Aspect Software Buys Voxeo for $150 million; Augments Self-Service and Cloud Offerings
Aspect Software, which provides customer interaction management, workforce optimization and business process automation software to companies around the world, is buying multi-channel self-service technology specialist Voxeo for a reported $150 million. The purchase marks a major step in a lengthy transformation process that, from Opus Research’s perspective, returns it to its technological roots. It was in 1985 that Jim Carreker founded Aspect Telecommunications (Aspect Software’s progenitor). His mission was to prove that the clunky ACDs (automated call directors) and PBXs (Programable Branch Exchanges) that performed call processing for large enterprises and their call centers could be replaced by – wait for it – software.
In the intervening years, a succession of management and engineering teams set out to prove that packaged software would ultimately prove more capable and flexible than the hardwired and hide-bound electronic switching systems of the day. At the time, they were in head-to-head competition with the well-entrenched market leaders: Nortel, Avaya and IBM-Rolm. Aspect arguably led the disruption of the marketplace which paved the way for the entrance of Genesys Labs and Cisco as they rode the coat-tails of IP-telephony, Services Oriented Architectures and Web-based standards like VoiceXML and ccXML. These were the very disruptions and standardizations that gave Voxeo its start. Founded by Jonathan Taylor and Gary Reback in 1999, Voxeo was the first telephony software company to put extra effort into making sure that the software that drives new telephony applications (and attracts newly-minted Web developers to build innovative services) conform to Web standards.
Aspect Communications underwent its first major transformation in 2005 when a private company called Concerto Software purchased the publicly-traded company for $1 billion. The successor company, which assumed the name Aspect Software in 2007 was the product of a number of acquisitions that Concerto had made starting in 2004 to roll-up a number of firms with expertise in managing outbound campaigns (e.g. Melita International and Positive Software Systems) as well as workforce optimization (CenterForce Technologies). The assimilation of acquisitions has proven to be one of Aspect Software’s strength.
Another one of Aspect’s strengths is its professional services organization who’s name, Microsoft Consulting Services from Aspect, is a true reflection of its purpose. Microsoft is a significant investor in Aspect Software. As we discussed in this post from 2009, Aspect was, at the time, fully vested in a vision of Unified Communications that treated Microsoft and its Office Communications Server (which is now known as Lync) as the best way to support IVR, telephony and self-service functions in the evolving IP-driven world. At the time, it meant that Aspect had opted to abandon its own Voice Portal, which, itself, was the result of Aspect’s acquisition of Chelmsford MA-based VoiceTek in 1998.
A little over a year ago, the company began undertaking a complete refresh of top management and started a number of processes that culminated in March with new branding, packaging and distribution strategies to define “The New Aspect.” With new C-level executives in every functional area, management could take a very dispassionate assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of its product line. As CMO Jim Freeze explains it involved close evaluation of “our existing portfolio to leverage what’s going on in the enterprise space… Not just ACD, inbound/outbound, predictive dialing, WFO,” which are Aspects core products.
The evaluation revealed the need for a stronger set of offerings in the very product categories that are core to Voxeo. IVR is definitely one of those categories. Voxeo’s Prophecy Platform has proven the value of VoiceXML and ccXML conformance. The quality and scalability of Prophecy, combined with Voxeo’s dogged commitment to customer support and satisfaction has made it popular enough that Voxeo claims to be processing over a billion transactions each month on Prophecy. But the real differentiator is the Customer Experience Platform (CXP). This is the latest release and rebranding of VoiceObjects’ application and run-time environment. CXP13, released last May, encourages deep integration between multi-channel self-service applications and back office business processes by enabling developers to design their applications one-time and use the same logic for customers through Web sites, mobile apps or over the phone with live agents or IVRs.
This is where the acquisition brings us full circle. Both Bob Ingalls, CEO of Voxeo, and Jim Freeze, CMO of Aspect, described how the “overlay” of Voxeo’s strengths with Aspect’s strengths dramatizes the “synergy” that the acquisition represents. “By ‘synergy’ I mean not cuts, but growth,” explained Ingalls. He and the decision makers at Aspect see an opportunity to use the acquisition to expand their existing cloud-based offering, Aspect OnDemand – which has largely been focused on WFO and outbound. Incorporating CXP13 and Prophecy will give Aspect’s customers and channel partners a much richer pallette of tools, applications and resources to work with.