Interactive’s platform extends Office Communications Server

Interactive Intelligence Inc. [Nasdaq: ININ] on Tuesday announced an IP communications software platform that integrates with Microsoft’s Office Communications Server (OCS), extending IP PBX and call centre functionality to Redmond’s unified communications platform. But a deal a rival struck with Microsoft back in March might make new customer wins difficult for Interactive, according to an analyst.

In a briefing last week, Interactive’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, Joseph Staples, told Network World Canada that while OCS might manage real-time communications in a variety of channels — voice, video, instant messaging — it isn’t an Internet protocol PBX or a contact centre application. Integration with Interactive’s Customer Interaction Centre (CIC) and Enterprise Interaction Centre (EIC) extends OCS’s capabilities to include multi-channel routing, speech IVR, call and screen recording options, predictive dialing and more.

“We grew up in the call centre space,” Staples said. “We live and breathe presence.”

Presence — functionality that shows whether users on a system are available for communication or not — is a key element of unified communications. Call centres, though, require much more granular presence status than an office suite, Staples said. “We’ve had our own presence engine for years,” he said. Interactive’s presence engine recognizes 40 different statuses rather than the eight recognized by OCS.

As both presence engines are built on Microsoft’s Active Directory, Interactive can map its 40 presence states to OCS’s eight, Staples said, and provides a common directory.

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The platform offers a variety of interfaces, including a standalone SIP phone, Microsoft’s Office Communicator Client, the Interaction client and the Interaction client with embedded OCS. The latter allows access to OCS features from within CIC or EIC; for example, a user can send instant messages using OCS without leaving the CIC client.

There’s no video support at the moment, but Staples said that’s in the works. “We’re seeing a lot of tire-kicking around video,” Staples said.

Vanessa Alvarez, enterprise research group analyst with Yankee Group, said it’s a wise move with Microsoft coming to market with OCS, and enterprises likely to give it serious consideration.

“I think it was a smart move for them,” Alvarez said. “They can (tell their existing customers), ‘If you’re looking to consider Microsoft, no worries.’”

But a deal that Microsoft cut with Aspect Software Inc., a call centre rival of Interactive’s, might make new customer wins more difficult, she said. In March at VoiceCon Orlando 2008, Microsoft announced it would make an equity investment in Aspect to accelerate the development of an Aspect Unified IP platform that interoperates with OCS.

“In so many words, (Aspect) said, ‘We’re going to market’” with Microsoft, Alvarez said. And even if Microsoft doesn’t bring Aspect in on its OCS deals, Aspect will “jump on their coattails,” she said.

But with that project still under development, Interactive may have a momentary leg up on Aspect because the Interactive client will be up and running by June of this year. “For existing customers, they can say, ‘We integrate with OCS, so you don’t even have to look at Aspect,’” Alvarez said.

Interactive is based in and does all its development out of Indianapolis. “It’s one of the constraints on our growth,” Staples said – Indianapolis is not a big or hot tech market, so local developers are hard to find.

That could change, said Interactive’s Canadian country manager, Jo-Anne Finney, when the company opens its new Canadian headquarters and technology centre in Montreal. Finney said there’s a substantial pool of SIP and IP engineering talent to draw from in the Montreal area.