LiveOps invited to White House workplace forum

The White House has invited LiveOps, a Santa Clara, CA-based company, to join the President and First Lady in a forum hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls. LiveOps provides cloud-based solutions to labor needs predominantly in the contact center market. The company has an impressive list of investors (Benchmark Capital, Menlo Ventures, etc.), management (lots of eBay DNA), and board members, as well as high-profile customers like Salesforce.com and Kodak. It’s one of the first company to see the cloud computing trend and invested heavily in it. Now it’s definitely reaping the benefits, especially in this economy when companies are looking for any way to provide the most cost effective customer service.

So how did a west coast company focused on contact centers appear on the White House’s radar? Obviously LiveOps is perfectly qualified to speak to issues around workplace and labor challenges, but I’m just curious… after all, it’s a very niche segment of the economy.

Is it the $400,000 spent in 2009 on lobbying? It’s also interesting to see that Maynard Webb, Chairman and CEO, held the minority view in the 2008 presidential election compared to other employees. In that case I hope Webb is representing LiveOps at the forum just to mix things up a bit…

Press release from LiveOps here:

Washington, D.C. — March 30, 2010 — LiveOps today announced that the company will join the President and First Lady Wednesday to discuss the importance of workplace practices that allow America’s working men and women to meet the demands of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their families. Hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls, the Forum on Workplace Flexibility will bring together CEOs, small business owners, labor leaders and policy experts to share ideas and strategies for making the workplace more flexible for the American worker and parent.

“LiveOps plays an instrumental role in helping businesses and individuals change the way they think about and approach work,” said Maynard Webb, chairman and CEO of LiveOps. “We applaud the President and First Lady for recognizing the need for a sustainable work model that meets the needs of everyone from parents to students entering the workforce to people living in rural communities far from the center of business commerce. It is a time for innovation at work; and LiveOps is pleased to be helping thousands of individuals across the U.S. establish careers that include flexibility in the way they work and live.”

The White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility will focus on the challenges facing America’s working families and strategies for keeping Americans employed without forcing them to sacrifice parental responsibilities. As a successful company that contracts with more than 20,000 independent agents who work from home, LiveOps understands the critical need for parents to maintain a work-life balance. Founded in Florida in 2000, LiveOps has transformed one of the world’s largest labor-intensive markets: the contact center. Company founders harnessed the Internet to match call center managers with an infinite number of qualified workers — regardless of location. With no location or traditional work-schedule restraints, LiveOps learned it could quickly and easily scale to handle dynamic and unpredictable call volume. The ability to scale made LiveOps’ technology a perfect fit for the direct response industry — an ever-changing market that requires constant flexibility and adjustment. Today LiveOps provides its technology and services to companies in the financial, health, retail and marketing industries.

For additional information about the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, please visit the White House Web site at: www.whitehouse.gov.

About LiveOps, Inc.

LiveOps is a rapidly growing technology company offering two innovative solutions for enterprises: Contact Center in the Cloud, a SaaS technology platform for managing contact centers, and Workforce in the Cloud, an on-demand workforce for outsourcing call center calls. LiveOps On-Demand Contact Center Platform brings the value of cloud computing to the contact center by enabling enterprises to rapidly deploy an always-on and instantly scalable contact center infrastructure in a pay-per-use model that enables customers to achieve greater operational and cost efficiencies. LiveOps uses this same technology platform everyday to successfully run the largest virtual call center with over 20,000 independent agents. LiveOps provides enterprises with the on-demand call center platform and community of on-demand independent agents to quickly achieve better business results. The company is headquartered in Santa Clara, California.

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Teleku joins Tropo and Twilio in competitive Web telephony

The Web telephony space welcomes another competitor today: Teleku (a project of GetVocal, Inc.). For all you Web developers in search of telephony APIs, rejoice! for you have another set of programming goodies to choose from.

Why Teleku over competitors Tropo and Twilio? According to this TechCrunch piece:

So how does Teleku differ from Twilio? It’s a matter of flexibility, according to founder (and sole employee) Chris Matthieu. He says that when you use Twilio, it’s an all-in-one deal: you write your code in Twilo’s easy-to-use syntax called TwiML, which is then sent to Twilio’s telephony services in the cloud that are hosted on AWS. That’s great (and may be even preferable to some people), but with Twilio you can’t port your application to a cheaper service should one become available.

With Teleku, you can write your code using TwiML, or you can use Teleku’s own simplified telephony scripting language, called PhoneML. Your code is then sent to Teleku’s servers, which translate it into industry standard (but harder to write) VoiceXML. Matthieu says you can use that code on any of a variety of established telephony providers, including Voxeo and Plum Voice, and it will also work with enterprise systems that rely on VoiceXML.

Matthieu says this gives Teleku users a few advantages: first, they can swap between various providers if they find a better rate. And he also says that Voxeo and other telecom services have better optimized their servers than AWS has to work with voice traffic, and that they offer a few features that Twilio doesn’t yet, like speech recognition.

Finally, Teleku offers a wizard for building web-enabled telephony services for people who don’t have any coding experience at all. This allows you to select actions from a dropdown menu, like “Play”, “Speak”, and “Transfer” (you then fill in text dialogs to instruct the application what to say or what number to transfer to). You can drag and drop these actions depending on what order you’d like to execute each action. Watch the video below for a complete demo of the wizard.

Sounds like a good combination of features and user experience. VoiceXML is certainly the industry standard and would be a plus to developers who’d want portable applications. The behind-the-curtain star is certainly Voxeo, for providing the platform and speech recognition feature. But no doubt Matthieu did a tremendous job in designing PhoneML and the user-friendly online tool for making it work seamlessly.

And judging by the fact that founder/developer Matthieu tweeted last at 2:30am and got TechCrunched, he’s probably having a very busy day…

Dialogic goes from boards to boxes, voice to video

Dialogic is computer telephony. The company made the specialized hardware — computer boards with digital signaling processors (DSP) attached — to enable telephony features on a server. It pretty much dominated this domain as its products were found inside PBXs, IVRs, fax servers, and more. Then interestingly in 1999 chip giant Intel acquired the company in a move that stirred the CPU and the telephony industries. Perhaps 1999 marked the start of Computer Telephony 2.0, when Intel pushed to phase out specialized DSPs in favor of its own CPUs to use for media and signaling. Well, Intel achieved most of its goal to bring its chips to the telephony masses, then sold Dialogic in 2006 to Eicon Networks, which is the Dialogic Corporation we know today.

I had a great meeting at VoiceCon with Bud Walder, Enterprise Marketing Director at Dialogic, about the company’s latest products and direction, as well as his insights into the industry and the conference. I was grateful that he reached out to me after reading my post about the Dialogic Border Gateway — “one gateway to rule them all” — but the meeting really turned out to be for my benefit. It appears that the company has readied itself for the Computer Telephony 3.0 era. Obviously, as important as telephony boards are, Dialogic considers that a legacy business. Today it is vying for dominance in the media gateway and border control business as SIP takes center stage. But more importantly, it believes Computer Telephony 3.0 is all about video and has made significant investments in that area. The company believes that “video is the new voice.”

According to Walder, the market for video has really exploded in the APAC region. And this is not just the usual desktop video conferencing, we’re talking about mobile video too. People with a cheap mobile phone — no need for fancy smartphones — being able to see clear videos on their handsets. It frustrates me to no end that my “state-of-the-art” iPhone, with its ugly sibling AT&T, cannot even do 3G streaming properly here in the States.

What about the brouhaha over interoperability? (Something I just had to ask.) Walder saw the openness of SIP as both a blessing and a curse, but Dialogic will strive for what it does best: making media work together, no matter the platform. SIP has enabled countless product innovations and cost savings (blessing), but also created some headaches during selection and implementation (curse). But we both agreed that this also creates an opportunity for companies to come up with products which will bridge the gap of interoperability — Dialogic being one of them.

So don’t be fooled by the Dialogic voice-y namesake. The company is about much more now. Maybe it’s time to change its name to Vidialogic.

Siemens Enterprise Communications interested in Polycom

According to Eric Krapf of No Jitter blog, SEN’s owner, Gores Group, wanted to buy Polycom in 2009:

The FT article reports that Gores approached Polycom last October about an acquisition but was turned down. I interviewed then-Siemens CEO Mark Stone in November and he made it clear that Gores would be aggressively pursuing acquisitions to bolster SEN. Stone, a top Gores Group exec, stepped in as SEN CEO when James O’Neill left the company; a new CEO, Hamid Akhavan, was named in December.

No doubt a move to counter Cisco’s acquisition of TANDBERG. It appears that the video conferencing market is heating up in light of news about a Polycom bidding war and M&A activity.

VoiceCon: Visiting the niche, Unimax and IQ Services

When I attend a trade show such as VoiceCon, I do my best to also stroll the “outer fringes” of the show floor, away from the noise and glitter of megabooths, because you never know what you may find and learn. Well, I’ve found two companies to share with you. These companies have been in the telecom industry for a while, serving customers large and small. What they do may not dazzle you like an Avaya demo or wow you like Cisco, but you will still be impressed because their products and services solve everyday business problems. In fact, you may end up slapping your forehead thinking, Why didn’t I think of this? or, I’ve thought about this but why didn’t I do something about it?

Unimax has a product named 2nd Nature that does PBX management. Before you open your mouth to yawn, it’s the PBX management software to end all PBX management software. 2nd Nature supports PBXs and voice messaging systems from multiple vendors: Avaya, AVST, Cisco, Nortel, Microsoft, and others. Imagine a single interface to manage all of your PBXs in the enterprise. More often than not an organization grows through acquisitions or new branch offices, and instead of replacing newly acquired telecom assets or hiring additional telecom resources, why not just use something like 2nd Nature? Additionally, Phil Moen (President and CEO) and Todd Remely (Director of Marketing) also touted the product’s redundancy and audit features — something that’s certainly very important to an organization with a sizable telecom infrastructure. As a contact center consultant I have previously worked for a few customers who struggled with managing their various PBX platforms. After learning about Unimax and seeing their product in action at VoiceCon, I did indeed slap my forehead…

Stopping by IQ Services‘ booth Cheryl Fortier, Account Exective at IQ Services, and her colleague, Suzanne Boston, handed me a printout titled “How do you know it all works together? (Communications and Contact Center Solution Infrastructure)” This question should be asked by anyone deploying a contact center solution, but is sometimes ignored. And honestly, the answer is “You don’t know.” Until you are able to run tests against the solution. IQ Services and Empirix, which you’ve probably heard of, are the two companies with enough horsepower to stress test your contact center system, from the IVR all the way to the desktop. Previously I was only aware of Empirix and always thought that they’d monopolized the market, but now I know that customers have another choice in IQ Services. Competition is a good thing in this industry!

VoiceCon: How will video kill the voice star? A look at Avistar, TANDBERG, and Vidyo

Previously I’d observed that there were quite a few video-centric vendors at VoiceCon, and that even during the keynotes and breakout sessions the topic of video interaction was brought up several times. It’s obviously that the video vendors think their technologies are ready for prime time, but the question remains whether or not customers will bite. And more specifically, how will the video conferencing technology apply in the contact center?

During the Contact Center Update and Executive Forum moderated by Sheila McGee-Smith, some executives shared their opinions about video’s application in the contact center. Jorge Blanco, VP of Contact Center Solutions Product Marketing at Avaya, saw video as a trend and predicted 4G to accelerate demand. However, Tim Passios of Interactive Intelligence offered a contrary view that he’s not seeing the demand in the contact center and predicts there won’t be any for the next five years. Nicolas De Kouchkovsky of Alcatel-Lucent agreed with Passios and added that only certain market segments would benefit from video applications. Based on these answers it was apparent that nobody had a firm grasp of video’s place in the contact center, but they didn’t deny that the day wouldn’t come for video-based contact center applications.

I had the opportunity to meet with folks from Avistar, TANDBERG, and Vidyo, to learn some more about the companies as well as seeing demos of their products at VoiceCon. These vendors each approach the market in different ways. There are those whose solutions require both hardware and software, while other vendors focus on just the software.

Avistar was a company I’d never heard of, but after meeting CTO Chris Lauwers and as CMO Stephen Epstein shared some information, it was obvious that I’d actually been a benefactor of its video technology for quite some time. You see, 60% of Avistar revenues came from licensing its software to others like Logitech and LifeSize (acquired by the former in December 2009). I’ve got a Logitech webcam clipped to my home office LCD monitor which works great. According to Epstein, Avistar’s strength lie in its software-based, client-server approach to video conferencing. Customers can use any manufacturer’s laptop, desktop, and webcam — everything will work together. Additionally, in a multi-party video conference session which participants use varied video resolutions, unlike some of its competitors Avistar’s software doesn’t scale-down to the lowest common resolution. In effect, multi-platform, multi-party, multi-resolution video conferencing is achieved to provide a much better user experience. Along with a tiered pricing model announced during VoiceCon, Avistar is aiming to provide the best value for the buck as well.

TANDBERG needs no introduction. It’s a well-known video conferencing and telepresence company, and soon will be absorbed into video behemoth Cisco. Why was Cisco interested in TANDBERG? The company’s product line complements Cisco’s, but more importantly, TANDBERG has always believed in putting out its video solutions with adherence to existing industry standards as well as interoperability to Cisco’s proprietary protocols. In other words, TANDBERG plays nice with everyone. Larry Satterfield, President of Americas Commercial Sector, shared with me that interest and usage of video conferencing products are definitely on the rise, especially among medium-sized businesses. And what of the announcement from HP of dropping TANDBERG for Polycom? Satterfield opined that with Cisco’s acquisition it wasn’t a surprising business move by HP, but as far as he’s aware, nothing much has changed between the two companies since the announcement. To me the most exciting press release from TANDBERG during VoiceCon was the new Advanced Media Gateway which enables HD video interoperability between Microsoft OCS and other standards-based video solutions. (I told you TANDBERG plays nice with everyone.)

Vidyo — vid who? Don’t be embarrassed if you’d never heard of Hackensack, NJ-based Vidyo. After all, the privately-held company founded in 2005 operated under stealth mode until the beginning of 2008. In a major win for the company, its technology powers Google’s voice and video chat feature. There’s an unwritten rule in the tech industry: never ignore a company that Google pays attention to or buys from. Vidyo’s approach is to offer hardware and software to achieve the optimal user experience. It makes boxes for video routing, gateways to work with “legacy” (or “competing”) video conferencing solutions, and high-end telepresence, as well as all the software necessary to make everything work together. I would definitely keep an eye on this company in the competitive video conferencing landscape.

Judging from the interest in video at VoiceCon, any business or worker ought to look into using video conferencing today. Choppy audio, robotic moves, and unwanted image artifacts are close to things of the past, and with what’s available out there in the market today, there’s simply no excuse not to include video in your business and personal online interactions.

VoiceCon: Calabrio focuses on user experience [updated]

It’s somewhat refreshing to see a vendor at VoiceCon that doesn’t talk about SIP, endpoints, or collaboration. Instead, my briefing with Calabrio on the showroom floor reminds me of how a company continues to strive for innovation and improve the user experience of its products.

Calabrio One is the new moniker for the contact center suite from this Minneapolis-based company. The software aims to unify Calabrio’s various applications — quality management, call recording, workforce optimization, etc. — into one integrated suite, and along with adopting a Web 2.0 architecture, to provide customers the best and most effective user experience.

The user experience is constantly brought up during the briefing. Kristen Jacobsen of marketing mentions it as she gives me an overview of the company and a quick demo of the product. Then as Tim Kraskey, VP of Marketing and Business Development, takes me into a deeper dive of the demo, he also emphasizes the user interface and experience. And finally during a Q&A with CEO Tom Goodmanson, he continues to drive home the point of how the user experience with Calabrio One sets it apart from the competition:

“Workforce Optimization suites have not lived up to their promise,” said Tom Goodmanson, President and CEO of Calabrio. “Though packaged, priced and described as a suite, they fall short when it comes to the common interface, usability and supportability advantages that truly define a suite, and the complexity of the implementations continues to be an obstacle.”

Calabrio One is designed as a software suite of applications that share a look-and-feel, leverage common underlying data, minimize cross-application administration, and are easy to implement, use and manage. Workspace views are personalized by employee role, providing the ability to match the work style of different types of users. For example, agents, supervisors and evaluators can log into their customized workspace to access the tools they need to provide excellent customer service, manage effectively and keep the contact center in line with business goals.

Although primarily known for its WFO application, Calabrio has also updated its speech analytics software to go head-to-head with offerings from competitors. Speech analytics is primed for major growth in contact center applications and Calabrio Speech Analytics is definitely a serious contender in this space. Fundamentally it’s just an efficient indexing engine for audio files. In fact, I’m told that this would work with any collection of say, MP3 audio files (however, speech analytics vendors often encrypt and sometimes compress the audio for PCI compliance). What sets speech analytics products apart are the bells and whistles — what can you do with the metadata of audio? and how easy is it for an everyday contact center supervisor or manager to use?

There’s still a caveat in the announcement: not all of the key products have been engineered into the Calabrio One framework yet. So far only Call Recording and Quality Management are part of One, with others slated to be included throughout this year. I have requested a roadmap for this and will definitely provide an update when I get it.

Update: Kristen Jacobsen was kind to send me the roadmap of products to be included in the Calabrio One framework, in the next major release scheduled for fall 2010: Workforce Management 8.5, Quality Management 8.5, Call Recording 8.5, and Speech Analytics (version TBD, but likely 2.5). But there’s more! Much of the administration, reporting, navigation, and alerting features will be unified, too.