Interactions 2014 - PureCloud, Millennials, Boulders, Football and the SIPtones!

As conferences go in the collab/communications space, Interactions 2014 is right up there. I stayed til Wednesday afternoon, and wish I could have been there til the end. During that time, though, I saw plenty to confirm that Interactive Intelligence is living up to their tagline for being Deliberately Innovative.

I'm just going to share some high level takeaways here, and will likely drill down further on some themes next week elsewhere. There's a lot to like about ININ, and not much to dislike. Maybe I could rag on about the weather we had, but otherwise, this company has a pretty good handle on its destiny.

I have a lot of notes, but am not going to do a data dump here. I'll do my best to distill my thoughts into 2 basic takeaways.

1. Great growth story.

This is always easier to tell with a public company, and we saw lots of metrics to validate their performance. ININ would be a great target for a company with deep pockets looking to become an overnight force in the contact center space, but Don Brown is a very sharp guy. He's got a good thing going in Indy, including an I-could-work-here-forever culture that's pretty rare these days. Anyhow, it's great to hear about a company in this space with no debt, nice profits, strong margins, $105 million in the bank, and a 25% revenue CAGR since 2010.

That aside, their rapid growth for cloud-based deployments is hurting their stock price - but over time, this will even out. It's pretty clear that those who migrate to the cloud intelligently will be the winners, and ININ is definitely on the leading edge here. Problem is that you trade the up-front revenue from a premise-based sale to the annuity model of smaller but ongoing payments from customers. That's going to result in a smaller CAGR, but a more viable future. Wall Street doesn't quite follow this logic since they live quarter to quarter. Have faith, folks - I'll take this scenario over most any of their competitors, public or private. Is the recent dip a good time to buy ININ? I'm not a financial analyst, but it looks that way to me.

2. PureCloud is a big bet, but with a big upside.

This was the "big news" of the conference, and if you've been following the online coverage, you'll know by now what this is about. Basically, Don Brown looked at Amazon Web Services, and said, hey, why don't we use that model for the contact center? I think he's exactly right, and while I'm not a Web guru, I understand the basic concept of ELB - elastic load balancing. As Don explained, if this works so well for Netflix - which it does - imagine what it could do for ININ. From what I know, AWS is tops at being scalable and economical, and there's really no benefit for ININ to do this in-house.

Like any mid-tier player trying to beat the top tier guys, you have to have the right solution to win the Tier 1 business, and PureCloud gives them a great shot at doing so. More importantly, ININ understands how the cloud is changing everything - the business value of physical infrastructure and solutions/applications is going in different directions. Anyone can partner with AWS, but nobody quite has the contact center tools that ININ does. Once the end customer is ready for the cloud, they really don't care whether the data centers are ININ's or AWS's - they just want it to work and deliver on the product promise.

Another "aha" for PureCloud is that it's not a contact center solution. It's a cloud solution with a contact center module, but also does social media, directory, telephony, UC and add-ons like document management and WFM. Clearly, many of their customers are interested in doing more than contact center with ININ, and PureCloud is a great delivery platform to support a more complete offering. It's not a big leap now to see how ININ can truly go head-to-head with Cisco, Avaya, Unify, et al - how's that for stirring the pot?

Downside? Well, for contact center, PureCloud isn't much different from CaaS in terms of features. The architecture, however, is very different, and this will take some explaining. Pushing CaaS customers further into the cloud may be a hard sell - both for end customers and their channel partners. We heard how only 10% of the cloud business is through channels, but that level is now rising. Still, they have a lot of work to do to find the right channel partners and get them up to speed. This also means cannibalizing some CaaS business, so there's a bit of risk there. Two other factors to consider - one is how well the broader market will view ININ as a partner for applications other than contact center. Second is the AWS relationship, which is essential for PureCloud's ultimate success.

Lots more to say, but we all have jobs and can't read blogs all day! I'll leave you with a few more quick thoughts along with these photos.

CMO/overall host Joe Staples setting/taking the stage. He provided some great data points showing just how much impact social media has on how we communicate and what that means for customer service. They get social, and the PureCloud demos nicely showed how it can make agents more effective. Joe also made similar cases for the impact of mobility and the cloud - and how ININ has factored these not just into current offerings, but also for what's coming - which we later saw during the red-hot technologies segment.
We also heard from keynoter Jay Baer, a very engaging digital marketing star, who shared lots of cool data points/factoids that jived with Joe's themes. One killer takeaway - "if your company sucks, social media isn't your biggest problem." Yup. Companies that shy away from social because they're afraid of getting photo-bombed, etc. aren't thinking this through. As we heard often, the upside of social will be greater than the downside - presuming you do things at least half-right. Apologies -Jay was so much fun to watch, I forgot to take his picture.

CEO Don Brown - he sure sets the tone for ININ's casual culture, but also one that's very open. No big egos here, and their execs are always accessible to us.

What a treat - Aron Ralston. I didn't know his name until Tuesday, but you know the movie - Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Well, that's him - prosthetic arm and all. Kinda tenuous connection to the contact center, but he did a credible job trying. Just an incredible story, and you should just go see the movie. He tells it with a lot of emotion and it sure kept the 2,000 or so in the audience damned still - not too much Facebooking going on then. Inspirational talks don't get much better than this, and for me, the main takeaway is that you have to learn to confront the boulders that trap you in life - learn to embrace them and not push them away. Hard to do - cost him his arm - but it gave him the right mindset to survive an otherwise certain death sentence deep in a valley that nobody ever stumbles across. Wow.

Wednesday morning was another highlight - a panel of Millennials, moderated by Joe Staples. Great idea - get some 20 somethings to talk directly to us about how they engage with technology and what customer service means to them. Biggest surprise - to hear about how little they use email - it's all about text and chat with them. Totally different communication regime, and yes, they live with their mobile devices 24/7. And yes, they shop online - a lot - almost no point in going to a store any more. I really don't understand why/how people buy things like shoes online, but hey, if the price is right...

The "All American Tailgate Party" at Lucas Oil Stadium. Well, the crowd was a bit sparse, but how often do you get to do this?

Or this? The fun for me was here later on Tuesday night. This is at the Slippery Noodle, Indy's top blues bar, and the SIPtones are in fine form. Left to right - Wayne Sos on bass, Stephen Leaden on drums, Rick Hathaway on saxes, and Mike Moszynski on guitar. 
I guested on a few songs - mostly keyboard, but also guitar, and it was all good. More photos will emerge soon, and hopefully some video - stay tuned.