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Interview: Joe Brown, general manager EMEA, RightNow

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13th Aug 2007
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Recently appointed RightNow manager discusses why SaaS makes sense and how his firm is in a different space than Netsuite and Salesforce.com.

By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

It’s a long standing cliché to note that the US is always several years ahead of Europe in its take-up of new technology. That said, the adoption curve for software as a service (SaaS) is such that Europe is now at the top of all the providers in this space.

To that end, RightNow Technologies recently appointed Joe Brown to the role of general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He had previously been vice president of the firm’s Voice Solutions arm, prior to which he had been CEO at Séance Software and Edify.

There’s still a lot of ‘evangelical’ work to be done surrounding SaaS in Europe and Brown is aware that it’s an ever-changing playing field. “The market is moving faster and faster,” says Brown. “One of the values I bring is that I’ve lived in Silicon Valley where the pace at which business is conducted is faster anyway. Companies come in and out of favour faster. Having lived in that environment, I’ve learned to operate at that speed.

photo of Joe Brown"Technology is not as important in its own right as it was. Most vendors have good technologies now and that’s not what you win business on." Joe Brown, general manager EMEA, RightNow

“Technology is not as important in its own right as it was. Most vendors have good technologies now and that’s not what you win business on. It’s more important now to understand what benefits your technology can offer. At RightNow, we’re focused on customer service. We’re about enabling organisations to improve the experience of their customers.”

Edify, where Brown was CEO, was started as an IVR firm, then evolved into voice recognition. “We were also early pioneers in web self service,” he recalls. “We built applications that worked on web. The story was very similar to the one we have at RightNow in it was multi-channel. A quarter of the business was HR focused, so we weren’t just focused on customers but on employees. A quarter of our business was about building stuff for employee benefits. We had telephone-based and web-based HR solutions.”

The right place at the right time

Brown argues that voice recognition technology has come on in leaps and bounds, but that there are still subtleties than need to be addressed. “The accuracy of understanding what you say is now pretty high,” he says. “The question is how do you ask the question in such a way that I can understand it. It’s like speaking to a child. You can get 20 different answers depending on how you ask a question. It’s less about the recognition aspect now and more about the sentence and the context. Processing power has helped. 10 years ago you didn’t have much horse power to give an application or to process the algoritms. As the processing power has grown, so has the accuracy and the sophistication.

“We have built pre-packaged solutions that meet the needs of most companies. If you call up to find the status of an order, then there are only 20 or so ways that you can word that. You can build those into the systems. We can have that pre-built into your application in about 3-4 weeks. If that is already in your knowledge base, then you can automate it. Requests are changing with certain things becoming more common. Requests to change passwords are now very common, for example. It would be good to be able to phone up and do that on the way to the airport. You can build that in to your voice system, but it’s not just about the voice part, it’s about the customer experience.”

"The SaaS market makes perfect sense. It’s taking away the burden of infrastructure so that we can get down to the level of content with customers very quickly." Joe Brown, general manager EMEA, RightNow

Brown is also an out and proud supporter of the CRM term. “We are a CRM company,” he declares. “CRM came into the market with a huge fanfare and we saw large companies try to do things with SAP and Oracle and not get very far. CRM has been repackaged. It’s about customer relationships and about how customers experience things and less about how to manage customers. We can show ROI in weeks wherease in the old days CRM meant spending far more on implementation costs than on the actual software.

“The SaaS market makes perfect sense. It’s taking away the burden of infrastructure so that we can get down to the level of content with customers very quickly. Total cost of ownership is also reduced. The arrival of SAP and Microsoft has endorsed the SaaS markett. Until a year or so ago, SaaS was an evangelical sell, but now it’s far less so. It has crossed the chasm. The fact that SAP and Microsoft endorse it is helpful to us, but from their point of view it has to be a careful embrace due to their business and financial models.”

Brown argues that RightNow is in a different space to other SaaS champions such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite. “We are B2C, Netsuite and Salesforce.com are B2B,” he says. “Consumers are going to the web and they want to do things themselves. They don’t want to call a call centre and wait for ages to talk to someone. They are saying ‘I can do this myself’. That’s the market we’re in. In that respect, we haven’t had to be evangelical because the market has actually been moving in our direction. We are in the right place at the right time.”

Find out more about Stuart Lauchlan

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