Posts Tagged ‘RightNow’

ORCL Launches CEM

Posted: June 27, 2012 in CRM, Economics
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Oracle launched its customer experience push this week with an announcement by co-president Mark Hurd.  The new direction begins to pull together the results of Oracle’s latest buying spree in which it purchased ATG for e-commerce, RightNow Technologies for customer service and other technologies for analytics in cyberspace.

While Oracle will always draw skeptics the way a dog finds fleas, I think at least some of the new direction makes good sense but not necessarily for the reasons stated.

The big push into customer experience leaves much unsaid, especially the idea that customers are increasingly turning off vendors and their messages and seeking out indirect approaches to getting the information and products or services that they need.

The push into social media and especially analytics for gauging customer sentiment is a case in point.  People have a natural reticence about revealing too much to a vendor correctly assuming that anything they say in a sales conversation might be later used against them.  Fair enough.  But people are still remarkably unguarded about what they reveal to their peers and hence the boom in all things social.

However, if you look at the quotes recently put out by Oracle executives they’re really still selling old style CRM with the new label of customer experience.  They’re still talking about costs saved and calls avoided because those are the things that make vendors buy and it’s the vendors who are Oracle’s customers — end users not so much.

The strategy is smart because we are in an era of severe cost cutting and not simply for the usual economic reasons.  First off, and I have been saying this since 2007, companies like Oracle have to deal with the fact that energy and transportation costs are escalating making it harder for vendors to visit customers at a profit as well as more difficult for consumers to visit the mall.  This is the age of indirect selling for both these reasons.

But add on the idea that the economy has not grown in real GDP terms since 2008 and you see another dynamic.  A whole generation of people is trying to launch into life and finding it very difficult to form households.  Without household formation things like carpets, refrigerators, sofas and maybe even cars are not being bought in the numbers they would be under other circumstances.

In this age of austerity and stagnation, increasing profits to produce the illusion of growth comes from reducing overhead and avoiding margin gobbling expenses like conventional selling.  So you get things like this strategy of customer experience.  It makes sense to me and positions Oracle and a few other companies in a leadership position so good for them on that.

I also noticed though this curious line in a fine article by Chris Kanarkus of IDG News discussing the Oracle announcement; “Larger companies such as IBM, Adobe and are also building out CEM portfolios.  None of them can compete with Oracle’s breadth of technologies, [Anthony] Lye maintained.”  Of course, Anthony Lye is senior vice president of CRM at Oracle and the architect of the CEM or CXM strategy.  He was the guy buying up the CEM companies last year.

I found it interesting that Salesforce was lumped into the “larger companies” rubric with IBM and Adobe.  Oracle and Salesforce sometimes act like two Tomcats in a cage but keep in mind that Salesforce has yet to crack the Fortune 500 though it is making strides.  At any rate, this looks to me like an attempt by Oracle to set up some competitors for easy knockdown rather than something more substantial on the product front.  I don’t really understand the Adobe reference and while IBM has lately made strides in CRM and analytics the efforts seem directed elsewhere.

As for Salesforce, their efforts are in the enterprise with collaboration and highly socialized applications that are increasingly penetrating new niches.  The Salesforce strategy resembles Apple’s and both riff off the idea of a “Blue Ocean Strategy” that was subject of a book by the same name.

If I had to sum it up, and I do, I’d say we’re at a point in time when the market is splitting up and rather than the monolithic approach to social that we’re seen since the middle of the last decade, companies are developing specialization.  So we see Salesforce focusing on enterprise IT in the true cloud, and Oracle focusing on the vendor-customer transaction while others are carving out their own niches.  Yes, Oracle has a cloud strategy too as well as a hardware division.

So it’s the age of austerity, of reduced personal outreach and increasing relationships with and through machines and we now have the technologies to support the zeitgeist   Eventually, growth will be back on the menu.  Even Lent only lasts a short time.

Oracle Buys RightNow

Posted: October 24, 2011 in CRM
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I found out about Oracle’s purchase of RightNow, a multi-channel contact center company, when Chris Kanarkus of IDG News rang my cell.  Ironically, I was sitting in the departure area waiting for a flight that will take me to the RightNow Summit, the annual user meeting which is being held in Colorado Springs at the Broadmore resort.

Kanarkus was looking for comment, which I am always happy to provide, and lots of thoughts ran through my head that I chose to pass by.  The deal was worth one and a half billion dollars at the $43 per share offering price, a nice bump to the share price.

It had been my observation that the stock prices of many companies rose just before or during their user meetings as good news was usually announced there and the financial press in attendance post their scoops.  A couple of years ago I watched RightNow’s stock gain two or three points as CEO Greg Gianforte gave his keynote but this year the news appears to be built in to the share price already.

One and a half billion bucks is a lot to spend and that’s even truer for a company that last year generated $200xxx million in revenue.  A multiple between seven and eight is usually reserved for less proven and smaller companies with some kind of social angle.  But RightNow has been around a while and it’s track record, while sterling made me, at first, somewhat skeptical.

True, RightNow has a great focus on the customer experience and on helping its customers craft great experiences for their customers.  Also, it’s a SaaS company with a SaaS strategy that mirror’s Oracle’s which is to say they are multi-tenant but not fanatics about it.  However, RightNow is not a Fusion application and Oracle has its share of customer service/call center, call them what you will, apps so they weren’t exactly desperate to get another one.  I recall that Oracle paid one billion dollars for ATG, a company focused on e-commerce, so perhaps the company only knows how to write checks with nine places to the left of the decimal.

Seriously though, Oracle, ATG and RightNow might be a thing in the future.  Multi-channel communication combined with e-commerce outreach could be very important.  Add to this Oracle’s success in what it has called clienteling (sp?) in which store sales associates carry mobile devices that can orchestrate customer centric shopping, and you might see a pattern.  If the customer can’t come to the store, perhaps the store will come to the customer.

But this takes nothing away from RightNow’s core strengths today.  The company has become something of a missionary bringing the message of customer centricity to its customers.  In teaching the religion, RightNow has helped them navigate the social divide and some of that teaching might be very useful to Oracle which has a boat load of older technology products that it is in the process of “Fusing” and those applications need to adopt more socialized approaches.  Presumably, Oracle will protect the brand as it has with other acquisitions and Oracle RightNow does not appear to be that hard to say.

Competitively, this is interesting. another big CRM vendor recently bought Assistly which provides service functionality in an unassisted mode, or to say it differently, it is more of a customer self-service solution for the small business space.

Nonetheless, these are merely starting positions; it’s hard to know the ultimate destination some of these packages will have.  Part of that issue resides in a couple of social facts of life.  First, socially mediated processes are completely scalable working across the internet equally well for all sizes of company. Second, socially mediated business processes have very low costs and for that reason are attractive to anyone with a pulse especially in this economy.

There are other companies in the market that might make interesting buys for one of the bigger CRM companies and you can start with the CRM Idol finalists — Assistly’s stablemates, CrowdFactory, GetSatisfaction and Stone Cobra.  Each does something different and each is worthy of a vote or even a billion.

Finally, we should ask why in the middle of a terrible economy there is so much company buying going on.  The answer is that the corporate economy replete with M&A activity and some very good IPO’s this year has little to do with the real economy.  We’ve reached a point where some very good but siloed solutions have matured and a time when the big companies have ample cash that they aren’t spending on things like hiring people.  Buying a promising company is like R&D spending all bundled up and you get the result more or less right away.

So there it is.  Oracle buys RightNow for a king’s ransom.  I wonder if they’ll be serving champagne at the Broadmore tonight.

Oracle announced it has entered into an agreement to purchase InQuira today.  InQuira is a privately held company that supplies knowledge management technology to support web self-service and agent assisted self-service.

On the face of it, this seems to emulate solutions provided by RightNow and and several other vendors in the customer service space.  So while this is a good thing for Oracle and its customers, it is not revolutionary.  It means that at least in this area of customer service Oracle has filled an opening.

The announcement did not disclose the purchase price or any other terms.

Recessions are always a good time to rebuild your competitive infrastructure and the slow growth/recession of the last couple of years has been no exception.  On the stock market, the technology sector seems to be doing quite well.  After bottoming in the middle of the summer the software companies especially seem to be rebounding.  Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, RightNow and NetSuite are all gainers.

But the drivers for software acquisition remain what they have always been—improving processes, saving money or making money.  Companies whose products can do one or more of these will do well.  And customers will gobble up their wares as they seek out more competitive stances in their chosen markets.  The theme to watch for is replacement as many foundational applications that were implemented for Y2K reach the end of their shelf lives.  Here are some issues to consider.

  • Ten year-old ERP and CRM systems will be more than ripe for replacement.  New business processes and better economics will do the heavy lifting to prove the case for new applications.  Many of the conventional vendors like Oracle and SAP will be there as will newer entrants who’ve proven themselves over the last decade.  Watch for names like NetSuite, RightNow, Salesforce and others to command attention.
  • Cloud computing.  After several years of debate about what cloud computing is or is not, customers are in a great position with lots of choices for solutions.  It doesn’t matter whether you prefer single tenant or multi-tenant solutions, the economics of running software in the cloud are so compelling that you can find a vendor that speaks your cloud dialect.  Virtually every front and back office vendor has a cloud offering or two.
  • Analytics is another solution set that has been in the background for many years.  But new demands in the form of trying to make sense of the mountain of data brought in daily by our social applications makes analytics a necessary add-on.  Analytics solutions are abundant and even SAS Institute, a pioneer in enterprise analytics, has jumped into the market with cloud based solutions for social data.  It is somewhat surprising that Gartner expects only 35% penetration in customer service centers by 2013.  That looks like a great opportunity for differentiation to me.
  • It will also be a year for collaboration and I think collaboration may be the first true business social application type.  Judging from the rapid adoption the Salesforce’s Chatter is receiving I anticipate the broader market will see collaboration as a business process no one can afford to ignore.
  • Integration will be important in the year ahead too.  There are no so many applications and application types on the market that we can safely give up any pretense that a single vendor could deliver all of a company’s CRM needs. APIs and cloud computing make integration more important and feasible.  More vendors will discover that the winning strategy is to do whatever is possible to pre-integrate their wares with strategically important foundation CRM vendors.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see some vendors begin to organize around specific business processes or types such as channel selling.
  • This also implies that many companies will be looking to extend their solution sets with strategic additions.  Any company can optimize its CRM deployment and probably gain competitive benefit by looking at its business processes and comparing their level of automation with the product sets now on the market.  Need a way to keep your sales people in the game?  Try a compensation management system.  It will give them a way to quickly understand their progress in the only way they keep score.  At the same time it will reduce the back office overhead caused by end of quarter commission calculations.
  • If you have an interest in bringing out a new product but worry that a limited marketing budget could limit your success, you might first consider a variety of customer analytics that can help you determine which customers have a need, what that need is and how to approach them.
  • Or perhaps you are looking to improve service and save money but worry about displacing the good but expensive handholding your service group provides with faceless automation.  Try a social service solution that engages your user community to help answer basic customer inquiries through Twitter and Facebook.  Not only will you be able to maintain a person-to-person approach but response times might decline and there’s no telling what positive fallout might happen when customers help each other.  If you’re monitoring the chatter you might discover that a core group of customers has great understanding of your product and does a super job of helping out.  The help can also turn into articles for your knowledge base.
  • The last area for social penetration might be using solutions to analyze your negatives—to identify instances where customers express their displeasure with you on the Web.  It’s much better to deal with an irate customer than to let their anger fester, but first you have to find them.  Social media and analytics can help and it’s a worthy investment.  Our research shows that even the best companies have their detractors but often a vendor knows little or nothing about a problem.

My analysis

To summarize, the year ahead in CRM will be important for replacing old systems and for integrating new niche applications that sharpen your game.  The costs of these additions will be relatively low due to cloud computing and the nature of some smaller niche applications.  The recession ended in July of 2009 and while it might not feel like a recovery right now, there is ample evidence of improvement.  You can use next year strategically to improve your stance as a recovery picks up steam.  There are good products on the market and vendors are still hungry.  If you miss this opportunity, I think you’ll be saddled with your old and relatively expensive systems for longer than you might like.


RightNow Technologies certainly has come a long way in the last ten years and the company used its industry influencers day in Colorado Springs this week to remind us.  I saw the day as a marker of a turning point in the company’s development, a time when it said to the world, the first phase of life is over, now let us tell you what’s in store next.

My big takeaways:

  1. The company is generating cash and will continue to improve margins, which will propel it to its next phase.
  2. RightNow has staffed up with lots of industry veterans who will help to drive future success.
  3. RightNow believes its suite of customer service solutions is substantially complete and it will soon begin concentrating on accelerating sales and marketing.

Since this was a day for both industry and financial analysts there was a good amount of discussion about the company’s finances.  The men and women in black asked penetrating questions about margins, strategies and how the financial sausage was made.  From the answers I deduced that things are good.

Even before CFO Jeff Davison spoke the company had made several announcements including revising its advice to the street about Q3 2010 financials.  The unaudited—and don’t hold me to it—numbers look like this: about $48 million in revenue up from advice of $45 million and up 24 percent over the same quarter last year.  Not too shabby and apparently I was not the only one thinking this because the stock went north by about three and a half for the day, most of it in the morning.

So the company has good cash flow.  But more importantly, more of the cash is margin.  According to CEO Greg Gianforte, the company embarked on a four-year plan two years ago to boost its margins.  Half way through the exercise it looks like they will hit their target of eighteen to twenty-two percent operating margins.  This single example gives me the impression that RNOW is a well-run organization.

Also pre-announced, Wayne Huyard was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer.  Huyard has a twenty-five year track record, mostly at MCI, in leading sales and operations and he looks like a good fit for the team.  The company has also acquired numerous industry veterans over the past few years injecting significant business experience into all the key areas.  We were treated to a panel discussion with the VPs of the centers of excellence later in the morning and each of them knows their stuff.

Beyond Gianforte, Davison and marketing ninja Jason Mittelstaedt other heavies included Brian Kern, VP Web Experience, John Kembel acquired from Best Buy, VP Social Solutions who came over in the HiveLive acquisition, Ted Bray, VP Contact Center, Shon Wedde, Director of Platform Solutions, Chris Hamilton, VP Customer Feedback, and more that my notes don’t cover.

But back to the boss.  Before any of the leaders of RightNow’s centers of excellence spoke, Gianforte gave a succinct and well-reasoned overview of the market and his company’s opportunities.  He sees a ten-fold growth opportunity for the company in seven verticals making up a universe of about three thousand companies.  The sweet spot for this expansion are companies in business-to-consumer, government-to-consumer and higher education-to-student markets.

This universe includes many companies that might be missed by a more traditional call center approach focused on telecommunications and banking (though each is important).  Some of RightNow’s most interesting customers such as EA Games are well outside of that box and offer an intriguing peek into the future, not just of RightNow but of our society as we further socialize and become even more addicted to our mobile devices.

Interestingly, in discussing his land and expand strategy Gianforte revealed that the average customer places six to eight orders in the first three years of a relationship—quite an accomplishment for any software company and aided no doubt by the cloud model.

Finally, there are the four drivers Gianforte said are stoking demand—customer empowerment, cloud computing, proliferating online interactions and the contact center replacement cycle.  He says all drivers point to adoption of light, lithe and above all smart systems, which the company has worked to deliver.

If there was a fly in the ointment it might have been when the CEO said “The solution is basically done.” Gianforte no doubt meant that the suite of tools needed to support his vision of customer service is complete and he modified the statement to include the idea that there may be additions and acquisitions in the future.  But net/net he has the suite he wants to go to war with.  This is a significant revelation because in confluence with achieving his operating margin goals, it means the company will soon spend more on sales and marketing.  When that happens, look for the company’s growth to accelerate.

So, all in all, RightNow’s influencer meeting was successful in communicating these points and outlining a bright future for the company.  RightNow is at a turning point and you can see it.  The customers are happy, they continue to buy and the financial analysts apparently liked much of what they heard.  As the company completes its objectives for margin and turns its attention to faster growth we could be witnessing the beginning of a spurt that delivers the second billion-dollar cloud company.

Perhaps the most interesting CRM development to come out of Denver this week was Sage’s unveiling of its SaaS or cloud offering.  But now that the initial hoopla has died down (mine included) it’s time to take a more measured look at what is being delivered.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on my blog the announcement means that Sage is offering a hosted version of SalesLogix but not one that has been re-architected to take advantage of multi-tenancy.  The company still legitimately claims a better total cost of ownership profile for SalesLogix because the arrangement off-loads from the partner the need to support a physical installation and from the customer, the cost of most infrastructure.  The usual configuration and modification cycle remains the same however.

So is this good or not?  I say both.

First, let’s ‘fess up, this is not SaaS or cloud computing, except in the broadest possible definition you can imagine.  Amazon’s EC2 compute services, which delivers infrastructure as a service (IaaS), provides the cloud aspect.  It’s really ASP or application service provider, a model that waned away in the last decade for competitive reasons.  ASP is back because the applications are no longer client-server and thus have lower server overhead; that single change should make the model much more competitive.

Sage is betting that this change is enough to help its partners battle against NetSuite, Salesforce and RightNow (and others) by enabling them to check off the SaaS box in any bake-off and that’s a good point.  In fact, in briefings with SVP Larry Ritter and EVP and GM Joe Bergera that scenario came up.  Sage partners can continue the discussion about CRM and business issues with prospects once they’re past the SaaS beauty pageant and for them it’s a good thing.

Sage’s secret sauce has always been its partners.  The channel may be hard to administer at times but one thing you have to admit is that partners get right into the shoes of their customers in ways that software sales people simply cannot.  No wonder then that most SaaS companies are trying to breathe life into a channel solution.  Microsoft has sold through a channel for a long time, NetSuite is building one and even Salesforce has its version with its AppExchange developers who sell seats as a matter of course.

Sage’s strategy from here is to enable a hybridized approach to its solutions by offering the choice to customers over core CRM functions but increasingly to also offer complementary SaaS solutions that leverage customer data wherever it happens to reside.  That may represent an optimum for this business model, at least for now.

On the other hand, though, Sage seems to be taking its time bringing out complementary solutions and appears to regard that as its domain.  It would be better if the company opened up this space to more competition and contribution from partners and ISVs.  A more open approach would enable Sage to stock its catalog faster and make the promise a reality sooner.  The company’s statement so far is that it’s going for quality over quantity but I have a mild disagreement here.  I think it’s better to look for quality by letting a thousand flowers bloom and picking the best, rather than by over controlling the process.

SalesLogix in the cloud takes the company a long way to delivering lower cost solutions but Sage still has work to do.  Its customers represent a market very much oriented toward operational efficiency as opposed to, say, customer intimacy.  It needs to deliver low cost, easy to implement and deliver solutions, a quest that never ends.  Now that infrastructure has been dealt with Sage can focus more attention on business processes and vertical deployments, which is always on its roadmap.

So to net it out, Sage was the odd man out in the hosted services derby but that changed this week because Sage is now in the hosted services game.  It’s a solution that might seem odd to a SaaS purist, but it fits the special circumstances of a channel operation.  I think we need a new name to distinguish multi-tenant SaaS and cloud computing from solutions that simply use IaaS, something that is assertive rather than pejorative.  ASP anyone?

IBM bought Cast Iron Systems for what looks like an undisclosed amount of cash today.  That’s big news if you are an AppExchange product vendor specializing in integrating with legacy systems like ERP and some CRM.  Cast Iron has been the g-to company for effecting these integrations and grew prosperous doing them.

That IBM saw a need to have Cast Iron in its stable of software companies says a lot about the growing popularity of and necessity for SaaS based business software.  We all know that integration with legacy systems can be a bear and for IBM a company with significant services exposure to make this acquisition speaks directly to the popularity of new-style SaaS over legacy computing.

I didn’t see any discussion of how the deal was financed whether by stock, cash or some combination.  Nonetheless, it would appear, at least at this point, that Cast Iron will still be expected to do a good deal of business with companies implementing the likes of and RightNow.  Hence my instinct that the purchase says a lot about these SaaS companies as well as Oracle CRM On-Demand, NetSuite and almost any other SaaS company that needs to integrate with legacy systems.

Am I kidding me?  Forecasting the year ahead?  Sheesh!

One of the reasons the task I set for myself is so daunting this year is that I believe we are in a massive transition state that affects the whole economy, CRM included.  I think Tom Friedman got it right in version 2.0 of his “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” to wit: the root causes of the economic meltdown and the climate crisis stem from the same idea, unsustainability.

As I recently said, selling mortgages or other loans to people with none of the usual commonsense qualifications (jobs, credit history, etc.) was unsustainable and so is belching carbon into the air or for that matter drilling holes in the ground and expecting them to yield petroleum.  It’s all unsustainable as in, it might work now but at some point it won’t.

Welcome to Some Point, a fast growing village east of Copenhagen.

Ironically, this should make the innovators and risk takers among us salivate at the multiple opportunities.  Whatever comes from the climate talks should be good for us.  Stage one will be to use less carbon and stage two will be let’s use something else or economic growth will cease.  As far as I am concerned we can’t get to Stage two quick enough.

Both stages will alert us to the need for new business processes to accommodate new realities and from those new processes we will see increased demand for software.  How else will we support them?

The same can be said of our long climb out of the economic crater we made selling funny paper.  Software is not a silver bullet but it will have to be a big part of implementing and enforcing the new, more sustainable business rules that evolve.

Some of the candidate areas that I believe will benefit from this realignment include the following — keep in mind that this is a multi-year effort we’re talking about.


SAP spoke a lot about in-memory databases and in-memory analytics at a recent industry influencers conference in Boston.  I think we will become even more dependent on analytics in the years ahead and the in-memory idea accelerates results and increases utility.  A self-re-enforcing cycle may be forming here.


We have to re-think selling in this market.  I believe we’ve moved into a zero-sum era in selling — people have less to spend and many choices meaning more evaluation and extended deals that start well before a sales person makes a call.  Selling needs more and different tools — closely integrated with marketing — to manage the customer buying process.  Those tools are in many cases out there but they still operate as point solutions.  Vendors need to come together to deliver solutions to new problems.

While we’re at it, when the economy recovers, look for gas and jet fuel prices to spike above the last peaks.  In that environment business travel will be reduced and we will need better and different software to support modified sales processes.


Thank goodness we have a wide array of social solutions increasingly integrated with CRM.  We haven’t optimized social media in CRM yet because we’re too focused on using it as a megaphone when we need to learn to use it as a stethoscope.  We will and the companies who first figure out how to do it will benefit greatly.

Service and support

Of all the areas of CRM that might benefit from the coming upheaval, I think service and support are the furthest along the path to a new paradigm.  Companies like Salesforce and RightNow are leveraging social technologies and are in the process of subtly redesigning business processes.  If you want to understand what CRM will look like in a few years look first at what’s going on in service and support.


We need to get our act together on this idea.  Currently, anyone with SaaS, PaaS or infrastructure as a service is touting a platform or cloud computing.  They are homogenizing ideas to make a buck, nothing wrong with making a buck but playing loose with definitions can impede the progress of the sector’s evolution by confusing the market.  Let’s just agree that a platform has to be more than the sum of its parts.  It does minimal good to offer a platform that simply moves your computer room to another state.  Platform needs to mean something that makes managing the gear easier, certainly, but it also has to take new responsibility for fast deployment, customization and development of those new applications that new business processes will need.

The year ahead

I see great challenges and great opportunities in the year ahead and the opportunities extend into the indefinite future.  More than at any time since the bubble our success will depend on innovation and creativity — the sustainable kind.

On the road (again)

Posted: October 28, 2009 in CRM
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Colorado Springs is an interesting place.  Despite the name there are no “springs” it’s an arid place in a valley surrounded by the southern Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak National Park (for sticklers Pikes really should be Pike’s but the official U.S. naming convention eliminates the apostrophe).  The springs were an invention of the railroads seeking to establish a destination for vacationers.  Good idea, it’s a nice place.

You can ride horseback through the mountains and see abandoned mines and homesteads as well as some rugged natural beauty.  Last time I was there we rode on some trails that were barely wide enough to accommodate our horses.  On one side there was forest and on the other a steep drop off.  RightNow convenes its annual user group meeting at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs next week.  By most accounts it’s been a good year for software, especially SaaS vendors so the meeting should be upbeat.

Other commitments will keep me from attending the RightNow Summit but I look forward to hearing about their announcements.  In general there is an unmistakable move in most areas of CRM, contact centers included, to move more operations to an on-demand footing.  Whether it’s called SaaS, managed or hosted, the call center is moving to simpler surroundings — at least for the client organization, and for good reasons.

Owning and operating a call center is a big and expensive undertaking for a company.  With all phases of the operation in-house, a company has to be able to support multiple subject matter experts from hardware to applications.  The company also has the task of managing an impressive (some would say bewildering) array of gear both telephonic and computer.  The same company also has all of the headaches of recruiting, training and managing a sophisticated workforce.

So, when a vendor comes along offering to take even a portion of that big job over for a fixed price per seat, it draws a lot of attention.  In the not too distant past, the number of vendors willing to make such an offer was limited and RightNow was at the top of the heap.  The market is changing making it easier for vendors to get into the business and the fact that we are even talking about the difference between on-demand, managed and SaaS solutions is evidence of that change.

But it’s not just changing technology that is driving the market.  The core customers, you and me, are smarter and more experienced and we are beginning to draw less from our vendors’ call centers.  Since we’ve all experienced earlier generations of products we are more likely to solve simpler problems with new products ourselves.  Moreover, our recently acquired sophistication with social media makes us more adventurous when it comes to seeking out service and advice from our peers.

It was no surprise to me that RightNow acquired social networking company HiveLive to bolster its efforts in social service offerings.  I look forward to hearing what RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte has to say about his company’s direction in socialized service and support.  Should be an interesting conference.

Also on the docket, the following week Sage Software hosts its user meeting in Atlanta followed by Microsoft holding an analyst briefing in Redmond.  I wish I could make all of these events but they are simply too close together.

Sage is always surprising in part because the company’s business model — selling exclusively through the indirect channel — puts different demands on its products and services.  That has frequently meant that the company has held back on major innovations until its partners were ready to get on board.  But last year, the company announced a 2010 strategy to bring its multiple CRM products under an umbrella that will enable it to achieve greater economies of scale and better integration capabilities with its back office solutions.

Also, Sage recently announced a foray into another on-demand style solution to be delivered early next year.  Their original notwithstanding, this will be something new for SalesLogix, their high end product.  This is CEO Sue Swenson’s second year at the helm and it was clear at the partner meeting in May that she’s putting her imprint on the company.  She’s tasked senior executives with ambitious plans to update key products and improve partner-facing programs.  It will be interesting to see what end user facing changes are in the offing.

Finally, Microsoft is a very important player in the front and back office applications markets today.  Their analyst meeting in the same week as the Sage user meeting should generate a few headlines and I am eager to hear more about their direction though I will not be able to be there.

All this activity makes me optimistic about next year, and if all this isn’t enough, Intel, AMD and IBM have all reported better than expected financial results for the recently finished quarter.  The semiconductor market has always been a reliable indicator of an upturn in the tech sector and I am hopeful that these results are the first signs of a general economic rebound.  But recovery means more than simply reporting better financial results especially if the increase is from a depressed level caused by recession.  It’s clearly a half full glass but that’s fine with me.