(Forgotten) CRM and ERP Kingdoms in the Making?

Late in 2003, Battery Ventures VI L.P. acquired Made2Manage Systems, a former public enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and services company for small and mid-market discrete manufacturers, for roughly $30 million (USD) cash (thereby making it private). Reaction in the market, for the most part, was a collective “so what!?”

And justly so. At the time of such blockbuster mergers as PeopleSoft-JD Edwards or SSA Global-Baan (well before Oracle and Infor, respectively, bought these combinations), there wasn’t much to make of a small ERP vendor with a limited install base and geographic coverage (see Battery Power Shakes Up Made2Manage).

But a few years later—and nearly a dozen acquisitions—brings us to Consona Corporation, briefly called M2M Holdings Inc., a “little” enterprise applications empire with more than 4,500 customers in industries including manufacturing, distribution, financial services, health care, high tech, and local government, according to its press releases.

The company has over 600 employees, and is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana (US), with over 40 locations across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Two private equity groups, Battery Ventures and Thoma Bravo, jointly own Consona, whose primary assets at this stage are Onyx Software Corporation (recently rebranded as the Consona Enterprise CRM product line) a formerly public provider of enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, KNOVA Software Inc. (recently rebranded as the Consona Knowledge Management product line), a formerly public knowledge management (KM) company, and the enterprise software assets of SupportSoft Inc., including a variety of customer support automation applications. On the ERP side of the house, primary assets include Made2Manage Systems Inc. and Intuitive Manufacturing Software Inc., both providers of ERP for small and midsize manufacturers. These acquisitions have provided Consona with a notable set of ERP and CRM solutions.

Garnering Leading Microvertical ERP Solutions

Consona’s acquisition strategy is to target horizontal applications and microvertical ERP software companies with revenues of $5 million (USD) or more. The reason for focusing on these microverticals is that Consona wants to capture specific industry expertise and technology, whether it be new microverticals (industry subsegments that tend to be highly defendable niches), new enterprise software applications, or services to fill out Consona’s solution in any market segment. Most of the acquired solutions have become relatively independent business units (IBUs) of Consona, with their own profit and loss (P&L) statements and responsibilities.

These products are supported and maintained by dedicated staff. However, over time, as Consona has begun integrating solutions together, it has merged some areas, like sales and marketing, and the P&Ls are also starting to merge. The corporation is essentially operating separate ERP and CRM divisions, but this isn’t necessarily relevant to its market. The market just needs to know that Consona has lots of ERP and CRM product lines that fit specific vertical industries and business functions, like service and support in the case of CRM.

All acquired products benefit from the parent company’s applied operating model, economies of scale, and shared administrative services to drive down costs (and further instill financial discipline)—while concurrently driving up quality, service, win rate, and growth. In other words, the acquired units have generally grasped Consona’s operating model with good results and strengthened financial resources.

Their respective products have also benefited from a focus on quality and on improving functionality, with crucial input from existing customers. The company is also on the constant lookout for the opportunity to acquire direct international distribution capability and expand each microvertical business unit globally.

Consona’s chief executive officer (CEO), Jeff Togoni, is quoted as saying, “the ERP solutions division of Consona represents a core element of our company strategy, which is to provide industry-specific but flexible ERP and CRM solutions that fit companies of every size across a number of niche industries.”

Scott Malia, Consona’s general manager for the company’s ERP products, adds that “industry-specific functionality is increasingly becoming a primary enterprise software selection criterion, since prospective buyers are starting to realize that their total cost of ownership (TCO) significantly decreases when a solution fits their business processes right out of the box.”

Malia is responsible for the strategic development of Consona’s acquired microvertical packages, including

According to a 2006 press release from Consona, the strategy for integrating new products is to ensure that “each acquired product line maintains its brand identity and is enhanced, maintained, supported, and sold by dedicated sales, product management, development, customer support, and professional services teams.” Consona will maintain these brands as long as they have market value. However, the corporation is also focused on building up the collective “Consona” brand.

This suggests that integrating these products within its portfolio is not high on its list of priorities, which is true only to a degree. In fact, Consona’s technological strategy is to maintain and enhance each acquired product, with the idea of eventually achieving one architectural concept for multiple microvertical products. Consona will integrate products if it means it can fill out a whole product solution for any given target market segment.

To that end, initially the company pledged to re-architect each product for the Microsoft .NET Framework and in the spirit of service-oriented architecture (SOA) to share reusable code (Web services, objects, or components) across products (see SOA from a Management Perspective). As Consona continues to maintain and enhance industry-specific functionality with unique, separate code, any re-architected products would mirror (and improve) the capabilities of the existing product lines.

This strategy has now shifted to a cloud-ready architecture, while continuing to build in features and functions for product fit. One point to emphasize here is that the decision to borrow code, functionality, etc., from another product is driven by the product management and customer bases of a particular product line. There is no overarching group at the corporate level driving these changes. In other words, the product roadmap continues to be customer-driven. Consona just has more resources now to more quickly meet what it perceives as customers’ needs.

A Flagship Horizontal ERP Platform

Eventually, Consona hopes that this process will open up the possibility of a greater number of rapidly developed new products (possibly organically rather than via acquisitions) to meet the needs of industries the company does not currently serve.

Thus, in addition to the five vertically focused business units noted above, Consona has also formed a horizontal ERP business unit that covers a broader range of made-to-order (MTO) and mixed-mode discrete manufacturers. This unit stems from the “mother product,” Made2Manage Systems, while in mid-2006 Consona acquired Intuitive Manufacturing Systems, a privately held Kirkland, Washington (US)-based provider of discrete manufacturing enterprise software. At the time of the acquisition, Intuitive had about 800 customers within the electronics, industrial equipment and machinery, furniture, medical devices, custom goods, and recreational vehicles sectors.

The combination of Made2Manage and Intuitive was devised to strengthen horizontal ERP functionality, serving companies with up to $100 million (USD) in revenues. To further broaden market appeal, the initial decision was to combine the products and possibly bolster them with selected project-based capabilities from Relevant or Encompix.

(The idea was also that SupplyWorks, a provider of supplier collaboration and supply chain visibility that had been acquired by Intuitive in early 2006, would serve multiple ERP product lines, given its install base in the automotive, transportation, machinery, instrumentation, and high-tech sectors, with user companies’ revenues raging from $20 million to $4 billion [!]—see The Hidden Gems of the Enterprise Application Space).

However, Consona eventually decided not to combine Made2Manage ERP and Intuitive ERP. Like their industry-oriented brethren products, the two ERP products may bolster one another through code reuse or partner sharing; but again, the products are maintained and enhanced separately, and the roadmaps remain customer-driven (note: in early 2009, Consona released Made2Manage 6.0 with a number of new features).

The sister horizontal discrete manufacturing ERP product lines, Made2Manage ERP and Intuitive ERP, have similar target markets. Consona expects resulting synergies and best practices to add value for customers. But although they were formerly competitors, at least in theory, the two solutions rarely competed, due to Intuitive’s strengths in the make-to-stock (MTS) and repetitive environments versus Made2Manage’s MTO/assemble-to-order (ATO)/job shop stronghold.

The products are aptly called “sister products”: they’re run in the same business unit by general manager Scott Malia, and their target markets are very similar. On the other hand, the Consona ERP division has been positioned as a major small to mid-market manufacturing ERP provider by garnering over 3,000 discrete manufacturing customers.

There is no convergence plan at all at this point, and the two products have been operating well side-by-side in the business unit.

In the meantime, Consona will continue to support, maintain, enhance, and sell the Intuitive ERP product line under its proven organizational integration model, for which all customer touch-point roles remain focused on respective product lines. To that end, Intuitive department managers have remained largely in place, and service has not been disrupted. Also, the strategy of customer care with no forced upgrades remains in place.

Consona believes that the 2007 “quality” release for Intuitive ERP and the rise in customer satisfaction levels since Intuitive joined Consona is due to the customer-focused operating model.

Intuitive is going to lead the way, though, owing to its prowess in the .NET-managed code technology that will become the foundation going forward (see Microsoft .NET-managed Code Enablement: Examples and Challenges). Consona will leverage the expertise and best practices of the Intuitive architecture, while it implements event-driven architecture and service-oriented architecture (EDA and SOA) across its other Microsoft-technology-based product lines (including Made2Manage ERP).

However, the daunting decision about whether to rewrite existing Made2Manage ERP modules in .NET managed code, or just to .NET-enable them via Web-service wrappers is still being pondered and weighed from all angles. The product was written in now-ancient Visual FoxPro (soon to be discontinued by Microsoft), and Consona is discussing possible alternative technologies with Microsoft. But it seems certain that any new functionality will be written in .NET-managed code.

Consona’s most recent ERP-related product acquisition (not including several international value-added reseller [VAR] asset deals) occurred in March of 2008 when the vendor purchased technology partner Configuration Solutions, a leader in the development of product configuration solutions for to-order manufacturers, for an undisclosed amount. Configuration Solutions provided and continues to provide add-on product configuration tools for both the Made2Manage and Intuitive product lines. Like previous acquisitions, Consona hopes Configuration Solutions will benefit from the financial stability, sharing of best practices, and increased quality of customer service since becoming part of Consona.

Foreshadowing Consona CRM

Consona Corporation has thus far shown undeniable focus on providing ERP applications and accompanying services for small to medium businesses (SMBs), with several ERP solutions for discrete manufacturing. While the company remains on the constant lookout for any viable additions to its ERP family, both externally and internally, since mid-2006 it has seemingly been rather occupied with establishing a CRM “kingdom,” albeit with a focus on larger enterprises within service industries.

In a press release dated August 2 2006, Consona announced that its previously

proposed merger with Onyx Software Corporation [was] finalized. The all-cash transaction announced in early June [2006] was valued at $4.80 per share, or approximately $92 million [USD]. With the close of the transaction, Onyx … completed its transformation to a private company after seven years of being publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the ONXS symbol.

Onyx (now branded Consona Customer Management, part of the Consona Enterprise CRM product line) was a provider of CRM software and an additional range of professional services, including strategic services, consulting services, education and training, and customer services.

Founded in 1995 and headquartered in Bellevue, Washington (US), Onyx had international operations throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Onyx also brought to Consona about 200 customers in the financial services, IT, health care, and government industries, where it had long maintained a sharp industry focus. In its early days (and well before the inception of competing product Microsoft Dynamics CRM), Onyx jointly sold Windows NT-based CRM software with Microsoft, targeting mainly the financial services sector. In fact, Onyx pioneered CRM for the Microsoft platform. But, although it was created by former Microsoft personnel, Onyx CRM was really never a joint business venture. Also, Onyx developed an architecture that scales and performs well in the marketplace, built on the Microsoft platform. On the other hand, in the early 2000s, Onyx seized the opportunity to enter the upper-mid market by running Sun Solaris and IBM AIX platforms to support databases by Oracle. This was abandoned based on customer demand. (See our 2004 article for more details on both Microsoft and Oracle.)

The Onyx acquisition provided Consona with a cutting-edge platform—advanced, quality product technology and functionality, allowing it to expand into the CRM space. It provided a second platform for industry consolidation, and extended the geographic reach of the company’s direct distribution facilities.

Post-acquisition, Onyx began operating as part of Consona CRM, a division of Consona led by general manager Tom Millay. Initially, Onyx followed in the path of previous Consona acquisitions in the sense that Consona continued to support, maintain, enhance, and sell the Onyx product line.

Given the company’s vitality, one cannot help feeling that Onyx’s potential had long been hampered by its loss-making aura, which was difficult to shake off (see Onyx Software: CRM Vendor Battling for Viability). Onyx’s situation was further complicated by its protracted efforts to fend off the hostile acquisition attempt by CDC Software (a parent of Onyx’s longstanding foe Pivotal; see Onyx/Pivotal Rivalry through Thin Rather Than Thick) which, since 2005, had negatively affected the perception of Onyx’s viability. Through its combined size with Consona, its financial results, and access to new capital, Onyx saw some, if not complete relief, and has been able to eliminate any questions about its viability.

At the time of the acquisition, it was hoped that Onyx’s architecture would “make synergies extremely efficient” across CRM products that were to be acquired in the future and “across the ERP-based product lines that serve manufacturers and distributors,” according to Steve Bailey, Consona’s chief technology officer (CTO). However, Onyx CRM functionality will probably never impact Consona ERP products because their target markets are so different. Its CRM functionality is simply way too deep for the size of Consona’s manufacturing customers.

Something Good About Onyx?

Though Onyx suffered in the past from a lower profile and less financial muscle compared to its larger competitors, the product was nonetheless innovative and inventive. In fact, flexibility and adaptability, and modern architecture have long been associated with the Onyx brand name and the product itself. Indeed, because of its longstanding Web-based architecture, Onyx was an early adopter of application service provider (ASP) hosting options (see Onyx Thinks ASP Opportunities Are A Gem) for its solutions’ delivery. Its architecture had long been multi-tenanted, making it on-demand and software-as-a-service (SaaS)-ready (see What is Software as a Service?). Along these lines, Consona has been watching the on-demand market very closely, but so far has seen SaaS vendors primarily selling to smaller companies that neither need nor want strong integration or customization capabilities (see Software as a Service: Not without Caveats).

Until recently, Consona has been adamant about becoming a total on-premise CRM solution, as discussed last year in our blog post series. However, always keeping an eye out for opportunity, the company is considering adopting a SaaS model, given the strength of its competitors, namely, Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Oracle CRM On Demand.

Consona has just announced its plans to deliver all its offerings via a next-generation SaaS deployment on the Consona Cloud (using Amazon’s Web Services infrastructure). Slated for availability in early 2010, these new deployment and pricing options will significantly reduce barriers to entry for both new and existing customers. See the company’s Web site for more about the Consona Cloud.

The company now believes that the market is moving in this direction, and that it will have a cloud offering that will overcome the shortcomings of the first generation of SaaS/cloud products. For more details, see Consona’s Tim Hines’ blog post on SaaS 2.0.

Additionally, Consona’s CRM product features a data structure that is quite distinct: Onyx had long grouped its products around the primary interfaces that users employ, allowing customer, partner, and employee interaction through separate portals. Underpinning this is an e-business engine backbone, where all CRM data is centralized. The product’s underlying architecture is n-tiered and SOA-compliant. It is also extensible markup language (XML)-based with many open application programming interfaces (API) to third-party applications.

In the past, Onyx had executed even more innovative software delivery strategies by embedding its software into other larger operations in the form of composite applications. Key strategies included giving independent software vendors (ISV) and VARs different options such as embedding technology as an application stack; application framework; or component-based CRM. For further details on past strategies, see Onyx/Pivotal Rivalry through Thin Rather than Thick.

This approach temporarily resulted in a greater percentage of new licenses coming from embedded sales and through partner channels and allowed customers to make reasonably inexpensive, lower-risk investments in highly focused aspects of technology that could be integrated into their existing applications infrastructure.

Despite the success that Onyx found in this area, Consona no longer pursues this as a viable market, and has abandoned this strategy largely because the buyer’s population has sobered up, recently doing away with mega-deals and uncontrolled IT budgets. Subsequently, alternative solutions such as Onyx’s lower TCO offering could be an enticing value proposition for customers, especially now that Consona is determined to provide the necessary backing for Onyx to carry through its ambitious product development plans.

Consona has meanwhile moved its strategic focus away from traditional CRM, meaning sales force automation (SFA) and marketing automation. The vendor is now focused on customer service and support applications, which had always been former Onyx’s strength—including case management and feedback management.

Onyx’s Tenets of Adaptability

During the first decade of the new millennium, Onyx realized that successful CRM strategies are based on the concept of enterprise adaptability. Onyx described adaptability in the context of customer relationships, as “the ability to change to fit changed circumstances affecting business processes, market forces, IT infrastructure, etc.” (see this press release for more details). This could explain how Consona’s prospective and existing clients may very well be able to achieve some advantage, i.e., by leveraging the Consona Enterprise CRM product and taking advantage of its suitability to accommodate complex, customer-facing processes. This is what makes the solution great for high-tech product support, which is Consona’s current CRM market focus.

The first key factor lies in the product’s ability to develop a complete customer profile that supports multiple business units and products, which is used to analyze customer demand. These factors range from basic demographics to life milestones, such as retirement.

The second factor is that customers should have the ability to customize their solution to address their unique business needs and evolving external requirements. As stated in Onyx’s press release, “in a dynamic business environment, the service enterprise must be able to sense and react” almost instantly “to changing market conditions.”

The third factor is the essential ability to adapt to customer and market changes, since most traditional enterprise CRM offerings require users to write lots of expensive, time-consuming custom code as part of their deployment. This, however, often creates many problems. Many customers found that by the time they had completed the development cycle and were ready to roll out the software, something in their business had yet again changed (for example, a new fierce competitor had entered the market, new legislation had been passed, the company was now  involved in a merger, management had decided to add or drop a new product line, etc.).

Thus, these firms usually found themselves stuck using the old model and needing to go through another long, expensive software development cycle to add the changes they needed. On the other hand, customized environments can be very difficult to upgrade when the vendor comes out with a new release of its software.

Consona Enterprise CRM addresses these three issues through Onyx’s historical core application design and use of visual business process management (BPM) software, which stems from the 2004 acquisition of Visuale’s graphical workflow and business rules design tools (see Onyx’s press release of April 2004). Customers can use these BPM capabilities to create new business processes without writing any code. When customers need to make changes to the processes, they can use the technology’s visual tools to deploy the modifications quickly and easily. (For more information on BPM, see Business Process Management: A Crash Course on What It Entails and Why to Use It and The Modeling Approach to Post-implementation Agility in Enterprise Systems.)

However, BPM is only a part of the solution. It is actually more about the entire Consona Enterprise CRM stack being able to adapt. Consona Enterprise CRM should make it much easier for customers to carry their customizations forward when they upgrade.

Another factor Consona identifies as being critical to creating a competitive advantage is the product’s ability to integrate in near real-time with basically any other complex system and its adaptability to the users’ existing infrastructure. Upon examining one service firm’s back office, Consona discovered a typical scenario: dozens of systems all containing data that the organization needs to integrate with the solution. Yet, while “many of these systems date[d] back 15 or more years” they still “deliver[ed] mission-critical services reliably and effectively, day in and day out. A modern CRM solution must easily and seamlessly share data bi-directionally with these systems, using open industry standards” (see Onyx’s press release Enhance Customer Relationships Through Enterprise Adaptability). Indeed, one of Consona’s CRM clients integrates with more than 80 back-end systems.

And this is where the perceived strength of Onyx always lay. While CRM megavendors often want users to “rip and replace” their entire IT infrastructure with the megavendor’s software stack, many clients view their legacy systems as mission-critical, preferring a CRM solution that will protect their previous investments by plugging into their existing infrastructure. Onyx’s solution offers this option.

Based on the above tenets, Consona wants to talk to the market about its strengths in Consona Customer Management, or case management, which is the engine behind tracking everything within its recently unveiled integrated product suite, Consona Knowledge Driven Support (KDS), which will be discussed shortly.

Onyx Acquisition: Adaptability Leads to Differentiation

Unlike Siebel/Oracle, SAP, and other monolithic ERP and CRM systems, Consona Enterprise CRM does not force customers to adapt their (sometimes differentiating) business processes to the way the software works. With those one-size-fits-all systems, costly and time-consuming customizations are typically the only way out when market or customer requirements change. These large vendors tend to take the approach that they want to run everything throughout the user’s organization, which is not a viable approach for many because it is risky, expensive and does not leverage current IT investments.

On the other hand, unlike Salesforce.com, Onyx did not oversimplify the customer’s business processes or freeze them in time, which is still the caveat of on-demand or SaaS deployments. According to the former CEO of Onyx, Janice Anderson, companies managing customer interaction through multiple departments benefit from on-site systems, because on-site solutions are more adaptable and can be better integrated with disparate systems that on-demand or SaaS deployments. To meet this need, Onyx was built to integrate and exchange data with third-party business-critical applications, and has been infused with tools that allow users to address changing business processes over time.

Consona’s recently espoused SaaS 2.0 strategy will further counter these pains, by allowing for customization even at the multi-tenant code level, and with all the traditional cost savings at the infrastructure and hardware level.

Consona Enterprise CRM Modules

Former Onyx offered an integrated suite of customer process automation applications encompassing customer management, process management, and performance management and analytics. As part of the Consona Enterprise CRM line in Onyx’s current incarnation as Consona CM, it is used primarily by sales, marketing, and customer service personnel, and provides a range of tools for marketing, sales, and service functions. Its capabilities include campaign management, bulk e-mail management, campaign analysis, target list management, permission marketing, product tracking, forecasting analysis, channel management, intelligent call scripting, queue management, call center performance analysis, and computer telephony integration (CTI), among others. Consona Enterprise CRM’s scripting software allows customer support to interact with customers, and wireless and offline technology provides remote access to data. The solution also comes with optional add-ons, such as Web self-service portals, advanced e-mail communications, telephony integration, and document and knowledge management.

Integration with CTI further enhances call-center performance, and deserves special attention in this note. Namely, its single-screen access to caller information and its warm conference and transfer functionality streamline employee performance. Agents can also transfer or escalate calls, when applicable. Workflow permissions; screen pops with customer information and guided scripts; a refresh button to synchronize with the CTI system; and integration with Consona Enterprise CRM are additional features designed to maximize business productivity.

The solution integrated with other CTI platforms and CTI connectors, such as Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Mitel, and Nortel, for telephony and interactive voice response (IVR) system. Consona Enterprise CRM’s mobile solutions operate seamlessly across multiple devices, extending the power of the technology to laptops and handheld devices for real-time wireless or disconnected access with data synchronization. The product’s native XML-based “Internet architecture offers users greater convenience providing multiple access options, including offline and wireless versions for Blackberry, Palm and Pocket PC devices, and now iMode.”

Process Orientation

In addition to its integrated customer process automation features and CTI functionality, Consona Enterprise CRM offers a BPM system, which is fully integrated with the entire CRM portfolio; functionality includes process design, business rule creation, and cross-platform integration.

The solution provides graphical workflows and business rule design tools can be used by business analysts and programmers to develop processes and automate business. As well, the process management functionality allows users to design and implement custom forms with integrated processes, thereby minimizing errors. Users can also customize the software without writing code.

Advanced process management functionality includes the following:

  • Process Cloning
    Process cloning enables the reuse of complex, modular processes with simple “cut and paste” functionality, whereby customers can leverage reliable processes that have already been created and tested, saving development time and money. For example, many customers have several slightly different processes for adding a new customer depending on their profile, their geography, the channel they came through, the products/services being purchased, etc. With Process Cloning, Consona Enterprise CRM customers can create a process once and replicate it several times to accommodate varying requirements, rather than starting from scratch. 
  • Process Migration
    Process migration gives customers the ability to create, optimize, and move processes between multiple types of environments, as customers can use process migration to quickly deliver new processes and modifications that maximize revenue opportunities from customer interactions. For example, customers can take a complex process that has been optimized in a development environment and move it into a test environment and then into production without having to recreate it. This saves time and money (by facilitating the optimization of the lifecycle of processes from development through testing, and into production), while improving overall business agility and process reliability.
  • Enhanced Service Level Agreement (SLA) Enforcement
    Enhanced SLA enforcement provides more flexibility to handle time-sensitive complex processes, such as enforcing SLA response requirements, whereby customers can track and monitor compliance with SLAs easily and build more dynamic escalation paths based on individual business rules. This is particularly relevant to customers with variable SLA commitments and multiple work shifts, and geographies, such as distributed call centers, and enables adherence to business agreements and increased resolution of customer issues that directly impact customer satisfaction.
  • Asian Market Support
    Asian market support is provided via double-byte enablement for the ability to operate Consona Enterprise CRM on a non-English platform.

(from Onyx Announces Advanced Process Technology; Innovative Solution Aligns Customer Processes, Accelerates Customer Service and Slashes Costs)

One should note, however, that process management is only part of the story. The reality is that it provides Consona additional baseline infrastructure to deliver tools that help customers enable process automation. Consona CRM does not package a process management system differently or sell it independently. It is part of the core stack and complements to the Consona Enterprise CRM product line.

Nothing Without Good Analysis

Data, of course, is useless unless it provides meaning, and Consona Performance Management is Consona’s analytical tool for unlocking actionable information. It offers reports, scorecards, dashboards, and online analytical processing (OLAP) functionality to provide different areas of the organization with comprehensive data analyses. Alerts can be triggered when certain thresholds are reached.

The Performance Management tool is based on Onyx’s broad but integrated customer analytics solution, Onyx Analytics 3.0, which was released in mid-2006, and was based on the Cognos 8 business intelligence (BI) platform. Performance Management includes the following features:

  • Analysis, featuring deep comparative analysis of customer data, by using pre-defined and custom OLAP cubes and other dimensionally-aware data sources. Drill-down capabilities enable users to view successively detailed levels of information, all the way down to the individual customer record directly in Consona Enterprise CRM.
  • Scorecarding, to help enterprises align their teams and tactics with strategy and objectives, communicate goals consistently, and monitor performance against targets.
  • Dashboards, with gauges, maps, charts, and other perceptive graphical elements to help understand views into corporate systems and data by showing multiple results together.
  • Event monitoring, which uses key performance indicators (KPIs) to proactively notify key individuals or, in combination with Consona Enterprise CRM, help users take action and react to significant business events.

Last but not least, the application has vast reporting capabilities, providing both pre-defined and self-service reporting to meet the needs of business managers who require enterprise-strength reporting. These reporting capabilities enable organizations to

  • pull relevant information from multiple systems, such as ERP, provisioning, and human capital management (HCM), and report on this information in a customer-centric context;
  • select from a suite of BI tools for production reporting, ad hoc reporting, and multidimensional analysis for business and technical users;
  • generate reports and queries over the Web and send to users or partners located anywhere, whereas integrated security includes single sign-on and role-based access control;
  • create managed reports for multiple users, while giving power users the control to combine data in a report, group it, slice it, add charts, and more; and
  • perform functions in multiple languages for a global view.

While Consona CRM is focused on the business benefits of these capabilities, they are not actually sold independently, and benefits can still be realized through either Cognos or an SSRS infrastructure. The bottom line is that most Consona CRM customers are asking the vendor to adopt the Microsoft BI tools that come as core infrastructure with Microsoft SQL Server, and Consona CRM is in the process of developing similar functionality for the Microsoft stack. As indicated before, Consona CM/former Onyx software runs on a modern application server and uses a standards-based and service-oriented approach that enables customers to fairly quickly and easily link their core back-office, legacy applications with the Consona CM applications.

In summary, by leveraging analytics, BPM, and CRM software in a fully integrated environment, Consona Enterprise CRM customers can quickly identify changing customer or market trends using analytics, create or modify a customer-facing process using process management, and deliver the changes to employees through the Consona Enterprise CRM application. These reports can be embedded in Consona CM in either the HomePage or the PowerPage, or can be accessed via the Cognos Connection.

Consona still offers IBM Cognos and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) reports, but is trying to standardize on one analytics package going forward. It has recently partnered with QlikView to do analytics on Consona Knowledge Management and KDS solutions, and Consona predicts that this will be a major contender for the analytics tool of choice going forward.

Onyx Version 6, Post-merger

As reported in a press release of September 2006 that immediately followed Onyx’s acquisition by Consona Corporation, Consona CRM, Onyx announced the controlled release of Onyx Version 6.0 (v6.0).

Onyx v6.0 contained a variety of enhancements to core products, including the Employee Portal (OEP), Performance Management (OPM), and Business Intelligence. In addition to underlying architectural enhancements, v6.0 offered new tools aimed at helping users realize greater system flexibility, increased collaboration across the organization, and simpler system upgrades. Onyx v6.0 also contained personalization features that promised to help users more easily adapt the product to meet unique user, departmental, environmental and market needs. To this, Onyx added a significant degree of security and database integrity enhancements designed to help customers better comply with regulations.

Over the months following the release, Onyx pledged to “continue to provide v6.0 companion product releases.” According to the company’s vice president of product management, Tim Hines, “as the Onyx research and development (R&D) team finalizes the completion of companion products to the v6.0 platform, the Onyx product management team will launch a refined product management process that will seek to gather and leverage increased customer input.” This can be seen as the influence of Consona’s long-professed operating model. True to its commitment, Consona subsequently released another version, Consona Customer Management 6.2 (formerly Onyx CRM).

Because of the strength derived from its CRM modules, process orientation, and analyses, Consona Enterprise CRM is possibly the most adaptive and also functional CRM solution for service organizations in the market. Adaptive CRM is not only a valid differentiator, but is also directly in line with Consona’s professed strategic direction of customer fit, a concept that extends far beyond industry-specific functionality. Namely, it also means continuing to drive flexibility, via SOA-compliant architecture and personalization, analytics, and BPM tools into the core solution.

Consona has also seen a resurgence of interest, since lately its clients have been wanting to grow their revenues from both brand new and current customers, as opposed to their previous interest in mere cost-cutting initiatives. Because CRM processes touch so many parts of business, they can have a major impact on both cost and revenue, since improving sales and marketing processes can bring in new revenue, while call center productivity can not only drive down the costs of servicing customers, but also present the up-sell and cross-sell opportunities (in addition to maintaining customer satisfaction).

The business case for call center applications is becoming increasingly obvious, especially given the recently established national “Do Not Call” registries in the US and Canada. The revenue driver will become inbound customer calls rather than outbound telemarketing efforts, the traditional method of lead generation (which have too often proven to be annoying to customers and counterproductive).

Onyx’s Contact Center and Call Center Forays

Onyx’s perspective was that while its customers “range in size and vary in their geographic location, they share one common need—the need to cost-effectively model processes to provide a more intimate level of customer service where every interaction counts.” To meet this need, it created the Onyx Contact Center solution, a “portfolio of sales and service capabilities including business process automation, cross-sell/up-sell, e-mail management, intelligent call scripting, knowledge-base access, Web self-service, and work ticket management.”

In addition to these features, the Contact Center solution managed customer profiles, accounts, contacts, opportunities, and pipelines; tracked calls and issues; handled service inquiries; scripted business processes; and supported sales methodology. With these tools, users could increase cross- or up-sell activities by creating call scripts with a single wizard-like interface that could also combine information from other business systems.

The Contact Center solution also included business process automation, with workflow capabilities that streamline contact center processes, presenting the correct information to agents and generating workflows and tasks, automatically. Other functionality allowed organizations to push and pull data from external or third-party systems into their workflows, thus significantly reducing call handling times and operational costs.

This version of the Contact Center solution also included e-mail management capabilities that not only provided merge templates, but also captured a continuous, threaded dialogue allowing users to track of all channels of communication in chronological order.

However, it should be noted that Consona does not have a separate contact center module. The Consona Enterprise CRM solution is the product that technically addresses the contact center, and is a part of the same CRM offering which can be used for sales, service, or support. Still, this offering clearly shows the vertical alignment the solution has with Consona’s current target CRM market, including high-tech product support, enterprise help desks and managed service provider (MSP) help desks, and telecom company subscriber support. Consona today also offers a variety of pricing options, including term, perpetual, subscription, and utility-based.

Being Partner-friendly

Despite solid native call-center capabilities, Onyx Contact Center functionality had to be bolstered through a number of alliances. For instance, under a 2004 agreement, Onyx worked with Interactive Intelligence Inc., a global developer of Microsoft-based business communications solutions, to create a connector between Onyx Employee Portal (OEP) and Interactive Intelligence’s Customer Interaction Center (CIC), an automation software product that includes Web chat and IVR.

Generally speaking, IVR (also called voice response unit [VRU] or audio response unit [ARU]), allows customers to access information through speech recognition or by entering digits on a phone number pad. An automated phone teller is an example of IVR technology. Users can access account information or make transactions by either pressing numbers on a phone pad or using a single word or short phrases.

This arrangement with CIC was fruitful, resulting in over a dozen joint implementations including Amway Korea, Netegrity, and Sony Music Entertainment).

Onyx also partnered with Concerto Software (now part of Aspect), a provider of contact center solutions, to promote customer interaction management (CIM) and CRM. Onyx Contact Center’s functionality was supplemented with Concerto's EnsemblePro, a multichannel contact center solution that uses broad multimedia functionality, including predictive dialing, IVR, Web chat and collaboration, and automatic call distribution (ACD). Used by incoming call centers, ACD technology automatically answers, queues, and distributes calls to agents and generates reports on all activities, among other things.

Along with call center technology, Onyx, recognizing the importance of customer data, also entered a partnership with the data management firm, KnowledgeBase Solutions, in 2004. KnowledgeBase Solutions, a provider of hosted and on-site KM software, gave Onyx’s clients the ability to access information to better service client issues.

Two years later, with its sights set on Japan, Onyx announced that it would integrate its product with that of Avaya’s, a world leader in secure IP telephony systems and communications software applications and services. Doing so enabled Onyx’s convergence of voice and data communications with business applications. In the important and unique Japanese call center market, Onyx and Avaya promoted the joint solution through their distributors.

Despite the innovation and strength of such alliances, only a few have been implemented (or marketed, for that matter) in earnest. And as the nature of acquisitions dictates, Onyx changed focus. Though Consona is still committed to its technology partners, they are not a focus of its strategy, which primarily seeks acquisitions. However, where appropriate Consona entered other VAR relationships that still remain in place, but the company is mainly focused on selling to and servicing its customers directly.

Enter KNOVA Software

Not to lay waste to Onyx’s efforts, Consona acquired KNOVA Software Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: KNVS), a prominent service resolution management (SRM) provider, for approximately $47 million (USD), in December 2006. Headquartered in Cupertino, California (US), and with about $26 million (USD) in revenues, KNOVA Software provided CRM and SRM solutions designed for the entire customer cycle.

KNOVA certainly has an interesting history and lineage, which only indicates the fragmented and still morphing nature of the SRM market. It was initially incorporated as a Pennsylvania (US) corporation in January 1991 as ServiceWare Inc., a provider of Web-based KM software, services, and solutions for customer service and support. The company’s initial ServiceWare Enterprise solution helped businesses create and maintain databases used to answer inquiries over the Internet, in help desks, and through contact centers. ServiceWare Express was a fully Web-based suite of KM tools that the company offered in addition to associated services, such as business impact analysis, custom solutions, training, consulting, systems integration, and customer support. ServiceWare served clients in the financial services, technology, manufacturing, health care, telecommunications, retail, education, and government markets. Customers included Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Corporation, Reuters, H&R Block, AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, US Cellular, Green Mountain Energy, Fifth Third Bancorp, and Qualcomm.

In mid-1999, ServiceWare acquired the Molloy Group, Inc., another KM provider specializing in CRM, and in 2000, it changed its name to ServiceWare Technologies.

However, it wasn’t until 2005, when ServiceWare Technology merged with Kanisa Inc., a privately held provider of SRM applications, that KNOVA Software Inc. was born. Currently KNOVA is a separate product line within the Consona family and is viewed as the start of a comprehensive, integrated suite of CRM core and specialty solutions. And if the product’s functionality performs as described, it may very well be unmatched in the CRM space.

For more information on related topics, see Integrating Customer Relationship Management and Service Resolution Management, Knowledge Management: The Core of Service Resolution Management, and Bolstering the Call Center with Service Resolution Management Processes.

KNOVA Applications Suite

Keeping in tune with the approach of its sister CRM product, KNOVA (now Consona Knowledge Management) should allow enterprises to preserve and enhance their existing deployments of traditional call center and help desk applications, as well as content management, KM, and workflow tools. Accordingly, the Consona Knowledge Management solution consists of the following business applications, as described in KNOVA’s annual report (excerpt included below, updated with current branding):

  • Consona Knowledge Central is an assisted-service application for customer service and help desk agents that enables them to resolve customer issues and questions more effectively. This agent-facing solution integrates with additional features such as search, collaboration, interview scripting, e-mail response, and knowledge authoring. Consona Knowledge Central features business process support integrated with CRM systems that can tailor the resolution experience based on the customer’s or employee’s issue or question.
  • Consona Self-Service is a self-service application that enables customers and employees to resolve their own issues and questions on an enterprise Web site. Consona Knowledge Central features business process support that can provide a personalized and guided resolution experience based on the issue or question the customer or employee has.
  • Consona Forums is an application for online customer communities and forums that enable customers to discuss and collaborate on topics of interest, including an enterprise’s products and services. Forums enable customers and employees to assist each other, thereby reducing service delivery costs and providing valuable insight to the enterprise.

For more information, see the company’s 2004 report, KNOVA: Combining the Strengths of ServiceWare Technologies and Kanisa.

In addition to these applications is Consona Guided Selling. Sold as a stand-alone SaaS offering, this app resulted from the September 2006 acquisition of Active Decisions, a provider of multichannel guided selling solutions. As a result, Consona accessed marketing and e-commerce technology used by Staples, HP, Bank of America, and Motorola. Its features include Web self-service, call centers, and in-store kiosks.

The Consona Knowledge Platform is the foundation for the application suite. As described in its product description, this KM tool has the following features:

  • A knowledge auto-classification engine that automatically tags and organizes disparate knowledge sources, including unstructured documents, transaction data, experts, and authored support content
  • A natural-language processing (NLP) search engine used to execute search queries through real-time parameters and drill-down options
  • A self-learning search and knowledge management engine that stores and manages knowledge bases
  • A rules-based process engine that uses customer profiles to guide customer service.
  • Multiple APIs and pre-built adaptors to integrate the Suite with other business applications from Siebel/PeopleSoft/Oracle, Amdocs Clarify, BMC Remedy, HP, Salesforce.com, etc.

From KNOVA 7 to Consona KM

In late 2006, KNOVA announced the general availability of KNOVA 7, the new version of its application suite. KNOVA 7 is a Web 2.0 application that includes embedded analytics, search tuning, collaborative authoring capabilities, and customer community creation. According to this press release, users, through Microsite Builder, specify how content is displayed on a web site, thus giving customers distinct experiences based on brand, product, user roles, etc. Information can also be segmented on a Web site by answering customer-specific questions, providing information based on customer profiles, or displaying a list of customer-relevant links to specific areas in the knowledge base. Consona has since released new analytics (powered by QlikView) within Consona KM 7.3 in late 2009.

In addition to Microsite Builder, the Recommendation Manager module lets users update related products based on a customer’s profile or buying habits, providing further up- and cross-sell opportunities. KNOVA 7 also allows users to execute customer service based on scenarios which is also used to customize information.

These features can be used to structure customer interaction and support processes. By providing agents with more structured approaches, they can better deal with customer needs and improve customer retention. For example, customers using the self-serve Web feature to close an account can be directed to a call center, where more suitable or competitive packages can be offered. When they do so, not only will agents be given a second chance with a customer, but they will also be able to collect important customer profile information that can be used at a later date, should the customer decide to opt out of the account.

Because searching capabilities are also paramount for meeting customer needs, KNOVA 7 offers Visual Search Manager, which allows users to access collaborative authoring capabilities and use drag-and-drop search optimization features to categorize, change, or suppress list results. Below is a description of other features, as outlined in KNOVA 7’s product description

  • self-learning “adaptive navigation,” powered by Consona’s patented Cognitive Processor technology, whereby search results dynamically adjust based on the success of other users;
  • in-process, collaborative authoring with re-usable information components, auto-classification, and natural content capture;
  • content presentation, which reflects the reputation of individual documents and people;
  • straightforward integration with any portal architecture, as context-aware knowledge “pagelets” provide building blocks for rich site construction; and
  • embedded analytics that provide insights into usage trends, root causes, knowledge gaps, and resolution success.

For more details, see KNOVA Releases Powerful Application Suite to Deliver Intelligent Customer Experience.

These and other KNOVA 7 features give users greater access to relevant information and can subsequently help to better meet customer needs. Because word combinations are being used, agents can not only access complete answers, but can also find partial ones that need modification to answer customer queries. In the case where no answer resides in the knowledge base, agents have the ability to draft a new item that addresses that specific question. Information-sharing results, and rules and categories can be established for better access to information.

Furthermore, to prevent dirty data, the user company can establish its own rules as to when information is updated in the knowledge base by sending alerts to the administrator. Agents, being the primary active users of this knowledge base information, can also flag items that require editing. To further add relevance to items, users and customer can rate items to indicate the usefulness of information—an important feature, especially to determine which items should remain public and which need revision.

Consona has worked to integrate its Onyx and KNOVA apps, culminating the first time in Consona Knowledge Driven Support, a service and support application for high tech external product support. In 2008, Consona announced that KNOVA 7 was rebranded as Consona Knowledge Management and Onyx rebranded to Consona Enterprise CRM. The KM product has continued to find traction in the market. In fact, in early 2009, Consona was named one of the top 100 vendors in KM by KMWorld, an information provider specializing in knowledge and content management.

Powered by QlikView, Consona KM 7.3 analytics module features twelve prepackaged, KCS-driven role-based dashboards that help companies drive at the truth about their service levels, allowing for support incidents and knowledge to finally be analyzed together—and over long periods of time. Consona would like the market to see it start fresh as a true provider of customer service and support (CS&S) solutions, and for the product story to highlight the applications and strengths that are core to this market.

What Consona Gained

Easy Integration of KNOVA Software and Onyx

While functionality and the promise of a better product line was one of the main drivers for the Onyx and KNOVA acquisitions, they didn’t come without problems—namely, integration issues. However, through the course of developing its products, KNOVA used several different technologies that allow for easier integration.

First, KNOVA employed industry-standard technologies when creating the object-based open architecture. Because KNOVA used Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) for its products, integration between the KNOVA and Onyx product lines has been seamless, namely because the J2EE framework better leverages current Web environments (for more information on the two environments, see Understand J2EE and .NET Environments Before You Choose).

Second, some of KNOVA’s applications were also built on Microsoft’s .NET framework, which made KNOVA’s integration with Onyx CRM easier.

Third, KNOVA’s applications used XML and simple object access protocol (SOAP) frameworks. Products using these technologies can better integrate with enterprise systems and Web services. For example, these technologies have enabled KNOVA’s integration with HP OpenView Service Desk 5.0., which, according to KNOVA’s press release, “enables customers to recognize cost savings in their corporate service centers by shortening training times, resolving issues faster, and lowering call volume by diverting calls to Web self-service.”

In addition to these features, KNOVA’s solutions run on leading operating systems and databases; prior to its acquisition, KNOVA was continually updating its software to run on common environments. Currently, it supports existing customers on Microsoft Windows and Sun Solaris operating environments and a wide range of J2EE-compliant application servers. To deploy its software effectively across varied IT environments, former KNOVA had also maintained technology partnerships like Business Objects and WebMethods. Additionally, the software has been developed on and tested against platform software from providers of databases, operating systems, and application server software.

Onyx’s products, too, used technology that has made integration with KNOVA relatively easy and fast. Onyx’s use of SOA architecture and XML in its middleware is in line with KNOVA’s technology. These, combined with KNOVA’s APIs for CRM, has allowed for an easier integration process. Additionally, Onyx’s orientation on BPM should come in handy when it comes to integrating their call center technology, where the environment involves more dynamic action than logging incidents into a database.

Currently, the two products are already integrated within Consona Knowledge Driven Support (KDS), versions .5 and 1.0. The general availability of Consona Knowledge Driven Support Version 1.0 took place at the Service & Support Professional Association (SSPA) conference in Las Vegas (US) in October 2009. The solution, which debuted in October 2008, represents an integration of the former Onyx CRM and KNOVA KM applications, as well as select functionality from Consona’s newly acquired SupportSoft eService suite. The only KCSv4 Verified whole solution, Consona Knowledge Driven Support v1.0, helps external service and support organizations achieve best-practice objectives by unifying, guiding, and measuring every agent on every channel—to drive costs down while differentiating through service.

KNOVA’s Distribution Channels

In addition to easy-to-integrate technology, Consona has also gained KNOVA’s direct sales force channels in the US and UK. Its direct sales activity has been supplemented by several channel relationships, since KNOVA has also established strategic alliances in several categories to extend into new geographic and vertical markets, augment its sales and marketing initiatives, supplement the implementation and deployment capabilities, and enhance product capabilities.

These relationships have increased Consona’s sales due to Consona’s and KNOVA’s combined industry expertise, business relationships, and sales and marketing resources. Consequently, Consona has active reseller relationships with Amdocs, Siebel (Oracle), BMC Remedy, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratory, and HP, which all provide complementary CRM and service desk solutions.

Additionally, in the past, KNOVA had forged relationships with leading system integration, consulting, and outsourcing firms, such as Capgemini Technologies, EDS, eVergance Partners, Stratacom, HP, and Merlin Information Systems (in the UK). And Consona will also benefit from a 2001 agreement that KNOVA entered into with EPAm Systems of Princeton, New Jersey (US) and Minsk (Belarus) to augment its research and development capabilities through access to over 500 developers.

Consona still offers integration with all these CRM systems, based on what the customer needs, although a major part of its story is that the value proposition is significantly increased when case management and knowledge management are unified within KDS.

Naturally, acquisitions mean access to new customer bases, and in the case of KNOVA, Consona now has greater access to Global 2000 companies in a wide range of vertical industries that KNOVA has traditionally marketed to. This includes almost 200 high-profile customers within the following industries:

  • high tech (HP, Intuit, Novell, Softbrands, Texas Instruments, Toshiba, VMWare, etc.)
    services (C3i, EDS, SEI, etc.)
  • telecommunications (AOL, Qualcomm, etc.)
  • industrial and complex equipment manufacturing (Eaton Electrical, CNH, etc.)
  • retail and consumer goods (Ford, Greene King, Sharp Electronics, etc.)
  • government and public sector (NASA, US Navy, University of Iowa, etc.)
  • health care and biotech (GE Healthcare, McKesson Information Solutions, Omnicell, etc.)

Consona’s Role

Perhaps it’s somewhat ironic that through acquisition KNOVA will be able to further sustain its long-term strategy in the customer service and support solutions markets. KNOVA, being more resource-restrained than Onyx, should welcome the strategic financial backing of Consona’s shared business services, operating model, and private equity owners. These should enable KNOVA to pursue its plans to “devote resources to the development of new and innovative technologies and products, to increase efficiencies, to offer more immediate answers, and to minimize service response time” (see KNOVA’s 2006 annual report for more details). To achieve this, KNOVA will be able to incorporate advances in knowledge acquisitions, business process maintenance, and multichannel interactions.

In the past, owing to its limited install base and limited product diversity, KNOVA had to focus on both increasing revenues and controlling expenses to avoid continued losses resulting from necessary (yet exorbitant) product development costs. Also, its history of losses created a vicious cycle of sorts, where some potential customers questioned the company’s viability, which likely hampered its ability to make sales. Typically KNOVA had adequate cash resources, but its ability to continue as an independent business depended on its ability to either generate sufficient revenues or to obtain additional debt or equity financing. Additionally, the nature of the KM and SRM market is still emerging, and it’s difficult to predict how it will grow.

For example, some of former KNOVA’s customers have occasionally found that their own customer service productivity drops as personnel become accustomed to using the software. Also, self-serve customer service can open a Pandora’s box of issues: resources shift away from the call center, it can be risky to expose information to customers, data stored in the KB is poorly maintained, etc. However, working within the Consona family and its resources should ameliorate at least some of these problems. Consona’s KDS technology enables major productivity gains in proactive, social/community, and unassisted service channels. The future of CS&S will transcend traditional assisted models, and companies need to be ready for this.

In addition to better absorbing these fluctuations, Consona should also be able to leverage its worldwide infrastructure to market and sell KNOVA, which previously was primarily marketed and sold in North America through its direct sales force and outsourcers (with only a few percents of total revenue coming from the indirect channel). KNOVA had limited international presence and was primarily marketed through VARs, other ISVs, and system integrators (SI). Consequently, international revenues only represented a single digit percentage of total revenues. Given this, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Not only is the SRM market still emerging, but competition is intense and rapidly evolving in this fragmented market, and one should expect competition to intensify further in the future as current competitors expand their product offerings and new competitors enter the market (due to a relatively low barrier to entry). Current KNOVA competitors include in-house developed applications and providers of commercially available CRM, e-service, search, and KM solutions, including eGain Communications, InQuira, KANA Software, RightNow Technologies, Kaidara, Salesforce.com Service Cloud, Art Technology Group (now ATG, after the acquisition of Primus Knowledge Systems), Talisma, and Oracle.

KNOVA often competed favorably because of its ability to deliver process-driven applications; and because of its strong search, KM, and root-cause analytical capabilities (which make it a broad platform that turns any relevant structured and unstructured content into knowledge, regardless of where and how it is stored). However, it probably would not have maintained its competitive position against current and potential competitors in the long run. It is also possible that new competitors or alliances among competitors may emerge and rapidly acquire significant market share. One should also expect that competition will increase because of industry consolidation stemming from the need for newer customer service models, where a single vendor provides solutions for both internal and external service, technical support, and search.

Primary competitors include KANA, whose stock was one of the best-performing technology stocks in 2006; and ATG, whose diversified business extends beyond SRM to now include Primus Knowledge System’s KM capabilities. Given their respective strengths, they began encroaching on KNOVA’s market share prior to its acquisition by Consona. But none of these competitors offers truly integrated case and knowledge management, and none are “whole product”-verified by the Consortium for Service innovation’s KCS v4 methodology.

As with each of its past acquisitions, Consona will apply its integration model to the acquisition of KNOVA Software. This model ensures that each acquired product line is enhanced, maintained, supported, and sold by dedicated sales, product management, development, customer support, and professional services teams (while overhead services are shared among business units).

The most immediate and obvious advantage of this acquisition should be a broadened, more powerful customer service offering based on the individual strengths of KNOVA and Onyx applications. KNOVA’s CIM and KM should elegantly fill out Onyx's “solution stack,” as a great complement to Onyx’ core CRM, BPM, and BI modules. In a short period of time, Onyx customers should be able to enhance their applications with sophisticated tools for the contact center, as well as with powerful Web-based self-service, and obtain a much stronger total IT stack from a product management perspective.

As with each of its past acquisitions, Consona stressed its commitment to KNOVA's existing customers, in addition to its pursuit of new customers and markets. KNOVA’s SRM solution stands alone as a valuable extension to any CRM deployment, including traditional software competitors to Onyx, such as Oracle/Siebel or Amdocs Clarify. As such, Consona will continue to support the various CRM integrations KNOVA customers require (including non-Onyx CRM ones, honoring existing partnerships, even if redundant functionality exists after the KNOVA/Onyx integration). It has also pledged to focus on satisfying the customer’s “true need” and not on up-selling or cross-selling.

In addition to strengthening Consona’s CRM offering, Onyx and KNOVA should mutually benefit from a broadened worldwide sales and services presence and greater coverage across numerous industry segments. Consona will likely see significant immediate to mid-term cross-selling opportunities across an expanded customer base coming from KNOVA customers seeking CRM, BPM, and BI capabilities, and conversely from Onyx customers seeking strengthened Web self-service and SRM solutions. Both vendors want to now vigorously pursue new customers and markets, and both Onyx and KNOVA will be able to leverage one another’s customers to broaden their industry and product expertise. However, the general message of selling Onyx CRM with KNOVA is that it will be sold either together or separately.

Consona’s Current CRM Strategy

Currently Consona is still pursuing its acquisitions strategy. Its latest conquest has been that of SupportSoft Inc. in April 2009, bringing proactive service, and chat and collaboration capabilities to the Consona CRM Suite. And while Onyx has some basic e-mail capabilities, Consona is considering another potential acquisition to augment this functionality. Future feature investments will include e-mail response management, communities, cloud-based deployment across all product lines, enhanced subscriber assistance and support features, and an à la carte or subscription-based portal offering automated support fixes. It also plans continued focus on customer interaction, service, and support; and to leverage information from social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. These, along with providing point solutions that integrate with existing platforms (such as KM into CRM) will be the mainstay of the company. But again, major product releases in 2009 included Consona KDS 1.0 and Consona KM 7.3’s new analytics, powered by QlikView.

To date, Consona believes it has the most important foundational pieces for CRM customer service and support applications in place: case management (from Onyx); and KM and community management (from KNOVA). Moreover, SupportSoft rounds out the eService offering with impressive tools in support automation, and differentiates Consona CRM. These three major CRM pieces position Consona CRM as experts in the following three markets: digital service providers (telecom), high-tech, and IT service management.

Since the Onyx and KNOVA acquisitions, major work has been done to fix KNOVA’s product quality issues and to upgrade Onyx’ adaptable enterprise architecture to a proper CRM platform. Currently, Consona has integrated Consona Enterprise CRM (formerly Onyx CRM) and Consona Knowledge Management (formerly KNOVA) within Consona Knowledge-Driven Support System (KDS) version 1.0 (all part of the Consona CRM suite).

Consona—Facing Challenges

Some concerns still remain: certainly, the creation of Consona CRM Suite is still largely a work in progress (WIP), and likely needs significant time and a few more acquisitions before it becomes a fully rounded CRM solution. Namely, on the CM side, there have traditionally been weaker marketing automation capabilities compared to Unica, Aprimo, Infor CRM Epiphany, and SAS (see Should Uniqueness Vouch for Marketing Automation Niche Players?). Consona CRM doesn’t really mind these functional weaknesses, since it is not really trying to be a mainstream CRM player. The vendor is in the CRM class of products, but is only building applications for customer service and support.

To gain further leverage in the market, Consona CRM may want to explore the power of predictive analytics to aid firms servicing markets prone to churn (e.g., financial services or telecommunications), helping them spot behaviors that foreshadow customer departures (warning signs and propensity models), and develop right inducements to make customers stay. Thought and product leaders in this space include SAS, SPSS, Infor CRM Epiphany, and Oracle (especially given its acquisition of Sigma Dynamics). For more information, see Using Predictive Analytics within Business Intelligence: A Primer. Customer churn is costly because a company risks both losing the lifetime value of the customer and losing a customer referral. Consona can develop churn functionality similar to what Amdocs has done, by pursuing viable partnerships (See A Tectonic Shift in Communications Customer Life Cycle Management for more information.)

Also, while Consona KM (together with iPhrase and InQuira), excels at natural language technologies and linguistic processing; and guided navigation (used in external-facing, self-service applications for customers and field workers), its solution likely needs enhanced search tools to access information behind firewalls, and in file systems, databases, and business applications. Namely, concept-based searching, auto categorization, taxonomy development, metadata extraction, classification, summarization, and personalization need to be added to improve search effectivity. These methods are employed by vendors such as Verity, Autonomy, Endeca, Convera, Oracle, SAP, Google, and Microsoft. Consona believes it has these capabilities now via the QlikView alliance.

At the end of the day, the Consona executives, including CEO Jeff Tognoni, do have upper-market and CRM experience. Also, the executives in charge of Consona CRM, led by Tom Millay, come from the CRM space. The vendor says that there is no attempt to share CRM and ERP expertise, since the Consona CRM Suite is literally Consona entering a new market. While different selling strategies and distribution and marketing approaches may apply, some of the core operating principles, like customer fit, broad services offerings, and customer focus, apply across all industries and customer bases. And this is the common thread. Consona ERP does not know much about this level of CRM, but it does not have to (nor is it strongly motivated to), since it is not the focus of that product line.

User Recommendations

With its acquisition of KNOVA, Consona’s intentions for Onyx have become much clearer. However, prospective and existing customers should still monitor Consona’s retention of key CRM employees, since signs of attrition among the product management and R&D staff should raise “red flags” that indicate instability. Consona ERP customers and prospects should expect little impact and few benefits from the acquisition, at least in the short-to-medium term, since seemingly, the Consona CRM suite lacks synergy with the manufacturing mid-market ERP sectors, and Made2Manage ERP and Intuitive ERP already offer adequate CRM capabilities with their enterprise solutions. This also holds true for Consona’s industry-specific ERP solutions.

Consona CRM’s sweet spots are mid-to-large services companies looking for a comprehensive CRM solution that can be quickly integrated into existing applications and customized to support their unique attributes and processes. Until Consona CRM decides to tackle the SaaS market in earnest, their ideal prospects are medium-sized to large companies providing customer data to different departments across multiple systems. Additionally, companies that use complex business processes and security measures, and treat customer data as proprietary information, also fall in this category.

Consona CRM focuses on mid-market-to-Global 2000 enterprises primarily in the services industry, particularly those internal or external service and support organizations supporting complex product and service offerings. It has a number of customers within the complex manufacturing space (high-tech software and hardware) and local government. Within the services industry, there is a focus on financial services, insurance, banking, credit unions, telecommunications, and any organization with a strong emphasis on service and support, and the help desk.

Consona CRM customers have thus far primarily been interested in a CRM solution that adapts to their business, infrastructure, market changes, and evolving customer requirements. Their IT department is typically substantial and involved, and the Microsoft platform is the preference in the enterprise.

The aggressive merger and acquisition (M&A) approach of Consona might be noteworthy here. For an acquirer with a primary strategy to build a tightly integrated, best-of-breed suite, an expanding set of complementary products is a positive offering for prospective customers—especially with the base technology of Onyx and the general speed at which products are made available.

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