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Cisco Retools Leadership Team, Embraces CC Changes

Last week, Cisco named Omar Tawakol its new VP and GM of the Cisco Contact Center division. Depending on your point of view, this announcement was a surprise or completely predictable.
Those surprised saw a business unit that didn’t require change. It recently reported that revenues were up, and goals were on target. Cisco just announced the integration of Webex Calling into its CCaaS offer, recently renamed to Webex Contact Center. Also, it announced its first contact center acquisition (in years) with the recent purchase of CloudCherry. Vasili Triant, the leader for the past few years, was well regarded by customers, analysts, and employees.
Those unsurprised have observed a series of changes since Amy Chang arrived last year as the SVP of Cisco Collaboration, which includes the contact center division. Chang has orchestrated several changes, including emphasizing the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) to leadership teams.
Amy Chang and Cisco Changes
At Enterprise Connect last March, she presented her vision of what Cisco terms as Cognitive Collaboration. The term isn’ t meant to convey a specific set of features or capabilities but instead intended to describe an increasing set of seamless contextual features interwoven into business interactions. For example, features such as Webex Assistant, transcription, facial detection, People Insights, and more make interactions more effective.
While telephony and meetings are getting a boost from natural language understanding (NLU) technologies, the big payoff is likely to occur in the contact center. Here, contextual awareness can have a leveraged impact on revenue and customer loyalty, while simultaneously reducing turnover and training costs. Most communications vendors, especially contact center providers, are aggressively evaluating and acquiring natural language technologies.
That’s why it was no big surprise last August when Cisco Collaboration announced its acquisition of Voicea. The company uses NLU to provide real-time solutions such as meeting transcription, voice search, and simplified shared meeting highlights and action items.
At that time, Cisco stated its motivation for the acquisition was to enhance its Webex portfolio with a transcription service that blends AI and automated speech recognition (ASR). Cisco expected that Voicea technologies would enable participants to easily transform spoken conversations into digital notes, insights, and actionable information. The acquisition appeared to be conceptually similar to several others. For example, during that same month, Vonage announced the acquisition of selected assets from Also recently, we saw 8x8 buy MarianaIQ, and Dialpad purchase TalkIQ.
Many of these acquisitions are really “acquis-hires.” That is the teams with AI knowledge were deemed more valuable than their products. Often, AI companies are in search of a data-intensive problem to solve, and many communications companies are searching for experts to make the most of their data.
What Tawakol Brings to the Table?
Omar Tawakol, founder and former CEO, Voicea, knows how to leverage AI technologies in order to harness speech in the workplace. Prior to Voicea, he co-founded Blue Kai and ran it for over eight years before it was acquired by Oracle. Tawakol is a proven entrepreneur who happens to have enterprise credentials and direct experience in voice and AI.
Blue Kai mined enterprise data for intelligent marketing, not a far cry from what the contact center industry continues to promise. It did so by harvesting a variety of internal and external data sources to better understand customers. Not a far cry from what Chang’s Accompany did before Cisco acquired it. Both Forbes and Fast Company recognized Blue Kai for its innovative use of big data.
Chang met Tawakol while she was running Accompany, and he was running Blue Kai . Evidently, Silicon Valley AI entrepreneurs with Stanford engineering degrees tend to know each other.
Tawakol brings to Cisco’s contact center division a fresh perspective. The industry is undergoing a rapid technical transformation, and we’ re seeing executives from other sectors entering the contact center space. For example, earlier this year, Tony Bates (Skype, GoPro) took the CEO role at Genesys.
What this Means for the Future of CCaaS?
For decades the contact center has benefited from incremental improvements around routing and self-service, but that’s not enough anymore. As we (slowly) move from premises-based contact centers to cloud-delivered engagement, success will require a new set of skills. Services must be built on a modularized, scalable architecture that leverages and generates data in new ways. The goal is to radically change customer interactions to be more engaging, create higher loyalty, and identify new revenue opportunities.
Of course, with every leadership change, there’s a learning and grouping phase along with a risk of ongoing staffing changes. Tawakol brings a new perspective but needs to get up to speed on contact centers generally, and the Cisco portfolio specifically. Timing may be good as CCaaS is poised to explode. There’s no shortage of innovation in cloud or AI, and the way we communicate with each other and brands is undergoing significant changes.
Dave Michels is Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.