in the world of business.  If his principle holds true, Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year is in for some trouble.

I for one am not celebrating. In fact, I’m very worried. Many in Silicon Valley would suffer immensely if Facebook turns out to be a bubble.  A lot of time, money, and energy have been invested in the Facebook ecosystem. An implosion of that ecosystem would have enormous negative consequences on everyone living here.

But if we apply Peter Thiel’s definition of a bubble (a true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed), it certainly looks like Facebook is a bubble. Judging by the number of investors desperately trying to get their hands on Facebook stock at any price, the bubble is only getting bigger.

Of course, a bubble getting bigger is another sign of a bubble. But the ultimate sign of a bubble is its bursting.  So what are the signs of a Facebook bubble burst?  Here are my top 5 (and notice I left off their inability to penetrate China):

  1. Failure of Facebook to impact how businesses operate
  2. Negative coffee shop chatter among high tech professionals in Silicon Valley
  3. Apple’s embrace of Twitter
  4. Google+
  5. Facebook’s penchant for stealing

Working backward, it’s not ok steal. Yet Facebook seems to be practically built on the premise that it is. The traditional punishment for stealing was to cut off a hand.  Now the punishment is to divert our eyes. Talk about a valuation killer for a consumer Web company!  This will be like gasoline on a fire if a bubble ever begins to bursts.

What Google is about to deliver with Google+ looks spot on. Others seem to think so too. The Chinese government apparently concurs as well.  That, combined with Apple’s passionate embrace of Twitter, puts a pretty wide moat around the exploding mobile apps market. Mobility will likely prove to be the ultimate value creator for social networking. Yet Facebook is designed, literally, to replace a book with faces. Not much mobile about that. And now the two dominant mobile OS vendors will be actively working against them. Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble!

Then there’s the Silicon Valley coffee shop chatter. To get an early idea of what high tech insiders are sensing, there’s nothing like going into places like University Café, Coupa Café, or some of the dives in the inner mission district of San Francisco, sitting down, and just listening. I do it all the time. And I’ve heard a lot of negative comments about Facebook for months now. The common theme is a sense of user dissatisfaction with Facebook. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on why people think users are dissatisfied. But the picture is becoming more and more clear. People think of the Web as an unbounded, constantly growing and evolving ecosystem. Yet Facebook constantly works to try to keep users firmly planted in its own walled garden. That is leaving users with a sense that they’re missing out on something on the other side of the wall.

I can’t imagine a more dangerous feeling among users. There is nothing that high tech entrepreneurs enjoy more than knocking down walls and showing users what’s on the other side. Eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, what’s on the other side is going to look a heck of a lot more interesting to users than Facebook. And that will be the pin on the Facebook bubble.

This brings me to the world of business. Unfortunately for Facebook, the tendency for businesses to continue to use legacy technology long past the point of obsolescence won’t come to Facebook’s rescue. It saved IBM, it is saving Microsoft, and some day it may save Google. But Facebook has had little impact on how businesses are run and on how people actually do their jobs. As Esteban has argued many times before, Facebook’s role to business is largely limited to that of a channel.

For many in the social business community, this has proven to be a big disappointment.  Many companies have been built on the premise of “Facebook for the Enterprise”.  But as I discussed in a previous post, things aren’t working out that way. That leaves the social business community yearning for a new paradigm to hitch its wagon to. It needs a social paradigm that businesses will relate to.  And Facebook is not it.

So what do you think?  Is Facebook a bubble?  Would you be happy or sad about that?  Oddly enough, a Facebook bubble could be the best thing that ever happened to social business. Even so, it would be very, very painful.