Avaya's Most Innovative Customers of 2013

There’s no shortage of enterprises using Avaya technology in fresh, exciting ways. So it is always difficult to choose the six winners of the annual Avaya Customer Innovation Awards. 

(Note: this article by Tony Kleckner, from the forthcoming Avaya Innovations magazine, offers mini-profiles of each of this year’s winners.) 

Fifty-one companies from around the globe competed this year for the Awards, which were chosen by members of the International Avaya User Group (IAUG) board along with Avaya executives including Senior Vice Presidents Pierre-Paul Allard and Brett Shockley. The winners are being presented today at the IAUG CONVERGE2013 conference in Orlando:

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Technology Innovation Best Practice Award: Oi (Telecom service provider from Brazil) 

Solutions Used: Oi is the first Latin American customer to use Avaya’s Dynamic Routing for its multi-vendor contact center. 

Result: Oi now has precise control over which outsourced vendor will take customer calls. It can choose based on the type of customer call, how busy a vendor already is, or whether a customer is a VIP or not, etc. Avaya’s technology is agnostic, working with whatever brand of contact center technology its partners might use. The technology also greatly simplifies the management.

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Business Innovation Best Practice Award: ESSA Academy (K-12 school in the UK) 

Solutions Used: Avaya Flare?Communicator on iPads, one-X?Communicator on MacBook Air notebooks, and Avaya Aura?Communications Manager. 

Result: Working with partner Pennine Telecom, ESSA has deployed Avaya one-X?Communicator onto MacBook Airs for its receptionists, helping them to take and manage calls more easily. Teachers meanwhile use Avaya Flare?Communicator on their Apple iPads to make and receive calls and collaborate with other staff and parents, too. This has not only changed the teaching style and improved student performance, but the Director at ESSA Academy is now consulting other schools on how to deploy a similar teaching and collaboration model.

Read more: ESSA case study

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Enterprise Transformation (<1k employees) Award: Landmark Bank 

Solutions Used: Landmark Bank was a longtime Nortel customer, having implemented both voice platform and data solutions for over 10 years. Since Nortel’s acquisition by Avaya, the Missouri-based community bank has centralized applications, implemented Avaya Aura?Session Manager, purchased Aura Communication Manager and is presently installing Avaya Aura Call Center 6.3 for a grassroots call center project. In addition, Landmark recently completed implementation of Scopia XT room systems into 12 locations, a Scopia Elite 5110 MCU with Scopia Desktop and Mobile capabilities, and Avaya Flare Experience. 

Result: The overall reliability and ease of migration has allowed Landmark to cost effectively increase network throughput, exceed regulatory requirements, and deploy new banking applications onto the existing network with minimal disruption. Avaya infrastructure has enabled new applications such as Scopia video rooms, which improved the quality of internal meetings while reducing company travel. Landmark is also upgrading its Call Center using AACC 6.3, gaining centralized support, access to product line experts, support backup, extended customer support hours and the ability to leverage multi media. The CEO uses Scopia for video calls on a regular basis, at least weekly, sometimes daily, for improved decision-making and collaboration.

Read more: Landmark Bank’s CIO’s Vision for Video Conferencing

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Enterprise Transformation (>1k employees) Award: Federal Justice Tribunal Mexico (TRIFE) 

Solution Used: Migrated Definity to Aura R6.2 for 8 sites and 2,655 users, with GW650 to protect investment in digital telephony infrastructure. TRIFE, which oversees elections as part of Mexico’s national court system, also uses Avaya’s full suite of UCC applications, including Communication Manager, Session Manager and Presence, Avaya Aura Messaging, Avaya Aura Conferencing 7, one-X suite, Flare Experience for iPad, one-X Mobile SIP, Avaya Session Border Controller-E for remote user access, and Avaya client applications for Microsoft Lync integration, and Call Center Elite for internal help desk operations. 

Result: Using Aura, TRIFE now offers telephony to a mix of more than 600 IP and digital telephony users scattered across 3 buildings in Mexico City and other offices across Mexico. Collaboration features will be added, with a subset of users getting secure mobile connectivity on smartphone or iPad, and another subset getting integration with Microsoft Outlook and/or Microsoft Lync. Also planned is the audio, web and video conferencing via AAC7, which will allow them to receive training.

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Sustained Excellence Award: George Mason University 

Solution Used: In the late 1990s, the school deployed its first Nortel PBXs. That has evolved such that today, GMU’s 6,000 campus endpoints are 99% VoIP. These are supported by a CS1000E 7.5 at the main Fairfax campus and survivable media gateways and 1010 cabinets for remote campuses. GMU also uses versions 6.2 of Session Manager and System Manager as it moves to a SIP core. This year, GMU is installing CallPilot 5.x, giving it key voice services and integration with the installed Contact Center 7.0. GMU is also implementing Avaya Aura Conferencing 6.0, followed by two Sipera SBCs for SIP trunking and a Presence Server. 

Result: George Mason’s focus has been on streamlining the overall infrastructure from a complex environment of multiple PBXs to collapsing into 2 and eventually 1 main system. This new architecture has provided an environment that is easier to maintain from a support and operations perspective, more reliable, and less expensive to run. The Contact Center and CallPilot voice services integration will provide improved customer service, and allow the elimination of 192 expensive trunk lines. They also provide a foundation for new applications and services.

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Small Business (<100 employees) Award: Florida State University College of Medicine 

Solution Used: Avaya Scopia videoconferencing 

Result: For his 11th Medical Mission Trip to Panama, Dr. Mark Stavros engaged with GlobalMed and Avaya to utilize a cross platform of telemedicine products to facilitate medical care to those in need. The doctor spent 10 days in a remote town with a variety of telemedicine products, coupled with a cloud-based image storage solution for collaboration on medical studies. While in Panama, Dr. Stavros used Scopia to consult live with medical experts at the Florida State University College of Medicine.

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Connected Health: The Digital Transformation of Care Innovation

All around the world, across the spectrum of disease, IT is changing our approach to chronic conditions and how we approach connected health. Text messages remind people living with HIV to take their medication and keep their medical appointments. Smartphone apps diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder by analyzing a user’s voice. Online forums enable breast cancer patients and survivors to trade information related to every stage of their care.

Collectively known as “connected health,” these recent, IT-driven innovations represent the intersection of digital technology and care. They’re transforming not only the way people manage their own health, but also the way they interact with their healthcare providers.

Unintended, but welcomed, consequences

By and large, connected health is an adaptation of technologies that were originally developed for other purposes. Mobile technology started out as a voice communication tool. Instant messaging was an outgrowth of online chat rooms. Social media became a means for making new friends.

Now these technologies have evolved and converged in a way that is overcoming formerly intractable barriers to care. By minding the agenda of day-to-day care, for instance, they give people the opportunity to stay in adherence with their treatments even where clinical visits are impractical due to cost, distance or availability. And by helping patients preserve their privacy, make sense of their conditions, and learn from others with similar experiences, health IT can lift the stifling veil of stigma from disease. 

The implications don’t stop with the individual. Connected health also helps people manage their own disease state so they don’t spread it to others. Across whole populations, it can allow interventions aimed at preventing chronic diseases, such as behavioral modifications that reduce the incidence of obesity.

Changing care innovation paradigms

In all these respects, connectivity is bringing to medicine a level of accountability and democratization that seemed unimaginable not so long ago. But it’s also dialing up the urgency of some unanswered questions. Among them:

  • What information is appropriate to gather? Not all information has value in a healthcare setting.
  • Will information remain proprietary? It’s unclear to what extent stakeholders are willing to advance the interests of the community ahead of the interests of a company.
  • What would a sharing paradigm look like? If companies were to share information, they would need a seamless, cohesive way to do it.
  • How will privacy and security be preserved? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are critical pieces of this equation.
  • How will healthcare use technologies to create new models of care? Today’s applications are largely geared toward improving quality and outcomes of existing care models.

There’s no one-size fits all solution to these questions. Neither is care innovation strictly a technology issue. Technologists must collaborate with clinicians, patients, and patient advocates to take care coordination and operational efficiency to the next level in helping people cope with long-term diseases. A new, technology-powered paradigm—one that transcends existing constraints of time and resources—can bring a welcome transformation in the ongoing management of care coordination and the patient experience.

Avaya Equinox, Now with Team Collaboration, Just Got More “Go-To”

 

I recently read that the Apple App Store now contains about 2.2 million apps. It’s an amazing number and a testament to the creativity of developers and the variety of our human interests and needs. But it made me wonder: how many apps can we really use on a regular basis & for what? Are they for fun? Are they informative? Do they increase team collaboration? If your smartphone is like mine, you’ve got a number of go-to apps that you use regularly, let’s say weekly, and probably a few you use daily or almost constantly. Then there are the Tier 2 apps, hiding in your folders that seldom see the light of day. It’s fun to delve into these folders every few months and rediscover the apps that I thought looked so interesting at the time but now languish for months on end.

What’s fun for personal apps however, can often become a nightmare in the work world. We all have someone in the office that has that need to be first with the latest hot app, to provide their take on what’s cool and what’s not and make everyone else feel a little short of the mark for not using it first. Of course most of these apps get frenzied activity for about 3 ½ days and then slip into oblivion. The issue for most of us is we simply have too much on the go to be constantly changing the way we work and coercing others to adopt our favorite app of the week.

What my work day really needs is a true go-to app. One that makes me more productive, more reachable, more on track and that lets me get to my tasks and meetings with a single touch. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know where I’m going with this: my go-to app is Avaya Equinox®. With its “mobile-first” Top of Mind screen, it provides me with at-a-glance visibility to meetings, instant messages and my call history giving me a single place to keep up to date and productive regardless of where my day may take me.

I’m happy to say that my go-to app just got more, well, “go-to”. The Avaya UC experience that I rely on every day is now being extended with the integration of a cloud-based team collaboration capability.  It gives me the full benefits of a team work environment that integrates voice, video, persistent team chat and messaging, along with file and screen sharing, all from within the Avaya Equinox experience.

Let me give you an example of these new Equinox team collaboration capabilities in action. I’m currently working with an external vendor on a major project. Our work will carry on for several quarters with new materials being created that need review, discussion, and likely several rounds of back and forth. To get the project kicked off and a vendor selected, we needed the full gamut of collaboration capabilities from simple voice calls to several all-day video conferences with participants joining from around the world – something easily managed with Avaya Equinox. 

The next step was to establish a core team and shift into a regular cadence of interaction. Adding the participants to the team collaboration space from both inside and outside Avaya was a snap and we were instantly able to communicate with one another – I use one to one instant messaging for small items or questions and chat when I want to involve the entire team for broader issues. Tasks get assigned within Avaya Equinox to keep our review cycles on track and we use the file sharing capability avoid clogging up our email. If I’m off line at some point, due to travel or other activity, a quick glance at Avaya Equinox gets me back up to speed with the team’s progress.

On a weekly basis, we usually need some face time, and Avaya Equinox provides complete meeting capabilities including audio / video conferencing with screen sharing so we all gain the advantages of personal interaction. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can all collaborate on content in real-time – it’s more productive and prevents misunderstandings across a widely distributed team. 

In many ways our team collaboration space has become a virtual “war room”.  Information is clearly visible and easily shared, I can see who’s available at any time and formal and informal discussions can be initiated with ease.

There’s no shortage of apps available to anyone with a mobile device and the time to spend browsing around an app store. The real challenge is finding those few go-to apps that you’ll use every day. If you aren’t using Avaya Equinox yet, I’d encourage you to give it a try. I think it will make your short list of “go-to” apps and in a month or two, you might wonder how you got through your day without it!

Building SMS Text Bots is a Breeze

As a nerdy guy, I love movies about other nerdy guys. Give me movies like “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Theory of Everything,” or “Einstein and Eddington” (two nerdy scientists for the price of one), and I am in geek heaven. Recently, I was thrilled by “The Imitation Game”—the story of Alan Turing and his quest to break Germany’s WWII secret code. While I would never dare to compare myself to Mr. Turing, I like to think that we would have a few things in common. One area would be our shared interest in natural language processing and intelligent behavior.

Way back in 1950, Turing crystallized his research into these studies in what has become known as The Turing Test. Simply put, The Turing Test is a test of a machine’s ability to impersonate a human being. For a machine to pass The Turing Test, it must be able to participate in a conversation with a human being to the point where the human doesn’t realize that he or she is interacting with a machine. I can only imagine what Turing would think of today’s technology such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Home. Better yet, imagine Alan conversing with the robot, Sophia. Would he be excited or frightened? Personally, I am a little of both.

Real or Not

If you have been reading my articles on No Jitter and here on the Avaya blog, you know how enamored I am of the Breeze and Zang workflow designers. Although I have spent the bulk of my professional life writing software in programming languages such C++ and Java, I have fallen in love with how quickly I can use the Breeze/Zang tools to go from idea, to prototype, to a production-quality application. I like to say that if you can draw it on a whiteboard, you can “code” it with Breeze.

So, the day I decided to build a text bot, I knew exactly how I was going to do it. Starting with a list of things I wanted my text bot to do, I was soon drawing out message flows and decision points (if this, do that). Once I was happy I had captured all the salient points, I turned to my computer and began typing. Early on, I realized that there was no way on earth I could capture all the different text messages my application would need to process. For instance, how many different ways can you ask for the location of a store? “Where are you located?” “What is your address?” “What city are you in?” “How can I find you?” The variations are nearly endless.

To solve this problem, I turned to natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). That, of course, led me to the 500-pound gorilla in the room—IBM Watson. With Watson, I can build “Conversations” that allow me to create intents, entities, and dialogs. Intents are used to classify a request. You can think of entities as modifiers to those intents. Dialogs are the words you want to “speak” after determining the intent.

For example, consider the phrase “Are you open on Sunday?” Here, the intent could be classified as “hours.” The entity is “Sunday.” A proper dialog could be, “We are open on Sunday from 12:00 to 5:00.” To keep things simple, I created three intents for my bot: Directions, Holidays, Hours. Those intents resulted in three dialogs. I left off entities for now.

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My next decision point had to do with maintaining a conversation over many text messages. For that I choose Avaya’s Contest Store, which allows me to temporarily store information about a text conversation. This information can then be accessed over the life of the chat.

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Now that I had an engine to process incoming text messages (Watson), and a method of maintaining a chat’s context (Contest Store), it was time to launch the Avaya Breeze Engagement Designer. I will admit that I still had a few logic problems to work through, but I would not be stretching the truth if I said that I had a rough draft of my text bot up and running in less than an hour. Working through those remaining issues consumed another couple of hours, but in a fraction of the time it would take me to write my application in Java, my bot was accepting text messages, building contexts, and texting back replies.

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I should also say that my bot is fully multi-user. It didn’t matter if one or one hundred people were all texting in at the same time. My bot kept track of each individual conversation and no one received a text meant for someone else.

 
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While my example bot is fairly simple in terms of what it can handle, the framework is extendable to just about any SMS conversations you might want to support. Future plans have me using Context Store to save the entire conversation between human and machine. Not only could this be useful for determining how accurately my bot responds to incoming requests, but it could also be used to help better serve customers. A recorded chat sessions could be presented to a human agent in the case where the user moved from text to a phone call.

Next, I would love to incorporate some of the other features that Watson provides. For example, by detecting the tone/sentiment of the conversation, my bot could sense if the human was becoming frustrated with the answers he or she was receiving from my bot. This would allow the bot to either escalate the chat to a live agent, or have an agent follow up afterwards to help soothe over what might have been an unpleasant experience – or both.

Mischief Managed

Human to human conversations aren’t going away anytime soon, but more and more machines are going to step in to handle the easy to moderately hard stuff. The point is not to trick people into thinking they are talking to a human being. The point is that machines can handle tedious jobs without coming across as machines.

While I highly doubt that anyone will ever make a movie about Andrew and his fabulous text bots, it isn’t all about fame and glory, right? This is exciting technology and the fact that I can use Breeze to create sophisticated bots by easily combining powerful, but disparate technologies, is red-carpet stuff.