has announced the acquisition of privately-held InStranet in order to plug a gap in its CRM (customer relationship management) database.

Chicago-based InStranet is best known for providing "knowledge management software" for business-to-consumer call centres.

The acquisition is's largest to date after it paid $31.5 million (£16.8 million) for the company. InStranet is sitting on a cash pile of $4.2 million, which brings the actual purchase price down to $27.3 million.

The acquisition gives a key knowledge management functionality missing from its current customer relationship management (CRM) database - the ability to quickly provide call centre agents with specific, relevant information about a customer's problem to make its resolution faster and better, said Andrew Zinger, InStranet's marketing director.

Knowledge management systems are central repositories for all non-transactional information such as product information, company policies and procedures, and frequently-asked questions. CRM systems typically rely on 1990s-era keyword searches that often don't provide the best contextual information to agents, and can make answering customer questions slower and less thorough, Zinger said. Speed in solving customer's questions saves money and thoroughness builds loyalty.

"InStranet's Dimensions technology is a killer, world-class application that puts context around information so data appears quickly and is relevant. And it can be implemented at scale," said Bruce Francis,'s vice president of corporate strategy.

In addition, "InStranet gets customers up and running very quickly, and we are very big on getting customers up and running quickly rather than putting them through some two-year slog," Francis said.

InStranet's 44 employees, including its management team lead by Alex Dayon, co-founder, president and CEO, and Jean-Noël Grandval, co-founder, executive vice president of operation, will join Most of InStranet's employees are based in Paris, where the company was started in 1999 by a research and development team spun out of Business Objects.

InStranet and have been co-marketing their products since 2000, but the tipping point for the acquisition is today's growth of the customer service and support part of the CRM market - now $3.5 billion worldwide.

The deal promises to give an edge over CRM competitors Clarify, Oracle, and SAP, Francis said.

"The acquisition of InStranet will throw gasoline on the fire we have got going in a marketplace that is prime for growth," Francis said.

InStranet brings with it giant telecommunications and financial services customers including Verizon, TMobile, Comcast, and the French telephony company Orange. While the company doesn't release financials, Gartner Group and Patricia Seybold Group peg its quarterly sales in the $3 million to $4 million range. It competes in knowledge management against Kana, Right Now, and Inquira.