Tuesday, March 20, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Susanne Lainson

Boulder Chamber of Commerce's "e-Train" Series On March 20 I went over to the Boulder Chamber of Commerce to catch Bob Burgin, CEO of Finali. His company is a Westminster-based contact center which integrates automated and live customer support. It provides best-of-breed contact center software, live reps, and a knowledge base (they track every single customer interaction and do a performance analysis). According to Bob, typically a company spends between $5-$50 million a year on customer service. Automation will cut those expenses and 50-80% of customer interactions can be automated. Finali draws upon a team that collectively has built offline call centers for 38 Fortune 500 companies.

One technology Finali uses is what it calls a netSage. Essentially it is a person-in-a-box which sits on a client's website and guides visitors. An actor (who can be cast to convey a unique corporate image) is videotaped responding to a variety of customer interactions and then those images are offered up at the client's site along with the appropriate text responses. All sorts of social cues have been programmed in so that the netSage behaves exactly as you would expect the perfect support rep to behave. He or she is helpful, non-threatening, and adjusts his/her conversation to fit your experience level. And the netSages get smarter: their repertoire expands whenever new questions are asked of live service reps and then catalogued. Even more important, netSages are a bargain. A typical interaction involving a human service rep costs $9.00; the same interaction using a netSage, just twenty-five cents. (It doesn't cost much to feed those guys in the boxes and they never need bathroom breaks.)

Bob was speaking as part of the Chamber's "eTrain" series. Wow, this guy is good. It's hard to come up with an analogy which best describes his presentation demeanor. The terms "salesman" and "evangelist" don't quite fit because the first implies a rehearsed slickness and the second an over-the-top zeal. Most apt, perhaps, would be to compare his style to the way Walt Disney used to open those "Wonderful World of Disney" shows: a pied piper you'd trust enough to follow anywhere.

Boulder Business Series The next night I went to the Boulder Business Series at the historic and charming Hotel Boulderado. This organization brings together graduates from the top MBA programs around the country. Past president Patty Rivera, CEO/founder of KidItCard and Sloane graduate, was there, as always. I also talked to Tony McDonald, president of Marz Capital Corporation.

The presentation was by Sheila Paxton, Frontline Group's EVP for instructional design, technology, and deployment. She said that by 2003, 60% of organizations will have e-learning platforms. The industry has progressed much more rapidly than analysts predicted. Reasons include cost reduction, flexibility, and the fact that these courses support adult learning models (i.e., allowing you to get what you need when you need it). Eight hours of instructor-led training can be compressed into two hours of online training.

Colorado Software and Internet Association Breakfast On March 23 I headed down to Denver for a Colorado Software and Internet Association breakfast at the Pinnacle Club, which is part of Top of the Rockies (37th floor of Qwest Towers). The best that can be said for leaving Boulder at 6:30 in the morning is that you miss most of rush hour.

Cathy Ewing, the executive director of CSIA, is doing a bang-up job. Not only is she everywhere, the CSIA has been extremely proactive in terms of community building. More than 200 people showed up at this event to network, have breakfast, and hear the presentation. Among the contingent from law firm Holme Roberts & Owen were Mark Weakley, Suzy Thevenet, Charlie Bruce, Charles Maquire, and Linda Wackwitz. Plus I met Sue Oakes, VP/general counsel at Requisite Technology, who used to be at HRO. Also there were Bill Chambers, president/CEO, and Dave DuPont, VP, marketing and business development, for LeftHand Networks.

Since most of the tables were sponsored, I grabbed a seat at one of the open ones and ended up with a good mix of people. Kevin Johnson, a lawyer with Hollard & Hart, mentioned that he had three Harleys. John Maguire, with the British Consulate in Denver talked about the upcoming UK Tech Forum to be held at the Denver Convention Center April 19. Also at the table were Ross Duncan, president/CEO of OMA Incorporated, Leanne Hurley, director of solution sales for Nupremis, and Russ Baldermann, area channel manager for Jamcracker.

The presentation, "A View from the Valley," was given by Steve Pearse, CEO/chairman of Akroria Networks (http://www.akroria.com) and chairman of Inara Networks. He opened his presentation by telling us how much portable hardware he was leaving at his table and sharing with us the line he heard at MIT: "Nerds set your phasers to stun." In other words, set those cell phones to vibrate. Among his points:

*Software is the key to value creation. Hardware is hardware but what differentiates one company from another is its service and its people.

*There is inertia in IT departments. You must offer a truly compelling IT strategy for them to make a switch. For your company to succeed today, your product has to be 10X better than the competition in terms of cost improvement, density (size reduction), and/or performance.

*Hire people from your customers because they already know what those companies need.
*The only difference between Denver and San Jose is money. There is a lot of fear of investing outside of San Jose. But a lot of Silicon Valley VCs are setting up Denver offices. It's a great time to invest; VCs are still closing rounds.
*The trouble with wireless: limited spectrums.

Before I left I had chance to talk to a few more folks. Mark Weakley introduced me to John Caprio and Brian Smith from the Boulder marketing firm, Sonant. And he also introduced me to Robert Welch, VP of business development for Tango Technologies, a Boulder-based IT outsourcing partner. We talked about recent developments alternative energy, about the need to link old economy and new economy execs in a common forum, and how the Council of Growing Companies (http://www.ceolink.org) has been doing that. By then we were just about the only ones left in the room so it was time for us all to head out the door.