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Everyone Thinks AI Will Change Communications Tech – And Understanding How Is Key
For analysts, autumn is the busy season for industry events, and our cohort of BCStrategies experts has been regularly sharing reviews. Colleague Blair Pleasant shared her collective thoughts on her three most recent events, and now I’ll pick up where she left off with my three most recent events.
I’m just coming off a run of nine events over nine weeks, and let’s just say Blair and I are happy to be done with event travel now for 2023. I wear more hats than most analysts, and travel to a wide range of events, so the events below are quite different from some other coverage on No Jitter, but in their own way, each is relevant to the communications technology space.
Stop 1 – SCTC in Raleigh, North Carolina– Oct. 22-24
This is the annual conference for the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, where I’m a long-time member and board executive. Attendance is primarily member-based, and it’s a tight-knit community, mostly independent consultants who have decades of experience working with businesses to address their communications tech needs. Their collective expertise is unparalleled, and as an analyst, I find them to be a great resource for how buyers and end users are really using communications technology – and what these end users have identified as problem areas.
The conference covered a lot of important ground, including perspectives on AI – both the opportunities and risks -- plus NG911, the state of legacy telephony, contact centers, regulatory climate, security and consulting best practices. There was a lot of learning, and more importantly sharing, which I’ve always found to be a real strength of this community.
Most of what I took in aligns with what I’m seeing in my analyst work, and provides first-hand validation around the challenges businesses of all sizes are facing with new technology. When it comes to AI, consultants struggle just as much as their clients, and I liked hearing about their practical walk-before-you-run approach to getting clients on this path.
In terms of star power, the big get was having Mitel cofounder Sir Terry Matthews provide a keynote, and it’s too bad this wasn’t a public event, as I’m sure many others would have come just to see him. He’s a true tech legend, especially in Canada. This being Mitel’s 50th anniversary – stop and think about that for a moment – I wanted to celebrate that, and got the ball rolling with SCTC to bring him to speak. (I got a nice selfie with Sir Terry, but on the condition that I don’t post it anywhere, so you’ll have to badger me in-person to see it.)
Oh, and yes, the SIPtones got to perform, but you kinda had to be there. The next best thing would be to check out recent videos and photos of us on my website, and soon I’ll be adding some clips there from our Raleigh gig. Anybody need to hire a band?
Stop 2 - VON Evolution, New York – Oct. 31-Nov. 2
This event is far from the mainstream, but for anyone connected to VoIP’s early days, this community remains the epicenter of knowledge and innovation for how voice technology evolved from analog to digital. You won’t find a more diverse collection anywhere of voices across all ages, as well as types of technology related to the world of communications.
The transformative opportunity that speakers see in AI parallels what several people on hand saw with VoIP some 20 years ago. They’ve seen this movie before, and for the young entrepreneurs on hand, lessons learned from the last big technological disruption were passed on, especially for understanding the regulatory climate and properly structuring your company to protect your intellectual property.
A key difference, however is that with VoIP, the disruption came from startups, and the incumbents employed a variety of tactics to prevent them from getting a toehold in the telephony market. With AI, much of the disruption may come from startups, but it’s clear that Big Tech will be driving this market, and in the absence of regulation, the AI gold rush kinda seems over before it really begins.
Unlike the incumbent telcos, Big Tech incumbents will not be displaced, and various concerns were voiced during the sessions. It’s worth noting that these concerns had less to do with the technology behind AI, and are more so about whether Big Tech companies will behave responsibly, along with the many ways that bad actors will abuse AI and overshadow AI for good.
Concerns such as personal privacy, monopolistic practices, squeezing out smaller players, lax regulations, etc. are valid as Big Tech casts an ever-larger shadow over just about every facet of our daily lives. That said, even deeper concerns were passionately articulated by Larry Irving, Chairman of the Board at PBS, the public broadcaster. While it’s not realistic to expect everyone to watch PBS all the time, he noted that 51% of Americans do not trust the media, and, 78% of the population no longer has access to local newspapers.
With the rise of digital media – and now AI – fake news is becoming normalized, and with fewer trustworthy sources, it’s getting much harder for citizens to be duly informed. Bad actors know this, and are leveraging these technologies to undermine the Fourth Estate – the media – which Larry sees as being “foundational for democracy”. For those who share this view – myself included – the concerns about AI are much bigger than finding new ways to monetize Tik Tok or making enterprise networks more efficient. Is this really the world we want, and is it too late to make it more human-centric? These are the issues Jeff is bringing to the fore at VON Evolution.
On that ominous note, it’s time to move on to the next event, but if you want to learn more about VON Evolution and Jeff’s perspectives, I’ll steer you to my takeaways blog post.
Stop 3 – Verint Analyst Days, Scottsdale, Arizona– Nov. 13-15
This was my first time attending a Verint event, and being analyst-only, it was a different vibe than VON Evolution. CEO Dan Bodner set the tone from the start, explaining that customer expectations have been rising, but businesses have fewer resources and time to address this. Many businesses are not yet customer-centric, and simply have higher priorities than CX; and with IT being chronically overextended, they have limited time to learn about newer technologies that can help contact centers. Overall, this creates a CX gap that only automation can address. Based on that simple premise, Verint has gone all-in with chatbots for the solution. That’s great if you trust bots, and for those who don’t, Verint needs to keep telling their story, and I happen to think it’s a pretty good one.
Their approach is to develop “specialized bots,” built around an open framework, where each bot is purpose-built for a specific task. Since these bots are only used within existing workflows, they will not be disruptive - presuming they’re being applied to a well-defined problem set. Common examples cited included call containment, session wrap up, call transfer, performance coaching, knowledge suggestion and sentiment scoring.
These examples may not all be self-explanatory, but the important idea is that each bot is designed to augment a specific role (within existing workflows), and to automate a specific function. By using AI to automate various tasks, the end result is a more cost-effective operation, and improved CX. This may seem like a small-scale approach to the big problem of modernizing the contact center, but with AI being so new and complex, it’s a very practical way of bringing AI to market in smaller pieces that are easy to digest.
So far, they have 35 such bots in the market, with many more on the way. Supporting all this is a platform with three elements, starting with Da Vinci AI, which is their “bot factory” where the chatbots are developed. These are the basic bots, which are then trained in the Verint Data Hub, or the “gym” in their parlance. This is where the bots are infused with “relevant data” that Verint captures from ongoing customer interactions (built up over 25 years), using AI tools to fine-tune responses across all imaginable scenarios.
Once fine-tuned (trained) in the “gym”, the third element – Verint Workflows – delivers them to agents ready-to-go, automating tasks without agents needing to expend effort or changing the way they work.
While a lot of time was spent explaining all this in detail, things were less clear about their Open CCaaS Platform. Verint’s go-to-market is more about bots than being a CCaaS player, although they do support most forms of CCaaS functionality. I didn’t come away viewing them as a CCaaS provider, as their demos were mainly about how their bots can be deployed across various CCaaS workflows.
Bottom line – their value proposition as a bot provider to augment CX and agent performance is pretty clear. They have rightly steered away from telephony, and this is not a problem set they’re trying to solve. Voice may well be a channel for CX workflows, but Verint is not vying to be your voice provider. In that regard, I thought they did a great job articulating their sweet spot in terms of three types of customers.
The first type has aging infrastructure where their contact center operation is breaking down or just not able to support current workloads. These customers have to modernize, and are ready now to make changes. This is a great scenario for Verint, since there is very little automation, so they’re getting in on the ground floor with bots.
The second type is still functioning, but not yet in the mindset for cloud and digital transformation. They typically have limited budget to spend, and since Verint’s bots are deployed on a case-by-case basis, the investment to get started is manageable.
Finally, the third type is asking about digital transformation, but not for telephony. They aren’t having issues with dial tone or their voice capabilities, so they’re not looking for a true CCaaS provider to take them on this journey. Chatbots are a great way to get them started, though, and that makes Verint an ideal technology partner.
Having been to many vendor events recently, it’s fair to say that Verint is an engineering-driven company, and that shows with how they’re going to market. Their messaging may seem obtuse at times, but clearly, the company is having success, both with strong revenue growth and margins north of 70%. Furthermore, with marketing being the lens through which I view technology, I really like how they laid out these three customer personae. That shows that they really understand their market, and when you combine that with leading edge technology, It's easy to understand why they're having success.
The Bigger Picture
The analyst life is occasionally glamorous, but travel does get weary after a while, and it’s hard work to stay current; both with all-consuming technologies like AI and cloud, as well as all the individual companies we follow. Every event has its own merit, and by sharing highlights from three of them here, I hope you get a bigger picture about the state of these technologies and what they mean for your business.
We cover a lot of ground as analysts, and I hope you can see that wherever we travel, everyone – and every company – struggles with the same issues. Nobody has got this all figured out – not even BigTech – and I believe your best strategy is to keep an open mind about what’s happening, not just in your own industry, but beyond.
This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.