Top Contact Center Stories of 2017

  • Artificial Intelligence Groundswell

    If you had to choose a subject that emerged as a unifying theme across the contact center market in 2017, you'd have to go with artificial intelligence (AI). Certainly, AI has been a topic of discussion before now. IBM, which first brought its Watson AI platform to attention when it played Jeopardy against human champions, announced the Watson API in 2013 to allow other software developers to use Watson AI. Similarly, Salesforce announced its Einstein AI platform in 2016.

    In 2017, however, we saw a groundswell -- multiple contact center software vendors announcing, incorporating, trialing, and sometimes delivering chat bot, predictive routing, and other types of machine learning and natural language understanding (NLU). In the slides that follow we'll discuss some of these developments as well as other significant changes that occurred in the past 12 months.

  • Avaya Looks Ahead
    Avaya had a tough 2017, 11 months of which it spent declaring, resolving, and emerging from a Chapter 11 financial restructuring. Just days after it announced the successful conclusion of the Chapter 11 proceedings, Avaya talked to industry analysts about future product and go-to-market plans.

    Avaya shows AI on this slide, presented by Karen Hardy, VP of product and solutions marketing, but understandably the technology plays a relatively minor role as the company discusses its 2018 focus. Creating and delivering a succinct cloud story, message and offer simplification, and vertical solutions are the big agenda items. In fact, AI -- along with the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and analytics -- are shown as "consultative services." That seems to imply that Avaya will create professional services solutions in conjunction with key customers, but that these areas will not be the drivers of broad product development in the short term.

  • Amazon Connect Meets Amazon Lex

    The biggest piece of news at Enterprise Connect 2017, in March, was the launch of Amazon Connect, a contact center service announced by Amazon Web Services. At the time, AWS described an Alexa-like AI feature that uses NLU and speech recognition. The technology, called Lex, was reportedly in beta trials at the time and would be available at a future unspecified date.

    In August, AWS announced it had completed the integration of Amazon Connect and Amazon Lex. It described Lex as a service for building conversational interfaces using voice and text. By integrating these two services, Connect contact centers can take advantage of Lex's automatic speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP)/NLU capabilities to create great self-service experiences.

  • Cisco Acquires MindMeld

    In May 2017, Cisco acquired a leader in the emerging area of conversational AI. In filings, the company said, "We acquired MindMeld to bring artificial intelligence capabilities into our collaboration portfolio focused on the future of conversational user interfaces." In November, Cisco announced Spark Assistant, the first product to incorporate MindMeld (and other AI) technology. With Spark Assistant, Cisco aims to improve the meeting experience -- and the company clearly has customer care plans for MindMeld's technology as well. In a whitepaper, "Customer Experience in 2020," Cisco discusses MindMeld, saying, "Cisco plans to introduce intelligent assistants in product, marketing, and support."

  • Cisco Acquiring BroadSoft

    While much has been written about the UC and contact center cloud applications and carrier relationships Cisco will acquire when it finalizes its purchase of BroadSoft later this year, an AI element may come into play as well.

    BroadSoft has been selling CC-One, a CCaaS solution, for the last year, since its acquisition of Transera. As seen in this slide's "Intelligence" column, BroadSoft shows predictive and prescriptive analytics, and in the "Improvements" column, next best action. These terms imply that BroadSoft is either already applying elements of machine learning or is at the penultimate step before incorporating AI components. It'll be interesting to watch Cisco's post-acquisition roadmap to see if CC-One's Analyzer survives.

  • Five9 Next Step: Chat Bots & IoT
    Five9 has had NLP and sentiment analysis functionality since 2014, using technology from its 2013 acquisition of SoCoCare. In 2016, Five9 built a foundation of customer journey analytics and proactive notification in its Virtual Contact Center releases (with contributing, embedded technology from Altocloud). In 2017 the company expanded its geographic footprint globally.

    These foundational steps prepare Five9 to tackle both AI -- initially in the form of chat bots -- as well as the IoT in 2018.

  • Genesys Announces Kate

    In 2016, the big news from Genesys was its acquisition of Interactive Intelligence. At an industry analyst meeting in November 2017, CEO Paul Segre "declared success," stating that integration activities were complete.

    Kate, announced in May 2017 at the Genesys CX 17 user/partner/consultant/analyst event in Indianapolis, is the platform for incorporating AI into the Genesys portfolio. An important element of Kate is the concept of "blended AI;" the goal is to work with and assist live agents, not replace them.

    The slide highlights three of the initial AI deliverables under the Kate umbrella:

    • Predictive routing, to fine-tune the routing of interactions to agents
    • Workforce optimization, using AI to improve existing workforce and quality management algorithms
    • Automation, improving and extending self-service options for customers via features such as chat bots, always providing the option to move to a live agent with context

  • NICE inContact CXone

    Acquired by NICE in 2016, inContact re-branded to NICE inContact in the summer of 2017 and announced a new name for its flagship solution, CXone. The graphic shows a "marketectural" plan for the solution. Available today are omnichannel routing and components of analytics and workforce optimization. The omnichannel capabilities are the continuing evolution of the inContact cloud contact center solution. The analytics in CXone combines elements from the NICE portfolio as well as from technology acquired by inContact from Attensity in 2016.

    NICE inContact will continue enhancing all three of the existing CXone pillars in 2018 and beyond. In addition, with these foundational elements in place, the next step for NICE inContact is to add automation and AI components. In each of these areas, NICE has existing solutions. The task is to re-build these as cloud capabilities, integrated with the other CXone elements.

  • Salesforce myEinstein

    Announced in September 2016, the Salesforce AI platform, Einstein, continues to evolve. Salesforce announced the next generation of the AI machine learning platform -- myEinstein -- at Dreamforce 2017. myEinstein will enable administrators and developers of all skill levels to build custom AI apps across Salesforce without requiring coding skills.

    The first myEinstein service being delivered is Einstein Prediction Builder, which lets administrators create AI models that can predict business outcomes (see No Jitter post, "Salesforce Expands AI Toolkit"). For example, a mobile phone provider could monitor for changes in calling patterns or data usage, and proactively offer new plans to customers.

  • Talkdesk and Einstein

    In early November 2017, Talkdesk announced -- quoting a No Jitter post -- "its first official foray into artificial intelligence, Talkdesk for Sales." Talkdesk made the Talkdesk for Sales announcement, including a feature called SalesAssist, in the run-up to Dreamforce 2017.

    As Talkdesk describes it, SalesAssist uses AI and voice analytics to pinpoint relevant conversations that can help sales reps better answer questions in real time. SalesAssist includes the ability to transcribe calls and highlight important moments, such as the mention of a competitor.

    During a Dreamforce session, Talkdesk COO Gadi Shamia talked about a next step in Talkdesk AI, AgentAssist. Similar to SalesAssist, this tool would use word transcription, Salesforce Einstein for sentiment analysis, and current context to suggest next best actions an agent should take with a customer.

  • Executive Changes
    When two contact center market leaders assessed new executive talent in 2017, they chose executives with AI experience:

    • In July, Genesys brought in Olivier Jouve as EVP at Genesys PureCloud. Given that former Interactive Intelligence CEO Don Brown was also essentially the CTO that drove PureCloud development, Genesys needed to find an executive that could not only pick up where Brown left off but create a vision for PureCloud's future that mapped with the broader Genesys strategy.

      Prior to Genesys, Jouve spend 18 months as VP, Watson IoT Connected Operations, at IBM. Before that, at IBM Analytics, he was a director for product management and strategy. Analytics, IoT, and Watson are three areas of strength for Jouve that map well to Genesys' AI plans. In November, Genesys announced integration of PureCloud with Amazon Lex.

    • As the year closed, Avaya hired Mercer Rowe in the new role of SVP and GM, cloud. The level of the title signals Avaya's intention to come out of the gate in 2018 with an expanded focus on cloud.

      Like Jouve, Rowe's last position was with IBM Watson, as VP, strategic partners, Watson, and cloud platform. With IBM just two years, Rowe spent seven years before that with VMware, most recently as CEO of VMware vCloud Service G.K., a joint venture between VMware and SoftBank formed to bring VMware vCloud Air into the Japanese market.
  • Enterprise Connect 2018

    Given the importance of AI in the current and future customer care planning of enterprise companies, it's not surprising that AI will be a key theme in several sessions in the Contact Center & Customer Experience Track I'll be chairing at Enterprise Connect this March 12 to 15 in Orlando, Fla. With the new Hot Topics sorting in the Enterprise Connect Schedule Builder, you'll note most of our sessions include AI content. Check out sessions such as:

    Register now using my speaker code, MCGEE-SMITH, and save $500 on Entire Event and Tue-Thu Conference passes.

A look at the groundswell of activity around artificial intelligence, and more