Artificial Intelligence in 2017: the Next Step for Enterprises?

Next week is IP Expo, one of the UK’s main business technology events. One of the key themes of the show is Artificial Intelligence, something that shouldn’t really be a surprise considering the technology is fast becoming a reality in the enterprise, with chatbots, predictive intelligence and robot PAs. In fact, according to a new research commissioned by the organisers of IP Expo, 37% of respondents believe that AI will be a main technology focus for businesses in 2017.

At Avaya we’re also taking a step into the AI arena and are working on a SaaS self-learning chatbot that businesses can use with all types of social media platforms to improve the customer service they offer. Part of our Avaya Oceana™ solution, it will be capable of holding intelligent conversations with customers, answering their queries, and resolving customer service issues. It works by leveraging self-learning artificial intelligence technologies to model customer language and dialogue interactions. As such it’s able to predict customer preferences and resolve problems—almost before the customer knows they have one.

One stat that really caught my eye in the IP Expo survey was the rise in concern around AI—32% of respondents claimed they are worried about AI replacing human jobs overall, with 19% admitting that they are more concerned about their own jobs being overtaken by a robot than they were a year ago.

Personally, I think these fears are largely unfounded. Yes, the AI revolution may potentially result in the loss of some jobs. However, the increasing use of AI will give way to new jobs, and most certainly new industries. What is more, there is one aspect in which AI will undeniably prove useful—freeing up our precious time.

Don’t believe me? Well let’s look at the Avaya chatbot as an example. It provides automation and analysis of customer interactions, delivering efficient self-service. This functionality isn’t making agents redundant—quite the opposite: it’s making them more valuable. Chatbots are increasingly being used to take away the menial tasks from agents, allowing them to focus on the human element that is so crucial to driving customer satisfaction and enabling them to provide better and warmer collaboration with their customers.

Ultimately though, there is one key element that will never change regardless of technological advancements: the customer. I believe AI will support this continued focus on the customer because it will enable agents to spend more time assisting customers in the best possible way—the personal way.

If you’d like to find out more about the impact of AI on businesses, or hear more about our new chatbot, please visit our stand at IP Expo on the 5th and 6th of October at London ExCEL.

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Continuous Learning: Propelling Forward in a Rapidly and Inevitably Changing World

Whether we realize it or not, advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT) have transformed the way we think about the world around us. From how we protect our schools to the way we navigate our streets to how we shop for groceries, such technology now lies at the heart of practically everything we do today.

Just as these technologies have changed the way we live, they have changed the way we work. Today’s rapid pace of innovation has transformed nearly every business task, process, and workflow imaginable—so much so that industry analysts estimate that up to 45% of activities that employees are paid to perform can now be automated.

This digital disruption—or what many are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution—without question redefines traditional roles and responsibilities. In fact, research shows that in five years, more than one third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. Even more, analysts estimate that 65% of children today will grow up to work in roles that don’t yet exist.

While we do still see employees that specialize in one skill or expertise, we’ve mostly moved away from the days of hiring an employee for just one job. As technology evolves, so too do the skills required to innovate and propel forward. Looking ahead, employees must have a propensity for continuous learning and adopting new skills to be able to recognize and respond to today’s speed of digital change.

Consider how technology has changed the marketing paradigm. As recently as 10 years ago, marketing platforms like Marketo and HubSpot had only just been founded, Facebook was still in its infancy, and the first iPhone had newly hit the market. As technologies like cloud, social, mobile and big data evolved, however, we suddenly began seeing new tools specifically designed to enhance digital media, social media marketing, and mobile marketing. As a result, companies began searching to fill roles for social media coordinators, digital campaign managers and integrated marketing planners—jobs that were unfathomable 15 to 20 years prior.

Fast forward to today and we’re seeing the emergence of new technology for marketing, such as augmented reality, geofencing, and emotion detection. The continual emergence of new technology perpetually creates skills gaps that must be filled by employees who are passionate, motivated, and invested in their own learning. These kinds of team members are committed to developing new skills and leveraging their strengths to outperform.

But not all employees can easily identify their strengths or develop new skills. This is likely why nearly half of employees today feel unengaged at work, with nearly 20% feeling “actively disengaged.” At the same time, companies are struggling to align employee strengths with organizational priorities. Employees may have certain strengths, but employers may find those skills don’t directly increase operational efficiency or performance. This is why nearly 80% of businesses are more worried about a talent shortage today than they were two years ago.

So, what’s the answer? Employees and employers must work together to identify what roles are currently filled, what skills are still needed, and who best exemplifies those skills. For employees, this means taking control of how they grow their careers and improving for the better. For employers, this means displaying an unwavering commitment to employee reinvestment by understanding key areas of interest to effectively fill skills gaps.

At Avaya, for example, we’re leading an employee enablement program under our Marketing 3.0 strategy. The initiative is designed to help strengthen our marketing organization by equipping employees with the right competencies that reflect our culture, strategy, expectations and market dynamics. By doing so, we can ensure we’re recruiting and managing talent in the most strategic way, putting the right people in the right jobs with the abilities to perform at maximum potential every day. By having each marketing function participate in a simple knowledge profile exercise, we can begin objectively determining development opportunities that best meet their needs and the needs of our business.

As technology continuously evolves, it’s crucial that employees have a propensity for continuous learning and that organizations foster an environment for this learning. In the words of former GE CEO Jack Welch, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

We live in a world that is rapidly and inevitably changing. Employees should embrace this change to thrive, and must if they wish to propel business forward. As employers, we are responsible for strategically leveraging our resources to align employee strengths with organizational needs to succeed in this environment of constant change.

What’s Next? Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Customer Experience

Last month Google hosted its annual Google I/O conference and their new CEO Sundar Pichai delighted an audience of tech enthusiasts when he said, “We have this vision of a shift from mobile-first to an AI-first world over many years.” At Avaya, we couldn’t agree more.

Don’t get me wrong: mobile-first has been and will continue to be a requirement for everything we do. Smart mobile phones are where business and work get done today. We are not dismissing or abandoning the value of developing with mobile-first as a top business priority. But from an innovation, what’s-next perspective, we agree with Google: we need to be innovating for a world that is quickly embracing AI-first.

Artificial Intelligence is becoming the new consumer expectation and with it comes virtual reality, chat bots and augmented reality. Technology that was initially considered for entertainment, science and gaming, has crossed over into our everyday reality. We have the smart phone user to thank for that. Look at the Pokémon GO cultural phenomenon. Nintendo with Pokémon modernized the popular children’s game that originally used paper playing cards into an AI-based augmented reality game played on the smart phone. Just launched in the United States in July, it already has daily usage numbers surpassing Twitter’s. In my adopted hometown of San Francisco this week, a Pokémon GO crawl is inspiring more than 3,600 people of all ages to come together to search for Pokémon. Talk about an overnight sensation that is driving cultural and social change.

The big question for us: How do we harness all that consumer enthusiasm for AI into business communications?

Like Pokémon Go that takes advantage of the most common communications tool today—the smart phone—we have to do the same; user experience is key. Avaya’s Emerging Products & Technology group in conjunction with their Customer Experience Centre in Galway, Ireland—the company’s global R&D facility that is accelerating future technologies in next-generation customer experience applications—is innovating for AI in business communications.

The team is currently working on an advanced chat bot that delivers an AI experience in the contact center by enabling machine learning to model customer language and dialog interactions. The result is intelligent conversations with customers and the ability for the chat bot to answer their queries or resolve customer service issues on any channel they choose. It takes SMS and web chat conversations, as well as integrates with social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Kik or WeChat and can be adapted for interaction in any language. The chat bot provides automation and analysis of customer interactions delivering efficient self service and agent-based customer care in real time.

With this technology, routine tasks for live agents are handled by the chat bot, making the business much more efficient. Over time, as the machine learning continues to collect data and intel from the system, the chat bot in turn “learns” more about the business and can become more versatile. If the chat bot is ever challenged, a live agent can quickly and easily take over. The advanced technology capabilities that AI enables allow us to augment existing solutions such as Avaya Oceana™, and ultimately create a more highly innovative customer experience.

While we always innovate for the future with our finger on the pulse of today’s evolving customer experiences, our customers who have been given a preview of what we’re doing with AI have validated that we are on track:

  • “This is a great way to bring self-service efficiencies to several of my customer touch points.”
  • “Automation/AI backed by context routing to agents…when needed, will help drive more efficiencies in our business.”
  • “Attaching automation bots to messaging platforms is important to us. It is where our customers are reaching out today and in the future.”
  • “The cloud makes sense as the way to deliver this social/messaging bot/AI technology.”

Pedro Domingos, a machine learning specialist and the author of “The Master Algorithm,” recently told the New York Times, “Whoever wins this race will dominate the next stage of the information age.” While we will look to technology giants such as Google to be a strong contender for winning the great AI race, we are confident that in our industry—business communications—we are well-positioned to not only lead the adoption of AI but win big.