Tuesday, 28 January 2014 15:02

Aspect – It’s Not Your Father’s Contact Center Company Anymore

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My history with legacy Aspect goes back to the earliest days of the company. Jim Carreker, who was the founder of Aspect, had an office directly across the street from Dataquest in San Jose when I worked there from ’89 – ’93. I have followed Aspect as an analyst practically since the company’s inception.

While I have always greatly admired Aspect and the impact it has had on the worldwide contact center industry, the company has also had its share of ups and downs over the years. For example, toward the end of the ‘90s Aspect jumped on the CRM bandwagon and proclaimed itself to be a CRM company. That strategy backfired and Aspect had to go through some gyrations to get back on track.

By the early 2000s Jim Carreker’s role in the company became largely symbolic as his role in the daily management of the company had been turned over to a new group of executives. I met with Jim and one of his new execs in early 2000, shortly after I founded Saddletree Research. I could tell he wanted to support my fledgling effort and he asked me to send a subscription proposal to his new VP of Marketing.

I sent the proposal as requested and after several weeks received word that Aspect would not be subscribing to Saddletree services. When I finally reached Aspect’s VP Marketing and asked her the reason for declining my proposal she told me that Saddletree Research was “too call center.” I asked her what business Aspect was in and she told me, “We’re an e-business company.”

Aspect lost its way again.

Fast forward to the latter part of the last decade and legacy Aspect was acquired by Concerto, which was gobbling up contact center companies in a feeding frenzy the likes of which had not been seen since the fateful Nortel’s acquisition drive that contributed to that company’s demise. Concerto saw the value in the Aspect name and adopted it as its own.

By about 2010 history seemed to be repeating itself as Aspect showed signs of losing its way once again. With too many products to rationalize and marketing strategies that were scattered in too many different directions at once, things weren’t looking good. Then Microsoft made a relatively minor investment in Aspect and the Aspect/ Microsoft “partnership” became Aspect’s rallying cry.

While the Microsoft partnership looked good on paper, not many in the industry were buying it. As so often happens, the private equity investors behind Aspect stepped in and replaced the company management.

I’ve got to admit I’m a bit skeptical when I see industry management replaced by investor-selected management. It usually means the company is being positioned for sale or will eventually be broken up and sold off in pieces. There are companies in the industry right now that are being run by management put in place by the private equity company backers and I don’t foresee happy endings. That’s why I’m so pleasantly surprised by what’s happening at Aspect.

I had the opportunity to attend Aspect’s all-day analyst briefing in Phoenix last week. I went to the first analyst briefing Aspect’s new management arranged last year and left with a very positive impression, mostly due to a management team that was not what I expected.

When investors send in their own management team, they are typically financial and management gunslingers that are ruthless in doing whatever it takes to ensure the investors get their money back and then some. What I found with Aspect management was a CEO, Stew Bloom, who answered my questions with frank and honest responses rather than the usual combination of buzzwords and bull. Other execs in attendance at that first analyst briefing were equally sincere.

At this year’s briefing I was pleased to see the same executive team in place, and to see that they had made good on their statements of the previous year. First, congratulations are in order for the lack of any mention of Microsoft or the “partnership” during the briefing. Aspect is clearly a company that can stand alone on its merits with no need for help from anyone.

Aspect today is approaching the market with a degree of enthusiasm that I haven’t seen since the early days of legacy Aspect. Management continues to demonstrate an ability to execute on their vision for Aspect through strategic acquisitions that will position the company well for the developing market changes ahead. Aspect is equally well-positioned to provide solutions in response to current demand for analytics and other productivity and customer experience-enhancing solutions.

I left the all-day briefing feeling very optimistic about Aspect’s prospects for the future. I would be very surprised to see Aspect being sold in piece parts or shopping itself around for acquisition. Rather, I expect to see Aspect stay the course, expanding its market presence and continuing to provide innovative solutions to the evolving contact center market. This is a company that is on the move. If you haven’t looked at Aspect lately, you ought to. It is a generation or more removed from legacy Aspect. It’s not your father’s contact center company anymore.

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