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Niche apps: Channel companies benefit from specialty software

Niche applications aren't just for consumers: Channel partners are leveraging specialized software to tackle a range of challenges in fields from AI to EDI.

"There's an app for that" is a common expression in the consumer world, where users can find a software helper for a range of esoteric tasks.

Robert DeSteno, co-founder and CEO, Archive360Robert DeSteno

Channel companies also have a vast array of niche apps to choose from. Products that migrate certain types of files to the cloud, integrate supply chain communications, or develop artificially intelligent user interfaces may not be for every reseller or managed service provider. But such applications can make a big difference for companies with particular needs or highly specific customer requirements.

While consumers may find specialty software while browsing an app store, channel partners may bump into niche apps in a number of ways -- including a chance meeting on the baseball field. That latter venue is where Tom Gardner, president and CEO of LLH Data LLC, found Archive360 Inc. and its data migration and storage products. Gardner said he met Robert DeSteno, co-founder and CEO of Archive360, when their sons were on the same little league team. That connection eventually led LLH Data, an IT services company based in Jupiter, Fla., to adopt Archive360's email archive migration software.

Email archive migration

LLH Data deals with large databases in its capacity as a data broker that provides business credit reporting services. Accordingly, the company is interested in technology that makes storage "cheap and easy," Gardner said. He said LLH Data began working with Archive360 about 18 months ago and uses the company's technology to quickly migrate email archives to inexpensive storage platforms such as Microsoft Azure. He also noted Archive360's technology offers rapid migration.

Tom Gardner, president and CEO, LLH Data LLCTom Gardner

"I'm saving money and time on storage," he said.

The company employs Achive360's Archive2Anywhere offering, which was launched in 2013, and has started to explore Archive2Azure, which Archive360 released in June 2016.

In addition to storage savings, Archive360's technology offers an email search capability Gardner said other migration products lack. He said some products are good at migration but stumble on search, while others are good at search but fall down on the migration side.

"It's the whole package," Gardner said of Archive360. "I have been very happy with what they have done."

Tibi Popp, co-founder and CTO of Archive360, acknowledged that email archive migration isn't a line of business that many partners pursue.

"The archives migration business is a relatively niche business," he said. "Most of the partners don't necessarily go in and pitch archive migration -- they don't know how to do it."

Popp said Archive360's products offer a self-service approach that lets partners provide a migration offering without becoming experts in email archiving software. DeSteno added that archive migration has become important as on-premises archival systems reach end-of-life status and organizations seek to move to cloud-based email offerings such as Office 365.

"We are seeing about 90% of our clients moving to Office 365," DeSteno said.

Natural language development platform

Lalit Dhingra, president, Americas, NIIT TechnologiesLalit Dhingra

NIIT Technologies discovered Artificial Solutions, a company based in Barcelona, Spain that specializes in the natural language interaction subset of artificial intelligence, on a different sort of niche apps playing field: an industry conference in Europe. Lalit Dhingra, president, Americas, NIIT Technologies, an IT solutions provider based in India with operations in Asia, Europe and the Americas, said the companies discovered a common bond in that they both want to expand their footprint in North America.

NIIT Technologies also encountered a complementary technology in Artificial Solutions, which provides a developing platform for creating applications that permit natural language interaction. Artificial Solutions describes natural language interaction as a technology that "allows people to talk to applications and electronic devices in free-format, natural language, using speech, text, touch or gesture."

Dhingra said NIIT Technologies has embarked on a Digital E3 approach in which the company seeks to create "emotionally empathetic experiences" for customers.

"As part of that strategy, we wanted to provide … natural language interaction," he noted. "Chatbots are becoming the next big thing. We wanted to have that as part of our offerings."

Chatbots are becoming the next big thing. We wanted to have that as part of our offerings.
Lalit Dhingrapresident, Americas, NIIT Technologies

NIIT Technologies announced an alliance with Artificial Solutions in August 2016. According to Artificial Solutions, its Teneo platform can be used to build natural language applications such as digital employees, mobile personal assistants, bots, wearables and internet of things interfaces.

The partnership is focusing on North America, where NIIT Technologies is investigating use cases for natural language interfaces. In particular, NIIT Technologies pursues opportunities to deploy the technology in its four vertical markets: travel, insurance, banking and media. In the media sector, for example, NIIT Technologies is building an application that will let customers renew subscriptions to magazines or newspapers via natural language interaction, Dhingra said.

He said NIIT Technologies is talking to a number of customers about using natural language interfaces and expects to have at least three or four projects going on the Teneo platform.

EDI meets niche apps

While intelligent chatbots and digital assistants fall into a relatively new technology category, electronic data interchange (EDI) dates back to the 1970s. But niche apps in this field are nonetheless important to channel partners.

Indeed, EDI continues to persist among businesses that must link up with trading partners. NexTec Group, a company that implements ERP software, including Sage Software Inc.'s Sage X3 product, needs to integrate its customers into EDI networks.

"Ninety percent of our customers have an EDI requirement," said Chris Williamson, vice president of Sage X3 delivery for NexTec. "They bring to us the requirement to integrate with their existing value-added network providers or look for a recommendation on a provider."

Value-added networks are network providers that aim to facilitate EDI.

Williamson said NexTec was "fairly agnostic" with respect to providers but eventually turned to TrueCommerce as an EDI provider that integrated with Sage X3. TrueCommerce, a HighJump Software Inc. company, connects suppliers, retail hubs and end customers in its global commerce network, according to TrueCommerce.

Williamson pointed to speed of implementation as an important advantage of TrueCommerce's Sage X3 integration. He said EDI projects often involve a lot of development and testing. The TrueCommerce-Sage combination, however, can be rapidly deployed, which he said is an especially important value-add for customers with a compressed timeline.

Haitham Ghadiry, vice president, sales and marketing at TrueCommerce's EDI Solutions Group, said his company works heavily with channel partners such as Sage ERP consultants and resellers. He said TrueCommerce is now expanding its channel in the Microsoft Dynamics sector.

"We have seen 20% to 25% growth year-over-year in [reseller] channel revenue," Ghadiry said. "A channel-oriented strategy is the key to success," he said.

Next Steps

Read about APIs as an alternative to EDI

Learn about the evolution of natural language generation technology

Find out about the cloud's impact on email migration

This was last published in August 2016

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