When you ask IMImobile CEO Jay Patel when the company started out, his answer is an interesting one: “2003 in earnest,” he replies. “That was the year we first did $1m in revenue at least,” as if anything less than that isn’t worth talking about.
In the 13 years in between, that drive to increase revenues has seen Patel and his team build a solid business, with clients ranging from large mobile operators like Vodafone, O2 and Orange, to enterprise customers such as Centrica, Coca-Cola and the BBC. It’s listed on AIM, and in its last reporting period, posted half-year revenues of £27.8m and profits of £16.6m for the six months to 30 September 2015. Profits were 23 per cent up on the previous year, revenues 29 per cent up.
In the early days, the company was primarily operator-focused, building WAP sites and handling content and self-care services, before expanding via contract with utility companies, retailers and government departments.
Today, its operations break down into five principal applications – IMIconnect; IMIcampaign; IMIdigital; IMIchat; and IMIsocial. On top of these, in 2014 it acquired Textlocal, the self-service messaging platform used by SMEs, and in 2015, S. African mobile engagement firm, Archer Digital. So how do these individual components fit together?
“With IMIConnect, you have companies like Twilio and Nexmo essentially providing last mile voice and SMS API capabilities to developers,” says Patel. “We focus on the enterprise developer who has the task of digitising lots of internal processes, embedding lots of customer communications. We enable them to do this through a software layer that lets them assemble rather than code.
“Often in large enterprises there are bespoke systems and lots of code written to manage workflows and often no one knows who the developer is and it’s not documented. With Connect there’s no need to code. It’s a workflow to drag different processes together, another software layer on top of the Twilio-type stuff to let IT departments digitise communications faster.
“Imagine you’re the CIO of a bank. There are a lot of business units, credit cards, mortgages, and customers coming at you from lots of channels. IMIconnect is a cloud-based communications platform targeted towards developers to help them embed the touchpoints into the existing business systems and automate things, so when certain events occur, like the customer’s balance going below a certain threshold, it triggers a certain message.
“In the retail environment, it could be an abandoned basket or an out of stock situation that creates a need to communicate with the customer. If the retailer has their contact details and their permission to communicate with them, it’s better that you instigate it, rather than having the customer call the call centre.”
Communications is also at the heart of the second module, IMIchat, which enables a contact centre to talk to a customer over SMS, Messenger, or just about any other interface accessible via the mobile phone.
“We’ve been preparing this for 18 months,” says Patel. “With all the work going on around AI, we had a good inkling that things would go the way they are going because all the P2P messaging apps have to find a way of monetising the users’ attention and one way is to allow enterprises on to the platform. We are channel agnostic. It’s chat today but it could be something else tomorrow. Clients put our software layer on top of their systems and they do not to need to worry about channel fragmentation. If something else comes along, we will handle it.
“We think that very soon it will be impossible to tell whether you’re [text] chatting to a real person or a bot or AI agent. You might start with a bot with a query about your current balance and then the human takes over when they need to.”
The third module, IMIcampaign, is a multichannel campaign management tool. “Most of these tools started out in email and moved into SMS; we came at it from the other direction,” says Patel. “We come at it from a mobile-first perspective. We rely on our customers having big data warehouses and creatives tools, and what we provide is a platform to execute high-level, multichannel campaigns, with AB testing, multivariate analysis and true multichannel capabilities.
"So if you send 500,000 emails and get 10 per cent that are opened but not read. The unread ones we can follow up with an SMS with a link and the we can follow that with a voice call to increase the response rate. We have won a lot of work with this tool in mobile operators and gambling companies where there is a high frequency of communications and high usage of mobile channels as opposed to desktop.”
The fourth module, IMIdigital, is a content management and digital service delivery platform. “This is a growth area working with some of the big music labels and content owners who are creating their own music and video streaming brands, then using our digital content warehouse to house it and distribute it to all the different handsets,” says Patel. Finally, IMIsocial is a platform that enables broadcasters to manage and control their interactions with their audiences via social media, another area that has seen rapid growth in recent years.
“Where we feel we have an edge on IMIcampaign, IMIconnect and IMIchat is we don’t just help people manage their inbound and outbound communications, but also to join the dots,” says Patel. “If you’re a Pay TV customer, why is it so hard to add a football game to your package? It should be easy if you get a promotion to click and buy. One reason it’s trick is that the system do the outbound stuff does not do the inbound stuff because they come from different vendors and in order to do this you need to integrate back into the enterprise systems. This is where our tech comes into its own.
“Because of the API movement, everyone has put APIs into their systems, so they talk to each other and the integration task has reduced massively. So if they use our cloud system, clients can get going really quickly. Some clients still want software on site, but it’s a reducing number. Working in the cloud helps clients to execute digitally, at speed.”