TECH DEALS: Optus powers up self-service

Optus taps Nuance to power its self-service app  

Optus has signed up Nuance Communications to power its new and improved My Optus app that gives the telco’s customers greater control when it comes to keeping an eye on their account usage or paying bills on their smartphone.

The app runs on Nuance Mobile Care (NMC) software and also gives customers the option to get directly in touch with Optus and chat live with an agent.  As Optus’ digital media director Austin Bryan puts it the app is designed to “keep pace with the rapidly changing needs and expectations of our customers”.

It is currently available for the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S/SII and other selected handsets, including the Nokia E71, Nokia E63 and Huawei X1.

The idea of self service is starting to gain a lot of traction in Australia with a recent study by Nuance Communications stating that almost 76 per cent of Australians prefer not to deal with humans when it comes to transactions and support. One of the major drawcards for this push to self-service is the growth in smartphones and mobile technologies, with customers unlikely to put up with lengthy wait times and poorly designed contact centres.

Nuance’s Australia and New Zealand managing director Peter Chidiac says that while self-service applications have been around for a while today’s customers are a lot savvier when it comes to using them effectively.

According to Chidiac, that’s an opportunity for businesses, particularly in the telco space where the competition is fierce.

Optus has managed to get the jump on rival Telstra with the launch of the app, while Vodafone got the ball rolling on its “My Vodafone Australia” app, that lets post-paid customers view their usage, earlier this year. Telstra is reportedly working on its own app, so expect to hear something from the telco on that front pretty soon. 

This is the first use of NMC in the Asia Pacific region and is unlikely to be last. The technology combined with the shift in customer behaviour towards self-service is likely to make it an attractive prospect for a number of sectors, such as financial services and insurance, and we could just be at the tip of the iceberg here. 

IiNet’s domain investment

Staying in the telco sector, it looks like Perth-based iiNet is following the footsteps of the AFL to get a top-level domain. Securing that piece of online retail estate isn’t exactly cheap. The ISP is reportedly spending $200,000 – which includes $50,000 in registrar fees - on an application to register the .iiNet name.

Lodging the application is just the start of the process and there are significant establishment costs and ongoing renewal fees. The start-up phase can cost in excess of $2 million and then there are the ongoing maintenance fees. It’s a lot of money that iiNet reckons is worth investing and its punt could pay off if it is successful in monetising its web presence effectively.  

Haylix takes aim at Ninefold

The local cloud storage market is gearing up for more competition with the launch of Haylix Cloud Solutions. The cloud solution launched by Haylix (former known as BrightHost) is built on the OpenStack Swift platform and Haylix has teamed up with Akamai to deliver faster access speeds to its customers. 

The launch will be closely watched by the current incumbent in the space, Ninefold, which has also been flexing its muscles off late. The company recently launched its own version of the Amazon AWS S3, Business Cloud Drive, leveraging its relationship California-based Oxygen to tap into the growing use of consumer-focused cloud storage operators like Dropbox.

One of Ninefold’s key selling points has been the fact that it keeps all the data in Australia, however, Haylix managing director, Michael Richardson  says that the onshore-offshore discussion has been going on far too long and is a result of the lack of local competition.

“For a long time if you wanted a world class cloud storage facility you were forced to juggle up whether the data should be kept offshore or onshore,” Richardson says.

“In markets like the US they don’t have this debate they have a competitive environment with lots of providers and lots of capabilities.” 

According to Richardson, just saying that data is stored in Australia shouldn’t be a competitive differentiator anymore and it’s the open source nature of the Haylix service, combined with the partnership with Akamai that should give Ninefold a run for its money.

In other cloud news, cloud software service providers CloudSherpas and GlobalOne have joined forces to create a powerhouse that aims to make life difficult for the likes of SAP, IBM and Oracle.

The merged company, which will still be called CloudSherpas, has secured $20 million in funding from Columbia Capital, which manages some $2.5 billion worth of enterprise-oriented investments. Columbia Capital also pumped $15 million into GlobalOne last year.

Atlassian just loves HipChat

Moving to the startup space, enterprise software firm Atlassian has acquired San Francisco-based hosted private chat service HipChat.

The move will see Atlassian absorb HipChat into its growing portfolio of software and HipChat’s co-founders - Pete Curley, Garret Heaton and Chris Rivers – join the Atlassian team.  

Both parties are all smiles about the deal with Curley, Heaton and Rivers telling their loyal band of followers that the tie-up isn’t your run of the mill acqui-hire.

“A huge reason we decided to join up with Atlassian is that they’re just as pumped as us to see HipChat turn into the instant messaging powerhouse we all dream of (the swanky new San Francisco office with free beer on tap doesn’t hurt),” the HipChat founders said in a blog.  

“With their help and infrastructure, we can get some help with servers and providing great support to customers while we keep building kickass features.”

Meanwhile, Atlassian’s co-founder and chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes said that one of the reasons he was keen to pick up HipChat was because of its popularity within Atlassian’s teams.   

“We always say that our best customer is ourselves — if we love something, it’s likely our customers will love it too. HipChat is a great example of that,” Brookes said.

“It has taken off virally within Atlassian’s teams and now, just a short nine months after the first person signed on, nearly half the company uses it daily.”

Meru expands down under

Nasdaq-listed wireless infrastructure solutions provider Meru Networks and its Australian distributor Wavelink have announced expansion plans in the region, with the addition of a dedicated technical sales team.

According to Meru, the team will work with end-customers in the design and implementation of Meru virtualised wireless WLANs.

Wavelink's existing resellers located in Melbourne and Sydney will co-sell Meru WLAN solutions and lead network implementations in the K-12, healthcare, hospitality and enterprise markets.

Meru said in a statement that the sales and engineering support capabilities are being added in the Australian market during a period of high growth for wireless network technology in the region.

“Since forming the initial partnership with Meru in 2009, Wavelink's sales of Meru's products have grown dramatically and the company is on track to increase its sales of Meru solutions by more than 50 per cent year-over-year,” the company said.

Wavelink and Meru’s list of customers include: James Cook University, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Langham Hotels in Melbourne and Auckland and aged care services provider Regis.

Interactive Intelligence powers Pepper Australia’s contact centre

Residential mortgage lender Pepper Australia’s new 100-seat Parramatta-based contact centre is up and running, with the facility powered by the Interactive Intelligence’s all-in-one IP communications software suite, Customer Interaction Centre (CIC).

CIC automatically routes and manages all PSC's inbound and outbound calls and the cloud deployment is the first phase in a project that will see the connection of a second site in North Sydney and an additional 90 administrative and management staff users by June 2012.

The Parramatta contact centre, known as the Pepper Servicing Centre (PSC), was established in January this year to manage an increase in call volumes and house new staff following Pepper's 2011 acquisition of the former GE Capital Australia and New Zealand home loan portfolio.