KANA counts on versatility

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Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

KANA Software supplies systems to help organizations improve their electronic dealings with customers, whether by email, online chat, Web browser or telephone. The company refers to its products as multi-channel customer service solutions. Some researchers call them an eService suite, while others class them as service resolution management (SRM) products or industry-specific vertical CRM packages. One magazine calls the software a knowledge management solution, which is also true in its way. The software can also be regarded, in part, as horizontal groupware applied to vertical markets.

However one chooses to classify the KANA product range, its purpose is to help organisations deal with their customers satisfactorily and speedily. Some of the results achieved include:

  • a two-thirds reduction in the number of support calls received
  • a six-fold increase in calls handled by the same number of call-centre agents
  • a halving of the time needed to respond to customers’ calls.

What KANA offers

As the diagram below shows, there are four main constituents of the KANA suite:

  • Response, which handles email in and out
  • Response Live, which provides for online collaboration
  • Contact Center, for dealing with telephone calls in and out
  • Self Service, which works via the World Wide Web.
Kana architecture diagram

Response is a robust and scalable message server, able to handle up to 10 million emails or Web forms a month, in any of 26 languages. Incoming messages can be classified, routed, queued, tracked and escalated according to the organization’s rules. Replies and other outgoing messages can be partly or wholly completed from company databases, using the Connect product.

Response Live securely manages text chat via the Web. It also allows “co-browsing”, mainly for technical support situations. In this, the agent and the customer can see the same Web page, typically while talking on the telephone. No software need be downloaded to the user’s machine, avoiding potential security breaches.

Contact Center offers computer-telephony integration (CTI) and automated case management for call centres, working across all channels. A single ‘desktop’ gives agents real-time access to corporate data and to a history of customer interactions through any channel. Natural-language searching is possible across any of the enterprise’s servers and data repositories.

Self Service lets an organization’s customers and partners view many of the same data sources as its contact centre staff use, giving consistency of response. Concept-based searching leads the visitor on to possible answers if a satisfactory result is not delivered first time. Where that still does not suffice, email and chat escalation to an agent is built in to the user interface.

Emails to and from the customer are managed by Secure Messaging, which sends only a notification email to either party. This contains no substantive content, just a link to a secure source for the message. The message’s content stays on the system’s server and is viewed from the visitor’s browser over an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Web link. This feature is popular with financial services and health care organisations, since none of their customers’ personal data travels over (typically unencrypted) email systems.

From a data point of view, all these elements are underlain by KANA’s information management systems—Agent IQ and Customer IQ. These give consistent access—both manual and programmatic—to product and customer knowledgebases. They offer guided navigation and multiple search and retrieval techniques. All customer interaction records are contained within a single knowledgebase, which can be set up with or augmented by additional data, such as from other ECM systems.

From a systems point of view, the whole set of services rests on the foundation of the KANA Enterprise Application Framework. Written in Sun’s J2EE, this incorporates design and scripting tools, APIs and connectors to other software and systems. The framework and all the elements integrate readily, providing a modular solution for user organizations. They can adopt various elements incrementally if they choose. The products run on Microsoft Windows, Linux and the main varieties of UNIX, IBM WebSphere Application Server and BEA WebLogic Application Server, and work with Oracle, IBM DB2, and Microsoft SQL Server databases. There is also a hosted option, called KANA OnDemand.

The company

KANA is based in Menlo Park, California, USA, and was founded in 1996 by Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath. Since then, it has grown in part by buying other companies, often at a premium. These include Broadbase, HipBone, ServiceSoft and Silknet. The last, for example, cost $4.2 billion in 2000, well over its market value. Silknet’s software now forms the basis of the KANA J2EE framework and its Contact Center offering.

The company has had unimpressive financial results in recent years. It now seems to be climbing back to growth and profitability under Michael Fields, its new chief executive officer and chairman. Fields, formerly president of Oracle USA, has been in the computer industry a long time and knows what is needed to get KANA back on its feet. Revenues are expected to grow significantly for 2006 and beyond (they are already well up for the half year to June 2006). Losses continued to fall, too.

Balanced against its late history of dismal financial results is KANA’s obvious popularity with its users. It has over 600 customers around the world, 60 of the Fortune Global 100 being among them. They include such well-known organisations as eBay, Creative Labs, Priceline, Staples, Dow Jones, GM, Aetna and Cigna Healthcare. Priceline and eBay have been customers since 1999 at least. Renewal rates for licences are around 92%. KANA includes IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Accenture and BearingPoint among its partners.

The company continues to release new products, with version 9 of its suite of software due soon. Under Michael Fields, it is now putting a greater emphasis on marketing and has just created a sales team specialising in the financial services market. Also, it is no longer aiming solely at large companies and is aiming to service middling-sized customers with on-demand products.

KANA has strong competition within each of its product areas from suppliers such as ATG, eGain, Knova and RightNow. It says it is superior to all of them in its ability to service multiple channels with the same product family, in the closeness of integration within that family and in the scalability of the whole.

The Bloor view

Customer service software is not a market I usually look at, so I claim no special insight into what users look for. Like most people, though, I am a frequent visitor to Web sites that depend on the help this sort of software provides. I know the kind and level of support I want to get, therefore. Also, like most people, I get exasperated by companies that respond slowly, if at all, to requests for help. (Or who send the same ‘FAQ’, sometimes repeatedly, whatever your question might be.)

Given all that, I like the user interface of KANA’s products. They are obviously designed with clear thought to helping agents and Web visitors get the answers they want—quickly and accurately. I am especially impressed by the unified information infrastructure that binds all the product elements together.

KANA needs financial stability and growth to fund continuing development of these products and to keep its customers and partners confident. The next year or two should deliver the verdict on that. A company that has so many loyal blue-chip customers is obviously giving them and their customers what they need. I feel that KANA and its users would welcome some financial growth and stability to go with that.