Beth Schultz | January 30, 2018 | NoJitter.com
Avaya executives describe the pillars of its future in opening addresses at Avaya Engage.
As I'd suggested it would in last week's post, "Avaya Goes All In on Cloud," cloud has featured prominently in the Day 1 messaging out of Avaya Engage, the annual customer and partner conference and expo taking place this week in New Orleans. Avaya CEO Jim Chirico kicked off the conference with news that the company is acquiring its business process outsourcing (BPO) cloud partner Spoken Communications, and told his keynote audience, "If you remember one thing from my talk this morning, it's just four simple words: Think Avaya. Think Cloud."
Mercer Rowe, SVP and GM of the new Avaya Cloud business unit, reiterated the mantra and reinforced the messaging with the statement: "We're investing in cloud, we're changing our business, and we're simplifying to create the platform for innovation."
But as important as cloud is to Avaya's future, it's not the exclusive focus of innovation inside the company, said Laurent Philonenko, SVP Solutions and Technology, when he took the keynote stage. "Avaya has a huge history of innovation. It's our DNA. It's in our spirit. It's in our desire," and the innovation will not stop with the cloud and the contact center, he said. "We will continue to innovate in UC and we will continue to innovate in collaboration. There's a lot still to be done in those areas."
As Avaya evolves its platforms, it does so with the notion of enabling "everyone to connect with everything and create new use cases," Philonenko said. "Use cases are really what it's all about. Technologies are necessary, but they're not delivering the end result."
Together with Jean Turgeon, VP and chief technologist, Philonenko shared use cases related to three fundamental technology trends he said "are going to sustain everything in our business." These trends are blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).
Blockchain & Better Security
To Avaya, blockchain is about the ability to store information securely, support secure access to information, and accept financial transactions in a secure manner that previously hasn't been possible, Philonenko said. Within blockchain, the idea of a highly secure distributed ledger is "very, very important" because it creates new use cases in contact centers, UC, and collaboration, he added.
Not that Avaya will be investing in developing blockchain technology, but it has begun identifying use cases that will drive its consumption of it -- for things like identifying fraudulent transactions, tracking licensing, or identifying who has accessed reporting, Turgeon said. These are the sorts of solutions enterprises are looking for as they go through their digital transformations, and they're all highly relevant within Avaya's portfolios, he added.
Avaya customers have made their worries quite clear, Philonenko said. "We hear from you every single day," he said to the audience, noting consistent questions about security, identify protection, fraud, and licensing. Good thing is, he added, these can all benefit from the underlying technology of blockchain (and by the way, he noted, blockchain isn't just the worldwide public network everybody talks about; private blockchains are possible too, for various use cases).
Advanced security techniques can have profound impact on the contact center Turgeon added. Biometrics, for example, can help companies authenticate customers more quickly, spending less time asking questions to verify identity. Avaya partner Nuance, for example, is working with a small bank overseas on a voice biometrics project that is expected to reduce agent handle time by more than 45 seconds, said Tony Lorentzen, Nuance's SVP and GM, Voice & Security, who joined the Avaya pair on stage for a quick conversation. If a bank customer dials from his or her phone number and speaks, the bank will be able to verify the caller's identity with no additional measures. And, by shaving off that 45 seconds of call handle time, the bank will also be reducing the time fraudsters have for social engineering, he added.
IoT: All Things Considered
Regarding the second fundamental trend, IoT, Turgeon said he wants everybody to understand one thing: "Avaya understands 'things.'" In fact, he said, Avaya platforms support hundreds of thousands, if not nearly a million, things already.
"Now you can you can debate till you turn blue, 'Is a phone a thing? Is a digital phone a thing?' I say, 'Yes,'" he added. "Those things can be part of the entire ecosystem, so we have to make sure that everybody understands, and this is critical, as our customers want to transform and build a digital experience, we have to embrace what these 'things' are."
And those things are generating scads of data that's being collected, analyzed, and turned into intelligent output. What comes next -- what you do with that content -- is critical. "Well guess what," Turgeon said, "Avaya brings dial tone to IoT."
An environment comprising sophisticated computation, the omnichannel contact center, an integrated communications ecosystem, and IoT support enables the ability to deliver real-time contextual analytics information for smarter decision making on, say, routing contact center calls, Turgeon said. And so, he encouraged attendees, don't just think of Avaya for cloud, but for IoT, too.
Of course, IoT without AI isn't much good, as Philonenko noted. The connected car has become a bit of a cliché, he added, but still serves as a great example, considering all the sensors, computers, networks, and connections -- car to factory, car to car, car to road, car to temperature, car to parking, and so on. But how do you go from sensing that something requires action to triggering the workflow to take that action? "That is really where the power of the applications platforms we do will come into play."
Furthering the use case example, Turgeon noted that connected cars in Europe will soon be required to initiate communications with a contact center as soon as an airbag deploys. From the contact center, a voice call will automatically be initiated to the car and, through analyzing data pulled from this call, as well as other connected cars in the vicinity and real-time mapping, the contact center will also automatically know to dispatch one or more tow trucks to the scene.
IoT integration doesn't stop at the contact center, however. The boundaries between the contact center and UC are blurring, and the ability to bring in third-party analytics is imperative, making platform openness critical. Whether you're a contact center agent, a knowledge worker, or a business executive, "at the end of the day we are all trying to solve problems for customers," Philonenko said.
As evidenced in the A.I.Connect program for developers launched last fall, Avaya is serious about openness and AI, Philonenko said. The Nuance voice biometrics integration mentioned above is one example of the value in creating an open AI platform, as is the "intelligent wire" capability that Avaya gains in the Spoken acquisition.
This intelligent wire solution analyzes contact center voice calls in real time, turns them into text, and delivers summaries to applications such as Salesforce, as Spoken CEO Mohamad Afshar described earlier from the keynote stage. This changes the economics of the contact center, reducing manual work required of contact center agents, while providing "unbelievable insight into what customers are really saying and how agents are handling interactions," he said. Intelligent wire, which of course runs in the cloud, offers an industry first, he added -- a communications platform and a voice-based AI platform integrated into a single offering.
And that more or less summarizes Avaya's goal with AI. "Our mission is to expose data in ways that make it easy to understand and then automate and predict," said Philonenko, calling out the "two sides to AI." You have to be able to ask the question: "What do I do next based on what I know?"