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Cisco Cognitive Collaboration: Where AI Meets 'Marketing': Page 2 of 2

Cognitive What?

The ebullient Amy Chang, Cisco’s SVP for the Collaboration Technology Group, delivered such a good performance in her first Enterprise Connect keynote, you could almost ignore the fact that what she was saying was utter nonsense. Some of the capabilities like facial recognition and active framing have value, though calling these “AI” is a stretch in itself. Using facial recognition to put “nametags” under people’s images is a nice touch, if only for the first five minutes, after which they should lose the nametags. Cisco’s Oslo team comically demonstrated the system’s ability to recognize you when you put on glasses or a wig, but that has become an expectation in facial recognition today.

The big capability Cisco showcased was a Web-driven tool to collect background information on meeting participants and present it in summary form to the organizer prior to the meeting. Chang came to Cisco from Accompany, which Cisco acquired in 2018. Cisco has now incorporated Accompany’s profiling technology into Webex to create cognitive collaboration. As in many of these cases, the core questions now become, “Why?” and “For Whom?”

I had sat through a briefing on this offering before and had read about it here on No Jitter, but the whole idea sounded so ill-conceived that I really hadn’t bothered to give it much thought. The concept is to provide a Web-crafted profile of a someone you’re going to meet, presumably for the first time, on video. In her keynote, Chang went to great lengths to point out how this profile is superior to one provided via LinkedIn, enhanced as it is with “publicly available, privacy respectful” information scoured from the Web.

That profile would include general background, recent postings, blogs, article mentions, and corporate affiliations with links to detailed information about those companies.

I must admit I got the biggest chuckle from the examples cited, David Soloman, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Pat Woertz, CEO of Archer Daniels Midland. It goes without saying that high-profile people like these two would have extensive Web presence. Of course, these aren’t the people me or most anyone in the audience would be meeting with on a regular basis.

The vast majority of the people we meet with haven’t published anything (well I have, but I don’t make a big deal about that in my consulting practice). Our contacts are mentioned almost nowhere, and their professional careers and credentials are summarized quite adequately on LinkedIn. Mission accomplished.

Of course, if any of us had the opportunity to meet with someone of Soloman’s or Woertz’s stature, we’d be doing a ton more background preparation than a two-minute quick read of a Web-created brief. People with whom Soloman and Woertz normally interface, that is, people far more senior than we, will have minions for gathering background -- and they’d typically have access to more personal information sources than available via the Web.

So as near as I can tell, this is a swell capability with no defined target market -- and that’s called a “marketing demo.” Just like we saw with the mobile-first movement of 10 years ago, this is a well-orchestrated “show,” designed to create a positive image of the company and to demonstrate a vision -- regardless of how misdirected it might be. To Chang’s credit, she gave a top-notch performance, and even included a heart-warming, though largely tangential, vignette about a sick child.


…But, There’s More To Come!

Good showmanship dictates that when you’re opening with a turkey, it’s important to allude to a more useful, non-turkey, capability for the future. In this case, that non-turkey involved the contact center -- you’ve got to touch all the bases.

If the argument for the profiles was tenuous to begin with, the follow-on was more tenuous still. Starting from an inscrutable graphic representation of the career achievements of recent Stanford University graduates (another population far removed from the audience but a nod to Chang’s alma mater), she launched a hypothesis about how this could translate into benefits in the contact center.

The key element left unexplained was how scouring Web content you could somehow allow marketers to go beyond a customer’s lifetime value to their potential value. The slippery part was how you would get to that while maintaining that commitment to “publicly available, privacy respectful” sources. Short answer: nonsense now, less sense going forward.

Conclusion: Can we bring the hot air balloon back to earth?

Twice during her keynote, Chang made reference to “customers, partners, and analysts,” and even included testimonials from Ford, Procter & Gamble, and Splunk. The “analyst” reference is what really caught my attention, because that endorsement appears to be key in giving this silly parlor trick some kind of legitimacy. Don’t count me in.

I’m sorry but this kind of silliness not only lacks value, it distracts from our real purpose: To wit, delivering capabilities that business users can employ to make themselves more efficient, connected, productive, and, ultimately, successful.

Ironically, there were some real innovations on display that would fall into line with what users are looking for. Microsoft, Google, and Zoom all showed real-time transcription and closed captioning. Microsoft not only showed closed captioning, but also real-time translation. Now that’s a head-turner and one step short of Douglas Adams’ Babel Fish. Zoom puts its transcription in a sidebar with the ability for late-arriving meeting participants to scroll back to catch up on what they missed. Cisco also does transcription, but apparently “useful” wasn’t one of the themes of its keynote.

I congratulate the army of suppliers that did show up at Enterprise Connect with meaningful, leading-edge capabilities from which real-world users can actually gain value. While that message may be lost on some, that's what our business is about.

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