Get Smart about AI & Enterprise Collaboration

In the olden days, it used to be that you could convey intelligence by describing somebody as being "smart as a steel trap." Then "smart as a whip" came into vogue. Now you might say "smart as Watson."

IBM's Watson is not the only digital smarty pants out there, but it has arguably come to epitomize the possibilities of technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive computing in the ever-more lifelike give-and-take between man and machine. And IBM has successfully moved Watson, which it describes as a technology platform for analyzing unstructured data and delivering insights, from a quiz show game-playing demonstration to real-world business use and applicability.

Of course IBM doesn't have a monopoly on cognitive intelligence, but it sure does seem to be everywhere these days, especially in regards to the enterprise communications and collaboration space. Read today's No Jitter post, "Cognitive for Everyone: IBM's Open Approach to Watson," covering all the latest news to come out around IBM Watson, and you'll see what I mean. Apple, Cisco, Genband, and Slack... they all seem to want to take advantage of Watson insight in their communications or collaboration solutions, if not at this very moment then in the future.

portable

As you might expect, AI contenders include the likes of Google, with DeepMind, and of course Microsoft, which just recently released a beta version of its Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit.

Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana doesn't have quite the same cachet as Watson at this point, but Microsoft, too, is busily amassing an AI portfolio. It offers the Cortana Intelligence Suite, Cognitive Services APIs, and the Bot Framework, for example, and CEO Satya Nadella made it quite clear in the AI-heavy innovation keynote he delivered a few weeks back at Microsoft's annual Ignite customer conference that it sees a future in which it helps weave intelligence into everything, everywhere.

During that keynote he talked about democratizing AI, in part by building an AI supercomputer that will live in the cloud and be open for everyone as they look for new ways of tackling challenges, "large and small." He further discussed the idea of infusing applications -- all of those with which it interacts -- with intelligence, and giving app developers the world over with open access to those same intelligent capabilities.

I could carry on rattling off various vendors and their AI initiatives -- innovation in this space is happening at a rapid clip. It seems only yesterday (but really, a half dozen or so years ago) that the term "big data" hit our business consciousness, and we were trying to get our minds around what it meant to be able to apply advanced analytical engines to data that didn't live all nice and tidy in the bits and bytes of structured databases. Today we barely bat an eye at the thought of having a machine learning algorithm plow through our calendar invites, text messages, audio transcripts, and other unstructured miscellany of daily work to provide us insight in the form of guidance and next-steps advice. IBM calls this the "insight economy," saying we've arrived at the "era of cognitive business."

In a post-Cisco Live No Jitter blog back in July, UC analyst Dave Michels recapped the company's plans for "Monica," a virtual digital assistant for the enterprise conference room that Cisco intends to infuse with AI (perhaps from Watson) so it can do those sort of things. As he wrote, "... there are a variety of tasks associated with conferencing where any (artificial or natural) intelligence is helpful. For example, if a key participant is missing from the meeting, the first part of the meeting involves searching and dialing. 'Monica, please find Jim' has potential.

One of my favorite examples comes from Disruptive Analysis founder Dean Bubley, shared during an educational session on contextual communications he delivered a year ago at a local conference. You can read the full multifaceted example in this No Jitter post, but the piece I like most revolves around a business traveler, who while waiting for his flight calls a potential client. Upon recognizing the number dialed, his AI-fueled phone app pulls up the client's user profile, and prior to connecting the call, gives the traveler a tip: "Hey, this client doesn't mind a little humor, but he's going to want you to get to the point quickly." And then the app sticks around, nudging the caller from time to time to, "Stop waffling," or "Close the deal."

When we start thinking about scenarios such as this and applying the same concepts to other types of business communications streams, it's hard not to see AI's promise. From the contact center to the everyday business call to the team workspace, AI would seem to hold a heck of a lot of potential for improving how we work, making us more productive, and boosting the overall communications experience. But it comes with downsides too, like the potential for some serious privacy violations. So, we have to temper our enthusiasm and ask, "Will AI truly disrupt enterprise collaboration?

To help us answer that question, we'll be convening an industry summit on cognitive and contextual communications at Enterprise Connect 2017, taking place March 27 to 30 in Orlando. If AI is on your mind and EC a destination for you this coming spring, be sure to block out time to attend our Wednesday afternoon "Summit on the Lawn: Cognitive & Contextual -- Can AI Disrupt Enterprise Collaboration?"

Register now with code NOJITTER for $300 off an Entire Event pass or get a FREE Expo Plus pass. See you there!

Follow Beth Schultz and No Jitter on Twitter and Google+!
@nojitter
@Beth_Schultz
Beth Schultz on Google+