Google Clouds Enterprise Communications

At Google Next 2018, Google expanded its reach into enterprise communications with two major announcements. The first, Google Contact Center AI, will strengthen, improve, and accelerate a variety of customer engagement solutions with Google's AI capabilities (see related No Jitter post). The second is an upcoming, reimagined Google Voice for business that makes Google-hosted telephony available to G Suite subscribers.

Google Next, taking place this week in San Francisco, is a broad conference that covers the Google Cloud portfolio, including G Suite, Android, and Chrome. The conference has more than 25,000 registered attendees, and the company claims that the event marks the company's largest. Artificial intelligence (AI), security, and trust are the major themes, interweaved into most of the announcements.

Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene, at Next '18

The Google Cloud Contact Center AI

Contact Center AI, announced yesterday, is an AI-as-a-platform service aimed at contact center partners. It's a clever expansion of Google's AI reach. Effective machine learning requires the ability to apply an AI engine to meaningful data sets. Google does this alone with the data it collects from the Internet and its apps, but requires partnerships to unlock data within the enterprise.

Google Cloud Contact Center AI, in limited trials today, is expected to be released to partners toward the end of the year. The partners, in turn, will likely release the capabilities to their customers in early 2019. Nine partners have already announced various levels of support; these include Cisco, Five9, Genesys, RingCentral, and Vonage.

The AI-based suite of services is intended to improve customer self-service applications as well as provide agents with contextual guidance. The portfolio has several components: Virtual Agent, Agent Assist, and Analytics, as described in yesterday's post by contact center analyst and No Jitter blogger Sheila McGee-Smith.

Virtual Agent is a conversational, Google-powered chatbot that interacts with customers. It uses Google's Enterprise Edition of Dialogflow, a natural language understanding platform, for speech and textual recognition.

If Virtual Agent is unsuccessful with a resolution, Agent Assist takes over. The call, along with the up-to-the-moment transcript, transfers to an agent. Agent Assist makes use of enterprise knowledge bases to provide information and potential resolutions to the agent as the call continues. Companies also can use Agent Assist without the self-service front end.

The Analytics component provides trends and other information regarding interactions across channels. Google tools, such as Topic Modeler, offer insights and understanding that can result in improved workflows.

Although the tools themselves are identical, Contact Center AI partners can differentiate in how they leverage them and customer data to affect outcomes, so their integrations of the three components vary in degree and scope. Also, the suite itself doesn't assure ongoing learning from the data, but the tools enable it.

By most measures Google is the leader in AI. Making its AI resources available to partners democratizes the technology, expands Google's reach, and ideally, broadly improves customer service. Google intends to replicate this modular approach of AI building blocks for other sectors.

Google Voice

Google Voice, announced today, is the newest real-time addition to G -Suite, which already includes three flavors of Hangouts: Classic, Meet (conferencing), and Chat (workstream collaboration). Google Voice, currently in customer trials, is due for general availability early next year.

Google Voice will launch in 10 western countries, including the U.S. and Canada, with a "base level" set of features, powerful transcription and translation capabilities, and voicemail spam filtering. Google has stated. Google Voice will only be available as an add-on for G Suite subscribers.

Google provided no details regarding supported endpoints, pricing, APIs, or if/how Google Voice will integrate with Hangouts or third-party services.

Google's expansion into UCaaS has been expected for about a decade. The original Google Voice, a call-forwarding service, launched in 2009. Google has the opportunity to create a rich, highly integrated UCaaS offer that would tightly interconnect with its mobile solutions (Android, Chromebooks, and Fi), AI-powered services, and room systems. However, this initial release looks to be fairly basic.

It's puzzling why Google opted to create a new UCaaS offer rather than acquiring a provider that would have enabled it to accelerate the size of the base, the features enabled, and the countries supported. It will likely take several years for Google to build its voice service out, and that will put a gray cloud over its ecosystem of partners.

Among the "coopetition" elephants in the room are companies such as Cisco, Mitel, RingCentral, and Vonage, all of which presented the benefits of their contact center partnerships with Google. Coopetition creates confusion for customers and partners. For example, many G Suite customers today have duplicate solutions for instant messaging (via a UCaaS provider and in Hangouts).

The UCaaS providers I spoke with are concerned about Google's market entry, but generally optimistic. They see Google's expansion into voice as validation of the UCaaS opportunity. While Google may be able to build out a broad integration advantage, it will first have to develop competitive solutions for voice, video, and workstream collaboration. While the contact center vendors are embracing their partnership with Google, the UCaaS providers are a bit more cautious about Google Voice.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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