Rochester Alums Plan New Customer Care App for i
May 22, 2007 Alex Woodie
The folks at VACAVA are, you might say, System i bigots. For those who are familiar with the IBM System i server, which is designed and manufactured in Rochester, Minnesota, where VACAVA is also based, that is a good thing. Now the former IBMers at VACAVA are gearing up to launch a new application, for System i shops that run call centers, called Customer Care.
VACAVA was founded about 10 years ago by Terry Bird, the company’s owner and president. Over the years, Bird attracted several of his colleagues away from Big Blue and into VACAVA’s sphere, including Jim Kelly, who handles sales and marketing for the company, and Athena Partenheimer, the product manager for Customer Care. During their tenure at IBM, all three worked in IBM’s partner program, including PartnerWorld and Partners In Development, where they developed a critical understanding of the importance of applications and application developers for the AS/400, iSeries, and System i.
When they left IBM, they started developing applications that automate the sales process. The company’s flagship VACAVA suite included three modules, CAVAsales, CAVAorder, and CAVAvision. More recently, the company released two applications for managing hedge funds and another called WorldHub.
Now, the company is launching Customer Care, which is designed to automate call center implementations and streamline call center activities, such as the scripts that customer service representatives read and campaign management. VACAVA plans to deliver its new software alongside iMessaging Systems‘ i5/OS-based iNspire Call Center Suite and IBM and 3com‘s voice over IP (VoIP) computer telephony systems, thereby combining all the telephony infrastructure and application software customers need to get a call center up and running as quickly as possible.
“The product is really targeted at somebody who’s in the SMB (small to mid size business) and iSeries marketplace who wants to build a call center system as close to out of the box as possible,” Bird says. “Number one, it needs to be easily installed and easily customizable, so a non programming resource can change things like field names and the customer catalog. And we use wizards so customers don’t have to pay a lot for services.”
According to Partenheimer, it can commonly take several weeks to fine tune and configure a call center campaign for optimal results. “Once you get a script or a campaign going, then they figure out how it really ought to work,” she says. Customer Care simplifies this process by allowing users to set up their scripts in a drag-and-drop environment using radio buttons and other visual techniques. “It exponentially cuts the time it takes,” she says.
Customer Care is also designed to allow companies to adapt their call centers as their needs grow. “Call centers are single-function focused. They’re focused on outbound or inbound,” Bird says. “But say they want to expand their business, and go from inbound to outbound or vice versa. Now they have that capability.”
The software also brings the capability to capture orders off the Web and prepare it for entry into the company’s ERP system or other order-processing system. “We’re not trying to replace the ordering mechanism,” Partenheimer adds. “Call centers, because they’re doing work on behalf of the customer, rarely have access to the ERP system.”
Customer Care also implements an element of virtualization to the call center environment when deployed with iMessaging Systems’ APIs and the IBM/3com System i IP Telephony environment.
“A lot of call center activity is moving into the off-shore environment. There are pressures to reduce costs,” Bird says “One of the advantages of VoIP today as well as this application is the capability to distribute where the server is, where the switch is, and where your agent is.”
“If I’m a call center in a medium to large company, and I need to add 10 more people to this particular campaign, where am I going to get those additional 10 people?” Bird says. “Say I’m based in Minneapolis. Today I only have that current market because they need to be resident in my call center. Tomorrow, you have the capability, because it’s Web delivered, to take that application and hire five people Sun City, Arizona, or five people in India.”
VACAVA follows a similar employment model. While it’s based in a city–Rochester, Minnesota–that is, in many ways, a throw-back to American Midwestern ideals (just look at IBM’s facility there, which is the largest building under a single roof in the world, the embodiment of top-down corporate regimen and control), VACAVA uses the modern employment model. Ten employees work out of VACAVA’s headquarters in Rochester, but the rest of the company is dispersed throughout the country, in Seattle, Chicago, New York City, London, India (a model that resembles a certain online IT publishing company you might be familiar with).
VACAVA Customer Care is written in Java and will run on any Java-supported server. In its strongest configuration, when it’s paired with iMessaging Systems APIs and the System i IP Telephony system, it requires the System i server. The company is primarily targeting existing System i shops.
Customer Care is slated to begin beta tests in June, with general availability planned for August. Full solution pricing–including the application, the iMessaging components, and a System i Model 515 Express–is expected to range from $25,000 to $35,000. For more information, visit www.vacava.com.