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Aspect takes AIM at contact center performance management

Aspect's acquisition of AIM's performance management software will bring in-house capabilities it previously provided through an OEM with Merced.

Aspect Software yesterday made its own purchase in the steadily consolidating market for contact center workforce optimization (WFO) software by acquiring the assets of Applied Information Management (AIM) Limited.

Chelmsford, Mass.-based Aspect will add AIM's performance management software, which helps companies motivate, measure and manage contact center employees, to its own suite of software. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"It's a very good fit," said Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a contact center research firm based in West Orange, N.J. "Aspect has been building out their workforce optimization solution, and this is one of the faster-growing segments of their portfolio."

The acquisition of U.K.-based AIM will bring in-house technology that Aspect has for the past five years provided to its customers through an original equipment manufacturing (OEM) agreement with Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Merced Systems.

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Aspect has been focused on adding performance capabilities to its own suite of contact center and unified communications software and providing best-of-breed capabilities, according to Bob Kelly, vice president of Aspect's PerformanceEdge group.

"As we were looking at that area, we wanted to do more than we could through not owning the technology," Kelly said. "Through Merced, we had great best-of-breed capability but we couldn't do the synchronizations we wanted to do or, at least, to do so would have affected Merced's product roadmap, and that was problematic."

AIM's architecture also fit better than Merced's with Aspect's technology, he said. Merced is built on a Java-based architecture, whereas AIM's analysis and reporting services are built on the Microsoft SQL Server stack, as Aspect's are.

Early last year, Aspect entered an equity partnership with Microsoft to leverage unified communications to extend contact center capabilities throughout an organization, letting back-office employees assist with customer service. Organizations want to be able to measure and improve upon those interactions the way they can within the contact center, Kelly said.

Aspect's OEM agreement with Merced will remain in place and continue to support customers on that product, he said.

Yesterday's acquisition was just the latest in a series of acquisitions in the contact center performance management market. In 2007, Verint Systems acquired Witness Systems, combining its business intelligence, speech and data analytics with Witness's WFO technology; and in 2006, NICE bought IEX and Performix for their workforce management and performance management technology.

"You've seen Verint and NICE do acquisitions that bring a suite of capabilities, and now you've seen Aspect do the same thing," Kelly said. "There is tremendous value to the customer to have one source for the products. Also, the relationship of functions tie together to give management a holistic view of what's happening. If you have siloed products, you spend more money on integration CTI, and reporting between them to cobble together a holistic view."

The acquisition will allow Aspect to better compete with NICE and Verint, according to Fluss, who noted that Aspect ranks third in total revenue in her forthcoming report on the performance management software market.

The move also drew praise -- particularly for its timing -- from Paul Stockford, chief analyst with Saddletree Research Inc.

"History has demonstrated that companies with the confidence to continue to pursue their business objectives during recessionary periods have emerged from those periods with gains in market share and market profile," Stockford wrote in a research note. "AIM Technology's back office experience should give Aspect a jump start in the penetration of this high-potential performance management market."

Aspect will combine AIM's technology with its own PerformanceEdge product and deliver an application this quarter called PerformanceEdge Performance Management, according to Kelly. There will be a standard offering aimed at midmarket contact centers with 200 to 1,000 agents that comes with prepackaged integrations, as well as an enterprise edition for larger contact centers with more than 1,000 agents, greater infrastructure and more data sources looking for software tailored to their needs.

While the timing of the acquisition makes sense for Aspect, it also makes sense for organizations seeking to purchase WFO software, according to Ken Landoline, vice president with Reno, Nev.-based Synergy Research.

"We're going to see workforce optimization and customization of that area be more important in 2009 and beyond," Landoline said. "People are looking to squeeze every efficiency [they can] out of their contact center."

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