Is Interactive Intelligence an Exponential Organization?
Most industry events feature an acclaimed author keynoting about disruptive trends and ideas that lead you to rethink everything. Some are more convincing than others, and it’s always a challenge for the speaker to couch his/her message in terms that are relevant to the audience and our industry.
For the recent Interactions 2016 conference, Interactive Intelligence chose Salim Ismail, CEO of ExO and author of a current must-read book, Exponential Organizations. The title is a mouthful, but it gets your attention, and Salim delivered the goods. Actually, his ideas were too rapid fire to fully digest, and while it’s a great ploy to sell more books, I managed to pick up on a few themes that I wanted to share in this post.
As per the above title, I’m going to provide examples for how ININ embodies – or is striving to be – an exponential organization. While this speaks to their prospects for the contact center space, I will extend my thinking to the UCC space, in terms of what vendors and providers need to be doing to take things to the next level.
What’s an exponential organization?
Glad you asked, as the term was new to me, and just about everyone else in the audience – of course, except for Dave Michels. The concept is very much a product of the cloud era, where everything is becoming digitized and businesses can pivot, scale faster and cheaper than ever before. As we heard, most organizations are rooted in legacy models where thinking is linear. Evolution is slow and steady, and while businesses can plan effectively this way when markets are mature, the linear model simply can’t adapt to what’s happening today.
Salim gave lots of examples of industries that are being disrupted along the way, and explained why companies that can scale exponentially are wildly successful – Uber, Airbnb and the ever-growing list of Unicorns that somehow ramp up to $1 billion valuations with just a handful of developers. I think you get the picture, and while ININ isn’t a certified exponential organization, I think they’re doing a lot of things that put them on that track, and arguably further along than their competitors. Here are five examples that stood out to me:
1. First would be their partnership with AWS. To approach any level of exponential scale, you need the best cloud money can buy, and in Don Brown’s view, Amazon is best in class, ahead of Google and Azure. They’re so certain of this, when asked about the AWS relationship, he said ININ was “very married.” Sounds like they’re all-in on this one, and Amazon seems to feel the same, citing ININ a “top 12” AWS partner.
2. Salim talked about how exponential organizations don’t succeed with incremental breakthroughs; their purpose is to disrupt and redefine markets via massive change, typically 10-fold improvements or better. ININ has a long way to go on that front – and so does everybody else – but we saw examples of things they’re doing that show they’re aiming high. One would be the demos of virtual and augmented reality applications to enhance customer service. This is certainly a fun trend, and when it crosses over into wearable tech, agents will have new ways to interact with customers. Too early to tell where this will go, but the point is that ININ is trying to stay ahead of the curve, and when a winning innovation hits, they’ll be ready to scale it ahead of the competition.
3. Leveraging IoT is another way ININ is doing this, and while others are doing this too, I saw some great breakouts where they showed how connected homes, businesses and vehicles can all transform the customer experience. There’s a lot to explore here, but IoT opens up opportunities for new types of personalized “concierge” services to help customers manage things like accident claims with insurers, security services in the home or business, energy consumption, etc. At the heart of this is having predictive analytics capabilities that draws data from all these connected devices, and the cloud provides the engine to create new value for customers. Not only does this allow for more personalized forms of customer service, but it helps find the Holy Grail for automating processes to speed up problem resolution, reduce operating costs and improve accuracy so things only have to be done once.
4. Finally, they’re becoming more Millennial-centric. I think this truly holds the key for ININ to become an exponential organization – and while every company is going through this transition, over four days, you get to see a lot. Their people are generally younger and dress a lot differently than what I usually see, and they really seem to be having fun. Don’t let that fool you, though, as they have a lot of smart people working on design to make the UX intuitive and easy to use. Dan Rood, their bright Marketing Director, talked about how openness and transparency are important to them – and their customers. These are core millennial values, and they believe that by making their APIs public and posting uptime status for PureCloud on their website, they build trust with customers. This is another characteristic of exponential organizations that Salim talked about, namely how Millennials value community, sharing and authentic experiences.
5. Related to that is how ININ is trying to make social applications more central to the customer service experience. During one breakout, they talked about how telephony is a great real-time application, but it’s a very linear form of communication. Many sessions just involve voice, and when the call is over, the session is done. Conversely, social applications are exponential in the sense that often involve multiple modes, and can quickly scale to be shared with entire communities, both during and after the session. This has all kinds of implications for contact center agents, and you can’t be an exponential organization unless you know how to engage effectively with your customers. I liked seeing how they were trying to show customers and partners why this is so important, as linear models of communication simply won’t get the job done with social-first millennial customers.
Can UCC players become exponential organizations?
While the contact center is complementary to UCC, these two worlds are increasingly finding common ground, so for me the above takeaways are very relevant to our core audience. We know all too well how disrupted and disjointed the UCC space is, and how difficult the core UC value proposition is to articulate. We’ve also seen the seemingly exponential impact the likes of Slack are having, and there’s more to come.
Just when UCaaS seemed to be the future, we now have CPaaS to contend with, and that opens the door for new entries that are even further removed from the known universe upon which UC started out from. We don’t know yet if the likes of Vonage and Nexmo will be a game-changer, or what Twilio’s IPO will mean, or if Microsoft and LinkedIn will take social collaboration to another level.
Clearly, however, these companies and recent moves are closer to the essence of Salim’s ideas than what the conventional UC players are doing. Platforms like Spark and Circuit – and maybe even Zang – are steps in the right direction, but I don’t think they can be transformative enough to deliver those 10x improvements.
What we know for sure is that innovation will continue, but for the scale that Salim is talking about, it’s hard to see how the major players can do it. Of course, being smaller, ININ can be more nimble, and large companies can be agile too, so there is hope. However, I think exponential successes will come not just from smaller players, but from companies that have the right culture, something that again, ININ seems to have a good handle on.
I haven’t fully answered the question for this closing section, but that’s by design. This week, I’m moderating our next podcast, and it will be a group recap of the ININ conference. This is one of the questions I’ll pose to my fellow UC Experts, so if I’ve piqued your interest here, check back later this week when our podcast has been posted.