Talisma, a company acquired by nGenera last year, recently rebranded as “nGenera CIM.” This brings Talisma’s solid suite of customer interaction technology into the nGenera fold.
Not exactly headline-grabbing news, you say? I couldn’t agree more. The more interesting story is how the CIM unit fits in the strategy for nGenera, a company that could make some waves in the coming years pushing new thinking and integrated solutions for “collaborative business management.”
Customer Interaction Management
But, let’s start with the basics. In my view, Talisma was a company that didn’t get the full credit deserved for having a strong CSS (customer service/support) solution that competes nicely with vendors like RightNow, eGain and KANA. Forrester analyst Natalie Petouhoff placed Talisma in a “leaders” category in Q4/2008, ranked No. 4 in a list of ten “interaction-centric” vendors. Talisma’s solution suite, now called nGen CIM, includes tools to help agents provide customer service through chat, email and phone channels, plus a knowledgebase.
The tools are robust and usable, but not exactly unique in the industry. So, what is it that wins deals?
Wade Pfeiffer, the CIM unit’s general manager, says the company is growing and profitable, with a pipeline that is “the best it’s ever been.” While the sour economy has fueled demand to improve efficiency, he claims they win against some larger and/or better known competitors because of deployment flexibility (installed and SaaS options), fast ROI and a customer-centric culture.
Newegg, the second-largest online-only retailer in the U.S., certainly backs up Pfeiffer’s assertion. Kerrigan Hodnett, Newegg’s Director of Web Management/Customer Service, is passionate about a company culture that makes customer service strategically important. If a customer has a problem they’ll “do whatever it takes to make it right,” with agents empowered (and funded) to take action quickly. They must be doing something right, because Newegg has racked up quite a few awards for consumer service in recent years, and actually topped Amazon.com in the 2008 ACSI ratings.
Hodnett decided to replace a previous vendor’s chat solution that was too “sales oriented,” and liked Talisma’s technology suite and customer-oriented sales approach. Talisma… I mean nGen CIM, has been installed for about half a year and Hodnett says he’s a happy camper with the products, service level and responsive support.
Who Are Those Guys?
But as I said, the bigger picture is what intrigues me. Yes, think “cloud computing” and “Web 2.0,” but there’s much more to nGenera than just tools.
To get a better handle on the vision behind nGenera, I spoke with Brian Magierski, EVP of Corporate Development and Finance at nGenera Corp. Magierski is a veteran of the enterprise software industry, having worked at Trilogy in the 1990s before launching a B2B marketplace and then Kalivo to build an “enterprise 2.0” collaboration platform (blogs, wikis, etc.).
Steve Papermaster started BSG Alliance in 2007 to create “a unique platform of services and tools to enable organizations to become next generation enterprises.” Sounds good, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that verbiage a few other places. (What does “BSG” mean? I have no idea.) Anyway, Papermaster convinced some top-drawer VCs to invest ($70M+), acquired Don Tapscott’s New Paradigm research firm and Kalivo in 2007, then Talisma in 2008. Oh, and rebranded to nGenera Corp.
Still with me? Maybe you’re starting to pick up on one of the problems that nGenera faces: getting the market perception in synch with what they’re actually doing.
Collaborative Business Management
That said, I’m impressed with the vision that Magierski outlined for me. The problem is that nGenera is trying to create something that doesn’t fit into the neat technology buckets that analysts like to use. They have a thought leadership unit (Tapscott et al) that you rarely find in a software firm, plus customer service solutions (Talisma) found in the CRM market, plus collaboration tools (Kalivo) that the newish Web 2.0 firms are promoting.
“Collaborative business management” is how Magierski describes this next-generation approach. Personally, I like the term because I’ve written about collaboration as a missing ingredient in CRM. Too often, CRM is just about internal process automation and not a two-way dialog. In recent times, social media has brought customer interactions to the forefront, too.
The vision is exciting, but can it be executed? On that point, the picture is a bit, well, cloudy. For one thing, the large/complex enterprises that are nGenera’s target are also pretty set in their ways, and deeply invested in Oracle, SAP and other enterprise apps. And this economy is not the best time to be talking about visionary things. However, Magierski says they are taking a pragmatic approach to win business tactically (e.g. with nGen CIM) while moving towards the vision: “Each new customer win plays an important role as a beachhead from which we can begin building a collaborative management capability.”
Selling the vision is a challenge, but implementing it will be quite a feat for nGenera’s customers, too. As Forrester’s Petouhoff points out, “the devil is in the details.” Moving towards “collaborative business management” will require strong leadership and change management.
This latest nGen CIM announcement unveiled the new branding plus a high-level roadmap that will unfold starting in late March. During the rest of 2009 expect to see more social networking features, search optimization, partner announcements and other enhancements aimed at bridging “the gap between traditional knowledge management and enterprise social networking.” In particular, VP of Products David Lowy says to look for communities and wikis, which sounds to me like the beginning of real integration with the collaboration tools formerly known as Kalivo.
These are trying times, which naturally leads to tactical thinking if not outright hunkering down. But I think we can use a strong dose of vision and innovation in this industry. Hats off to Papermaster and crew for making a bold bet that they can lead the way towards a next-generation enterprise.