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Vonage to ‘Turbocharge’ AI Efforts
As my colleague Eric Krapf, GM of Enterprise Connect, wrote last week in his EC blog, artificial intelligence (AI) in enterprise and contact center communications “is happening.” While that means a whole lot of promise for enterprises, it also means a whole lot of hunting around for that oh-so-necessary AI talent that providers require to turn their technology plans into reality.
Such was the impetus for Vonage’s acquisition of voice AI firm Over.ai, announced last week. “We needed to accelerate — turbocharge, if you will — building up our expertise and depth in artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Omar Javaid, president of Vonage’s API platform (Nexmo), told me in a No Jitter briefing.
Vonage has had a working partnership with Over.ai, which has built a voice and conversational AI platform, for a little over a year, Javaid said. When the acquisition opportunity presented itself, Vonage jumped at the chance, he added. “The short of it is that we really liked the team.”
Via its voice and conversational AI platform, Over.ai provides intelligent virtual assistant functionality via APIs so that businesses can do more with their IVR systems. Vonage has been experimenting with Over.ai to provide a “smart IVR” system using bots to answer questions from customers calling into contact centers, explained Sagi Dudai, Vonage CTO, during the briefing. In applying conversational AI to phone lines, Vonage said it’s looking to help companies lower operational costs while improving the service they provide.
Besides its intellectual property in conversational AI, Vonage is acquiring Over.ai’s technical team of 23 from i.am+, an AI technology platform that purchased the company about three years ago. Over.ai is an Israeli company, and the team will join Vonage’s R&D hub in Tel Aviv.
In the last five years, Over.ai has gone deep on AI and machine learning, with a particular focus of late on “everything related to natural language processing and natural language understanding,” which we find adjacent to what we do and is the technology we need,” Dudai said.
Reiterating that the Over.ai acquisition will bolster Vonage’s AI skill set, Javaid noted that the new talent will help further the work Vonage has been doing to bring conversational AI to the contact center as one of Google’s Contact Center AI (CCAI) partners, Javaid said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, well, you have Google CCAI, you’re done. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done still, and now we have more of the kind of expertise that requires,” he added.
AI is fueling a transformation in enterprise communications, and Vonage sees a role for it within its flagship UCaaS application, its CCaaS offering, as well as a new API product or enhancement to existing products, Javaid said.
“For the last 20 years, everybody’s been focused on getting the least cost per voice minute … to get audio conferencing as cheap and as ubiquitous as possible. That's great, and that’s what has happened. But it’s happened at the expensive of the overall audio or voice experience,” Javaid said. “So one of the things that we've looked at, for example, is what we can do this with artificial intelligence and machine learning technique to really improve the overall audio experience.”
After all, voice and conference calls are so very central to the way a lot of businesses continue to operate, he said. “If we can improve those experiences, AI will yield big benefits.”