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TouchStar to Shake Up the Enterprise Market

February 14, 2008
By Patrick Barnard, Group Managing Editor, TMCnet

TouchStar is once again about to shake up the call center industry with the introduction of “TouchStar Enterprise 2008,” its all-new, full-featured enterprise solution for outbound, inbound and blended communications. This new platform, which represents the company’s entry into the Tier 1 enterprise market, offers reliability and scalability up to 7,200 agents in the first version.


With its unified communications and virtualization capabilities, this world class, multi-channel platform is ideal for enterprises with multiple, geographically dispersed locations, which require a system that can seamlessly deliver communications across every division and every department, no matter its location. The solution, which handles both VoIP and TDM environments, includes TouchStar’s market leading predictive dialer -- offering predictive, power, preview and manual dialing options -- as well as multiple ACD and IVR features, compliance management, custom integration, quality assurance, reporting, recording, scripting, and best time to call analytics. In addition it offers six primary modules facilitating complete Web-based management of the entire system, including Administrator, Supervisor, Agent, IVR Maker, Reporter and Predictive Dialer modules. The full .NET solution also offers new redundancy and compliance features which are in demand in today’s highly regulated enterprise market.

In a recent interview, TouchStar CEO Steve Bederman (News - Alert) explained that the development of this new enterprise offering came about as the result of a Herculean effort on the part of the company’s development team, which accelerated development when he realized how close they were and side projects were simply delaying final release.

“Two months ago we had a situation where we were being evaluated by an enterprise prospect, and they were very excited to get to work with us,” Bederman said. “They had heard about us, and they love our client focus but at the end of the day they found it hard to make the choice with us, because although we could accomplish an enterprise deployment, it would have had to been done on many servers; which could possibly add points of failure. Telecommunications systems do required hardware, and we have a lot of happy clients with hundreds and hundreds of agents on many servers, but this client said, ‘you know, for an enterprise-type of solution we would want something with more … finesse.’”

Bederman said at the time this potential enterprise client came to the company, TouchStar’s 60-plus developers, who are spread out across the globe in the company’s R&D facilities in Denver, New York, Davenport, Phoenix, the Philippines, and India, were working on a wide variety of projects, including custom development of the company’s many products and rewriting the code for all its products into .NET for higher scalability and host-ability. One group of developers had already re-written the base code for the TouchStar call center platform and they were finishing up several significant new integrated modules. So, being very close, company management decided to invest additional resources and bonuses to complete the enterprise product in an accelerated time frame.

“As you know, the pace of development is not always market driven, developers would frankly prefer to have it driven at their convenience,” Bederman said. “So, I said, ‘since we know what we’re doing and we have the path, and it’s simply a matter of focusing resources on it, let’s finish this.’ So what we did was we delayed development on almost all of the other initiatives we were working on -- except for some of the custom development that we had committed to – and we dedicated all of our developers from Denver, New York, Phoenix, Davenport, the Philippines, and India and we came up with a two month development finalization plan and a three month beta testing plan. Well, we completed the development plan ahead of time – and today we can offer the ability to have thousands of agents on one server.”

Bederman said the platform is currently in beta testing with two large call centers. He said the developers worked through some initial alpha testing issues and beta testing is on schedule to be completed in February. TouchStar 2008 Enterprise will be available in March through direct sales and international channel partners.

Bederman added that this accomplishment means TouchStar has now successfully “bridged the gap” between the middle market and the enterprise market. “There are certainly a lot of small and medium sized call centers in the world,” he said (and here it should be noted that TouchStar offers a wide range of solutions tailored for the SMB market), “but there is another level -- and that’s the medium to enterprise. Right now, it seems as if the companies we compete with have segmented themselves to serve either the small, small to medium, or medium to enterprise -- and it’s not that companies don’t step into each other’s territories -- but they’re kind of ‘kludge-y’ solutions and they’re not always [attracting] their ideal customer."

Bederman pointed out that not only did the company have to get the lead out on the development side in order to get its new enterprise edition launched in time -- it also had to undertake a huge effort to beef up the support and services side as well.

“The thing to remember is that when you come out with an enterprise product … it requires developing, in parallel with that -- your support services, your documentation and your training for your employees -- so that on day one, the customer doesn’t have to pay a price for taking on a new product,” he said. “The customer depends on us as a mature company … to deliver products that are tested and mature.”

(Bederman proclaims on the TouchStar website: "A client gives us a gift of trust. We return that gift by serving them with passion, integrity, relentless effort, and sound processes.”)

Bederman added that TouchStar now has more than 2,500 clients – some of which are in the medium to large segment – and its product line has been re-vamped and expanded significantly in recent years as it has gone from serving smaller sized companies to medium sized companies to also now serving large companies.

TouchStar has achieved amazingly brisk growth during the past three years through the strategic acquisition of direct competitors. In late 2005, it acquired New York City-based Digisoft Computers, Inc., which offers software based contact center solutions and the leading scripting tool available on the market. Then in December 2006 the company acquired Davenport, Iowa-based Sigmaworx Inc. (formerly ETS), one of the original predictive dialing solutions which had over 2,000 legacy customers. This was a move which significantly increased TouchStar’s market share. And most recently, in November 2007, the company acquired Phoenix-based Data-Tel Info Solutions, a provider of hosted, turn-key call center solutions, which are primarily geared for the telemarketing industry.

In all cases, TouchStar has maintained the full product lines of the companies it has acquired. That means it has expanded its suite of offerings with each acquisition and has thus further broadened its market reach. Rather than taking the approach of integrating all of the products into one, “be all,” “end all” solution, geared for every sized company in every vertical imaginable, TouchStar has taken the more sensible approach of offering a diverse fleet of solutions which are tailored for specific industries.

Privately held TouchStar reports that it is well-backed for its future growth through additional strategic acquisitions. The company is backed by a major equity financing firm and has also established lines of credit with several major U.S. banks. It just recently announced that it has secured additional financing from SVB Silicon Valley Bank, the leading commercial bank which lends to technology and life science companies.

TouchStar Global Director of Marketing Brian Smits said it’s “been very stimulating to be a part of driving TouchStar’s rapid growth -- we started out serving the smaller call centers and then moved up into mid-market -- and from mid-market we’ve moved up into the enterprise market -- and every time we’ve moved up, it’s been a natural progression, and we’ve changed the market.”

“I think what is exciting for us right now is that, we know we’re going to have a big impact on the enterprise market -- we will change that market,” he added.

Smits said in order to move into the Tier 1 enterprise market, TouchStar had to significantly beef up its project management staff, in order to “put together a dedicated group to focus on new enterprise products.” This includes a staff expansion that started by adding eight new technologists who work for the company’s new EDGE Enterprise Services division, which offers a comprehensive group of services for enterprise clients, including business analysis, technical analysis, scope of services, pre-implementation planning, proposals, pre-implementation training, project management, implementation, training, optimization, support, managed services, and more. The division, which is headed up by senior management, handles everything from “the business discovery, the technical discovery, pre training, project management, all the way through to implementation, optimization and support.” Smits said in the past year alone, TouchStar has added over $3.4 million of labor investments to keep up with growth and plan for future growth.

Smits said TouchStar 2008 Enterprise is available as both an on premise and as a hosted solution, however, they are anticipating that most enterprise customers will deploy it on site. He points out that any of TouchStar’s solutions could now be hosted in a multi-tenant co-location facility.

TouchStar has also – just this week -- introduced a new standalone Unified Communications (News - Alert) product called TouchStar Unify.

“As we were wrapping up the enterprise product, we completed another product called TouchStar Unify, which is really a revolutionary unified communications solution,” he said. “TouchStar Unify can unify all your existing communications systems – so from one application you can unify multiple telecommunications systems, call center systems, your PBX, Skype, Asterisk (News - Alert), as well as other communications tools such as your email, web-chat, and SMS text messaging.  It’s basically contact management with click-to-call, click-to-email, click-to-chat, click to text, and what it does is it automatically logs any activity, whether it is from the PBX or email or your call center system. It automatically logs that activity and unifies it into a single database – we happen to use SQL as the database for it – and it is a browser based system.”

So, for example, a Fortune 500 company with 50 different locations and 50 different PBXs, can, by hosting Unify on a separate server, unify all of its communications, thus streamlining communications, boosting employee productivity, and saving a bundle on communications costs.

“Think about the power of having multiple telephony interfaces,” Smits said, adding that the product has been in development and testing for more than 14 months. “You might have someone in India using Skype, you might have someone using Asterisk, you might have someone using a Nortel (News - Alert) PBX, you might have someone using TouchStar Call Center – this product will unify all of those communications pieces.”
 
For call centers, Unify is particularly attractive because the contact management functionality allows for contact database segmentation for multiple clients and multiple page layouts and fields for different clients. For example, a market research firm will need a different contact layout than a customer service call center. Unify provides a simple GUI for customization. Smits is very enthusiastic about this new product and the value it will provide to call centers and businesses. He added, “Unify is another product that expands TouchStar’s potential market.”

Bederman and Smits added that the company is gearing up to announce a new acquisition, in the coming months. It also has several new product releases planned for the second quarter of 2008.

Headquartered in Denver, TouchStar is one of largest and fastest growing call center technology companies in the U.S.  The company -- a Microsoft (News - Alert) Gold Independent Software Development partner -- offers a broad suite of solutions, including a choice of five different hosted and on-premise call center systems, predictive dialers, voice messaging systems, an IP PBX phone system, and its new Unify solution. TouchStar’s portfolio includes solutions tailored for almost every industry, and any size company.

For more information about TouchStar, visit www.touchstar.com.

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Patrick Barnard is Assignment Editor for TMCnet and Associate Editor for Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.

Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users.



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