The Enterprise Connect conference is one of the largest events in communications technology. It’s often the venue for major announcements from the biggest vendors. It was here that Twilio announced Flex. It was here that Avaya announced Breeze, SnappIns, and Zang. It was here that Amazon launched Connect.
Big announcements this year include the launch of two new cloud contact centers called Edify and Thrio; a new contact center from Vonage called CX Cloud Express (based on their acquisition of NVM which we covered here); and the rebranding of Polycom/Plantronics as “Poly.”
But as for the big call center vendors, their announcements were less dramatic, and all revolved around AI.
The headlines are eerily similar:
Amazon announced enhanced AI offerings. I can’t find an announcement, but this write-up by Zeus Kerravala covers it well.
Cisco also had an AI-themed announcement, although it’s not related to call centers: “Cisco enhances Webex Assistant with AI meeting, call controls.”
AI is a problematic term. This is partly because it’s an umbrella that covers several unrelated genres of products:
- We use AI to refer to the natural language processing that powers chatbots, like 24-7.ai (check out this awesome coverage they got in The New York Times) or Helpshift (although many chatbots deployments succeed without any AI at all.)
- We use AI to refer to speech recognition and transcription services like Call Miner and Voicebase (although the industry only recently started applying the AI label to this category).
- We use “AI” to refer to companies like Afiniti that try to match up callers with agents best suited for their problems.
It’s not that any of those uses of the term is wrong. It’s that, as a result, if you say “X is an AI company” or “X has added an AI feature,” you can’t tell which of those technologies are implied.
In a broader sense, “AI” is problematic because it’s not clear which specific technologies qualify to be called AI. Years ago, optical character recognition (OCR) was considered AI, but it’s no longer challenging enough. It’s almost as though AI is “whatever is borderline difficult for computers to do” at the moment. More here: “The Undead: AI Can’t Die Because its Definition Keeps Changing.”
In the CPaaS realm, VoIP Innovations unveiled a CPaaS marketplace, based on their recent acquisition of Apidaze. AT&T announced a CPaaS offering, powered by Ribbon’s Kandy platform. There’s an interesting pattern of carrier-plus-CPaaS: Vonage-plus-Nexmo, BICS-plus-Telesign, and VI-plus-Apidaze. But Twilio, the CPaaS mega-gorilla, breaks this pattern.
Our friends at WebText announced CXHub and are rebranding the company around that product. The concept is to have a single queue for requests coming from any customer service channel (and IoT as well). It reminds me of Twilio’s TaskRunner, which became the heart of Flex.
Zailab was back, but their famous space truck was absent (apparently one of the warp nacelles had an oil leak). Luckily their space capsule was available. If Trump’s Space Force needs a call center, they HAVE to go with these guys.