CLOUD COMMUNICATIONS

August 23, 2018

Will Natural Language Voice AI Raise the Bar for Real Time Communications Service Providers?

Since the late 1990s, when modem tones first became a common in offices, accessing the internet meant typing on a keyboard.  Even with the explosion of smart phones a decade later, the clicking went away but the virtual keyboard remained. Yes, the internet has massively enhanced how we connect and communicate but we’re all still using a QWERTY keyboard designed for a 19th century typewriter to access it?   

Thankfully Siri, Alexa and similar voice-activated assistants came into our lives and began to show us we could ask for directions, get the weather or play some music sans QWERTY.  Of course, as we’ve seen with other consumer oriented technology, users quickly found ways to apply it to solve business problem.  So, it’s no surprise that the time has come natural language voice Artificial Intelligence (AI) to focus on improving business communications.

Earlier this week, Ribbon Communications relayed that they have partnered with Over.ai to incorporate Over.ai’s platform into Ribbon’s cloud services solution, Kandy.  AI services will be used to enhance Kandy’s Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and Cloud Platform as a Service (CPaaS) offers.  Over.ai is a new name in the space but they have the backing of some of Silicon Valley’s heavyweights.

The partnership will initially focus on improving employee productivity by incorporating virtual assistant services into Kandy’s Unified Communications (UC) clients and enhancing customer engagement by streamlining contact center services.

Initially, Over.ai’s capabilities are being integrated into Kandy’s Live Support Wrapper, enabling customers to start their journey from a company’s website, engage 24/7 with an AI-based agent for frontline requests and at any time seamlessly escalate to a live agent, if needed.

Ribbon is also integrating Over.ai’s virtual assistant “Omega” into its Smart Office UC clients,  making it easy for users to send emails, texts, set up meetings, take action items on conference calls, or get answers to common questions via ordinary voice interactions. Leveraging natural voice commands, users can instantly engage with co-workers and customers whether in the office or on the move.

Ribbon’s Jeff Singman noted in their announcement, “Natural language AI creates an impactful new way to interact with business tools. Combining this innovative interaction model with our UC services makes it easy for end users to get more done. Customers can also reduce costs by leveraging AI as an intelligent first level of contact for sales or customer support, freeing up staff cycles for higher value engagements.”

“Voice AI is really about enablement and simplifying processes. Users can simply ask for the information they need or give task-related commands, and get results more quickly, easily and cost-effectively,” said Noam Fine, CEO of Over.ai. “These benefits translate to multiple use cases, whether by adopting virtual agents to extend a customer’s access to your sales or support team or improving staff productivity via task automation. We’re excited to integrate with Ribbon’s extensive portfolio of UC and CPaaS tools to deliver accurate and impactful results.”

The relationship between UC, CPaaS and AI is a natural fit because AI has the ability to improve productivity by expediting workflows and freeing up valuable labor to take on higher impact tasks.  (Can’t we find something better for a six figure manager to do besides spend 20 minutes scheduling a meeting?) And AI paired with big data analytics can help improve everything from faster and more convenient customer service to improving decision making and helping predict the future.

AI has another role to play in terms of rationalizing our collective communications Inbox. There are so many more methods of communication today, from collaborative platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams, to mobile messaging and video conferencing, that many of us are finding it hard to keep up with all the modalities, both those sanctioned and provided by IT and all the personal favorites employees merge into their own personal workflows.

Sure, each of these tools is designed to increase productivity, but when the noise to signal ratio starts to create “channel confusion”.  AI offers service providers a way to calm the chaos by letting AI sort out that noise and leave only the signal.  It’s like a static filter for a distant radio station, except the result is more time to focus on the communications that require a response… What would you pay to watch your inbox drop by 20% or 40% so you could focus on your real work?  (and… we are on day 1, think about voice and  facial recognition, automated introductions on secure conference calls, and a million vertical specific uses cases).

Ribbon’s news is part of a growing trend across the communications landscape as AI takes a more prominent place in product development roadmaps and CIO’s plans.  Contact center managers are especially interested as a well-designed AI “agent” has the potential to answer common questions all by itself and/or collect data prior to getting a more expensive live agent involved. And since the engagement is based on natural language, it’s not as frustrating as legacy IVRs or FAQs on websites.  So, not only is the AI agent less expensive, in many cases the experience is actually better as users aren’t waiting on hold and have 24/7 access to information.  A recent IBM study1 confirmed that none of us like to wait and that 52% of us will hang up if we wait too long.  Considering that same study found that businesses spend $1.3 trillion on 256 billion customer services calls, there are some huge impacts to AI being successfully deployed.   

Considering the stakes, it’s no surprise that major technology players like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM are spending billions. Concurrently, countless smaller companies, like Over.ai, are searching for ways to serve critical whitespaces the big plyers are not ready to focus on. 

In all cases, developers are seeing a massive investment in partner development programs.  Google is trying to create an ecosystem through projects like Dialogflow, which “was created to help developers build interfaces that offer engaging, personal interactions,” according to a Google blog. “And with a community that’s now surpassed more than 600,000 developers, it’s become a trusted tool for building natural, cross-platform conversational experiences without needing expertise in natural language processing or AI.”

Likewise, Microsoft continues to aggressively develop their AI platform Cortana for integration with its own products and 3rd party apps.  As an example, Microsoft Teams-enabled devices can use Cortana for in-line message translation and simple meeting recordings with automatic transcription.  The company said earlier this year, that they plan additional AI features including:

  • Cloud recording, providing one-click meeting recordings with automatic transcription and timecoding
  • In-line message translation in channels and chat
  • Cortana voice interactions for Teams-enabled devices, including IP phones and conference room devices
  • Background blur on video, providing the ability to blur your background during video calls
  • Proximity detection for Teams Meetings for finding and adding Skype Room Systems (meeting-room consoles) to any meeting

It’s not at all clear who will end up as the dominant force in AI. In fact we may see organizations adopting pieces from multiple players.  As an example, Ribbon’s relationship with Over.ai is in addition to their existing partnerships with IBM Watson for Textual AI,  Microsoft for Teams deployments and Five9 for cloud contact center.  The latter is a Google Dialogflow partner.  As often happens with new technology, there’s an opportunity for new comers to innovate and disrupt the status quo. 

“There’s a lot of activity in the natural language space right now,” added Ribbon’s Jeff Singman. “We’ve been talking about voice as the killer app for a while now but it feels as if we’re reaching a tipping point. Talking is still the most natural, intuitive form of communication for most of us so it’s a natural evolution path. We’re excited to be a part of it and keep contributing.”




Edited by Maurice Nagle



Home


RESOURCES

Product Sheet
Contact360: Fusion's powerful Contact360 provides an enterprise-class cloud contact center solution for businesses of every size and requirement.
DOWNLOAD

Whitepaper
The ROI of a Cloud Cloud Communications Solution: Contact centers are going through a period of explosive change with respect to the technologies they employ.
DOWNLOAD