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Humanizing Collaboration: AI’s Next Frontier?

Over the past several years, we’ve seen incredible AI-enabled enhancements in enterprise communications. Innovations that are making communications more contextual, intelligent, and useful. One simple example is auto framing in video meetings, which can now be purchased for room systems for as low as $2,000. It’s remarkable that we have cameras that can pan-tilt-zoom automatically. The result of these enhancements: Video meetings are becoming more engaging.
AI is going to radically change everything, despite it being already all around us – touching our lives in many ways. More innovative solutions are coming, from self-driving cars to household robots. However, it appears that enterprise communications picked the low-hanging fruit in regard to AI-powered enhancements. There have been some other great wins recently, including noise filtering, quality metrics, and more.
The value from AI technologies such as chatbots, assisted agent, and even transcription remains elusive. Chatbots offer an incremental improvement over the IVR, but they are still best utilized with a narrow range of expected inputs. Instead of pressing zero, now we can say “representative.”
Most systems are barely grasping words, let alone sentences. We have all these antonyms, cinnamons, homophones, and homonyms that are hard to get write. If the transcription isn’t reliable, then translation doesn’t stand a chance. Some systems are beginning to string context across a few phrases, but associating “I just landed in Rome” with overseas travel is beyond the grasp of most commercially available solutions.
The technology is improving. Unfortunately, the incredible breakthroughs in the labs are years away from solving these challenges in the field. Science fiction will continue to become real, but what about today’s enterprise needs?
My advice is to stop counting on AI as the magic bullet. Let’s take our AI winnings to the bank and innovate further with human attributes. Instead of artificial intelligence, let’s focus more on emotional intelligence. We need to select tools and applications that facilitate better communications, build trust among colleagues, improve flexibility and empathy, and spread self-efficacy.
In technical terms, I’m talking about moving up the stack. We have the technology to see and hear people and content in HD quality, now let’s focus on connecting.
There are clues that we’re moving up the stack. Cisco’s People Insights gives meeting participants information to improve connections. Cisco Collaboration also has several human-centered initiatives underway and offers engagement metrics. Slack is touting engagement as a more reliable indicator over licenses or daily active users. I also like how Zoom can use shared slides as a virtual background, literally putting the human before the content. BlueJeans recent Smart Meeting announcement with its message of “the right combination of machine and human intelligence for a better meeting experience” also speaks to this.
The role of IT (and its suppliers) have changed. Traditionally, IT was about the technology. Technology vendors and IT organizations are focused on deploying and supporting technology, not encouraging its proper use.
This is changing. Both vendors and enterprise IT teams are now becoming more focused on driving adoption and engagement. This is being driven in part by costs of unused software and the risks of non-approved applications, but it’s also about driving engagement.
Humans are complex. Sometimes, open office systems drive collaboration, other times stifle it. Some workers like being connected, and others get overwhelmed with the chatter. Finding the right balance for each employee will be the next focus for enterprise communications. We need to do more than give each employee a voice – we need to build connections.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.