Ribbit finally shows up in BT business offering

BT spent $105 million a couple of years ago to scoop up Ribbit, back then when Internet call management was just appearing on the radar. It was a move that put BT in the pool of a Big Telecom vendor who understood the power of Internet telephony.

But after the high-profile acquisition, we just didn’t hear about Ribbit much. Rumors started swirling around about the buy — did BT make a mistake? Paid too much? Did it really understand Ribbit?

Wander no more. BT will roll Ribbit into its Onevoice business product as a beta product and hope to launch it by the end of 2010:

Ribbit provides not only a single number for incoming and outgoing calls, integrating with existing VoIP services where necessary, but also an open API. This allows companies to create their own applications for integrating with those cloud-based systems that are so popular these days.

BT also reckons companies can save a fortune by routing calls over VoIP connections when out of the office, and get access to the full exchange functionality too. So no excuses remain for failing to dial into the conference call while travelling.

Ribbit also integrates with mobiles, offering custom applications for the iPhone, among others, and is capable of integrating with any network and handling incoming and outgoing calls on any handset (using call forwarding).

Sounds like a pretty good voice product for business. Google has also mentioned previously about offering Google Voice for businesses, so let’s see which offering captures the fancy of business customers.

Angel.com, MIT partner to improve customer experience

Most of the time an engineering college looks for partnerships with big software or hardware firms in hopes to attract more students and to establish a career placement relationship with the “real world.” However, we don’t see a lot of voice application companies in these partnerships so the news about Angel.com and MIT is quite encouraging and refreshing.

Also, as I have previously posted, the future industry trend is that Web programmers will dominate the voice app resource pool. A future voice app developer would have to know more about Web-centric programming languages like PHP and Python, and understand mashups with Web APIs, than knowledge of traditional telecom. Looks like Angel.com is already grooming the next generation of voice app developers.

Here’s the press release:

MCLEAN, VA–(Marketwire – May 25, 2010) –  Angel.com, a leading provider of enterprise focused, cloud-based, customer engagement solutions, today announced the success of its customer experience lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Engineering. Through a course titled “Engineering Innovation and Design,” MIT students were tasked with identifying a compelling real-world problem to solve using voice applications, building a business case, and designing an elegant voice solution to solve that problem.

Some of the intriguing solutions developed in this semester’s class include automated voice applications to find the best parties and nightlife in town, manage to-do lists via the phone (complete with speech to text), and steer remote-control cars — all through a simple phone call:

  • The “MITchell Partymann” Facebook Party App: Within Facebook, students invite a virtual MIT party character to their party, and then others can call the Partymann phone number to have relevant data on local parties read back to them over the phone.
  • Foursquare Voice: Allows users to interact with the location-based social networking website, Foursquare, to connect with their friends in real time. Check-in, earn badges, hear tips, keep a to-do list, find friends and even record messages for Twitter, Facebook and iPhone all through the phone.
  • The “Echo” To Do List Manager: Users call a phone number and setup to-do lists, shopping lists, etc., then check off items when completed. An integration was added for speech to text conversion to make lists even easier to create.
  • “Car Talk” Remote Control Car Application: Using web services and an Ardunio chip to talk to a controller that sends signals to an RC car, callers can speak commands through a phone (such as “turn left” and “go forward”) that direct the car.

Held as a Spring and Fall semester class within the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program — a selective program for MIT undergraduate engineering students — the lab has given 45 MIT students the opportunity to design next-generation voice user interface (VUI) applications for consumers, using the same Angel.com web-based Site Builder technology that is used for complex IVR and call center solutions by enterprise companies.

The class was so successful this semester through the use of Angel.com that requests for enrollment in the class for Fall semester have doubled. In previous semesters, students had relied on cumbersome VXML coding for the projects, but using the web-based Site Builder platform donated by Angel.com to create their innovations instead, students were able to focus more on the creative and business presentation aspects of their projects, rather than the programming.

“This class was such a huge success that students have joined the Gordon program because of it,” said Blade Kotelly, Guest Instructor for the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. “If Apple made an interface for designing speech applications, it would be the Angel.com Site Builder toolkit. There’s no better tool for designing voice applications. It’s as easy to use as my iPhone. In fact, I had students with zero coding experience producing applications in minutes, so I had to make the homework assignments more difficult! This is truly an amazing tool that has been transformative with my students.”

“It is an honor to have Angel.com’s technology deployed within a university as prestigious as MIT to help foster creativity among future engineers and prepare these students for prospective careers in voice application design,” said Dave Rennyson, President and COO of Angel.com. “As a company at the forefront of innovation in voice technology and the development of next-generation voice solutions, we are proud to contribute to the education of our future colleagues and leaders.”

About Angel.com
Angel.com is a leading provider of enterprise focused, cloud based, customer engagement solutions, including Caller First focused Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Call Center solutions. These solutions enable enterprise organizations to quickly deploy voice, SMS, chat and business intelligence applications. More than 1,600 customers worldwide turn to Angel.com’s proprietary customer engagement technology to power customer experience, marketing and sales needs. Angel.com’s solutions are built on an on-demand, Software as a Service (SaaS) platform and require no investment in hardware, software, or human resources, balancing the need for high quality communications with affordable pay-as-you-go pricing. www.angel.com

About the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program
Launched through a $20 million gift by The Bernard M. Gordon Foundation, the Bernard M. Gordon – MIT Engineering Leadership Program is a new educational initiative at MIT that combines leadership development with the rigor of the MIT educational experience.

Being green, in the red

Corporations today are definitely paying attention to environmental issues and being eco-friendly, or “green.” Even though man-made global warming has been debunked and its cause self-imploded since the revelation of scandalous scientists and climatologists being creative with their research data, I believe that it doesn’t mean our Earth is fine and dandy. Perhaps global warming was a fraud, but issues such as deforestation, air pollution, ocean pollution, etc. cannot be ignored. Companies with green initiatives should be applauded for their efforts, but sometimes I wonder if they are trying too hard and at the expense of shareholders.

First, if you are a publicly-traded company and anybody can own your company shares, then the company executives’ foremost concern should be to profit the shareholders within the boundaries of law and regulations. Recently I wrote about Alcatel-Lucent’s depressing 1Q2010 results — down almost 10% YoY and a stock price that’s going nowhere. The company exists in a highly competitive market with competitors that are multiples of its size. It’s a tough situation, especially in this weakened economy. Then I come across this post from ALU’s official blog about the company’s leadership and participation at the Clean Technology Showcase in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission:

On May 18, we were among several industry leaders, technology and energy policymakers, state governments and foreign embassies that participated in the FCC’s Clean Technology Showcase in Washington, D.C., which highlighted developments in communications technology and energy efficiency.  FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski hosted the event, which included U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Federal Energy Regulatory Chairman Jon Wellinghoff as special guests [you can find out more on http://blog.broadband.gov]. Other demonstrators included Ericsson, GE, Panasonic, Google and Samsung.

During the event, we highlighted our leadership role in GreenTouch™, the research consortium initiated by Bell Labs, and displayed recent advances in modular cooling, in sustainable power for mobile base stations, and the recent European Commission recognition with its Sustainable Energy Europe Award for Alcatel-Lucent’s Alternative Energy Program [read more in this post].

Was it more about being green or being in Washington? In 2009 the company spent nearly $2 million in lobbying and almost half a million dollars have already been spent in 2010. How much money was also spent just to be green? How would the balance sheets and income statements look if all the “green cash” was re-allocated to R&D, product development, sales and marketing, etc.?

Having a green conscious is great, but what if it’s only making the shareholders see red?

And no, I am not an investor in Alcatel-Lucent.

Twilio sponsors TechCrunch Disrupt, featured in hackathon

TechCrunch Disrupt is happening in NYC now featuring great panels and demos about so-called disruptive tech.

Twilio appears to be the only telephony-related company to sponsor this event. However, as these hackathon demos show, telephony and SMS are fast becoming a favorite feature for Web programmers.

I cannot help but think about the somewhat disruptive impact of companies and products like Twilio in the telecom applications space. They are bringing telephony to the Web, and with the population of Web programmers being far greater than telecom programmers, it’s only a matter of time before all the PBX, IVR, and CTI applications are developed with ties to Web technologies. In some ways this is already happening with the advent of Web services and cloud applications.

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BearPaw Software digs a niche in Genesys ecosystem

As I had written earlier, a new sponsor showed up to this year’s Genesys G-Force Chicago and Amsterdam: BearPaw Software. It was noteworthy to me because although BearPaw’s been serving the Genesys ecosystem for years, this was the first time it’d signed on as a sponsor and even threw a kick-butt (from what I’d heard) welcome reception in Chicago. Also, in a previous engagement years ago I had the chance to meet its founder, Duane Abrams. I reached out to him last week for an interview and opportunity to catch up, and was very grateful that he took time out of his busy project schedule for a phone call.

One thing you’ll notice about the company is that it primarily focuses on software. Most companies in the Genesys ecosystem feed off professional service gigs which traditionally provide greater margins (or used to, when the economy was in better shape). These are the systems integration (SI) departments from the top carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) and top consulting firms (IBM, Accenture, etc.), to the next tier shops (Aria Solutions, Touchpoint, etc.), to the third-tiers (Mediu, eLoyalty. etc.), then to some boutique outfits. Oftentimes a Genesys implementation team would consist of resources from these various companies, whereby the contracted company would subcontract work to augment the team, and sometimes even the subcontractor would subcontract some work.

Messy, I know. According to Duane, it is tough for a small company like BearPaw to compete with the top dogs for SI work because most of the time the contract is awarded to the vendor which helped (re)sell the Genesys software. Instead, he decided there was a market for additional software to complement Genesys’ products to “enhance the Genesys core and fill gaps in Genesys.” That is the main differentiator of BearPaw.

The company has developers in Europe and the U.S. to make Duane’s product visions come true, such as its flagship CallFlow Analyzer and ReVision offerings.

CallFlow Analyzer aims to provide analytical insights into a customer’s operations by mapping the paths of calls from cradle to grave. The business can then look at these diagrams to determine which call segment is costing the most money or producing the least caller satisfaction, and make adjustments accordingly. Perhaps tweaking an IVR menu, or modifying the wording of a menu option, or optimizing a database transaction along the way. In essence the tool allows the business to easily baseline and benchmark the impact of contact center programming, and may even be used as a call flow debugging utility. There is also a plan to add a simulation feature to the product which may come out sometime in 2011 in a beta version.

ReVision would be a product that any Genesys consultant could get excited about. Billed as “version control for Genesys,” ReVision will definitely help with all those common configuration tweaks necessary on nearly all Genesys implementations.

And what of the much publicized hosted architecture and the new exciting Genesys 8?

The truth is, Duane hasn’t seen many hosted implementations of Genesys either, in the U.S. or across the pond. In 2009 Genesys touted the partnership with AT&T which provided hosted Genesys services for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), but since that announcement it appears no other major customer has jumped onto that bandwagon. Duane thinks that for most corporations who can afford Genesys they likely already invested in one or more data centers, so selling them a hosted solution along with a more complicated deployment and support plan because of it doesn’t make much economic sense.

Genesys 8, considered to be a very important and major update, has generated a lot of buzz in the Genesys ecosystem. The thing that’s holding customers back, according to Duane, is Genesys’ lack of a clear migration path. Topped with Genesys’ history of “dot oh” troubles, most customers are in a holding pattern in terms of upgrading. Parent company Alcatel-Lucent, posting a significant first quarter loss, may need Genesys to aggressively push for upgrades in order to help with the bottom line. After all, Genesys is a software company and makes most of its money from licensing and upgrades.

So after years of low-profile success, BearPaw Software is ready to step into the spotlight to become the premier Genesys ISV. Its high-profile sponsorship of G-Force was the first step, and according to Duane, he’s also ready to commit more resources in the future, perhaps a deeper involvement with the annual Genesys Developers Summit. And I’m sure that’s welcome news for those in the Genesys ecosystem.