Avaya CTO Brett Shockley: 100% Focused on Solving Today's Key Business Problems

Brett Shockley is Senior Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer at Avaya. I spoke to Brett at the Avaya Evolutions San Francisco show last week. Below is a transcript of our conversation, where we talked about how Avaya’s Big Data technology is helping businesses solve their problems faster than before, and how its cloud-enabled developer platform, Collaboration Environment, is attracting fresh crops of young developers:

brett shockley avaya evolutions sf feb 2014

Avaya CTO Brett Shockley keynoting at Avaya Evolutions San Francisco.

Photo by Andres Larranaga

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Fletch: I always love coming to Avaya Evolutions because they’re really intimate settings, and you can have a lot of great conversations with customers.

Shockley: You’re absolutely right. I mean, we have an opportunity here to talk to over a thousand customers. We’re able to talk to our partners. And it’s a great opportunity to have conversations about what’s happening in our businesses, in our industry, and a number of different verticals.

I had a great conversation with a healthcare provider over lunch. They’re really on the leading edge of delivering video for telemedicine. They’re using Scopia video conferencing to deliver it. They have told us that it works better than any other technology on the planet that they’ve ever tried, including all of our major competitors because of the way we focused on this virtualized conference room infrastructure and ease with bringing lots of people in from different places on different devices.

Fletch: That’s a product with an incredible use case across a huge number of industries, like public safety, which I’m very involved with. Scopia is really going to change the way that we communicate.

Shockley: Our industry is changing at a very rapid pace. Mobile, video, cloud, big data analytics, the impact of consumer communication applications, they’re driving what is expected from an enterprise experience. For the first time in our history, our employees are telling us what device they’re going to use at work. We have our customers telling us how they’re going to communicate with us. This changes the nature of our business and changes the nature of conversations that we’re having. What it really means is that we can’t just focus on the traditional world of communications, but instead need to think about the business outcomes from improved communication, improved collaboration. Leveraging what we’re seeing work in the consumer world in the use of things like mobile and video. It means that we have to deliver much better and more tailored experiences.

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Also read ‘The Entrepreneurial CTO’ Q&A in December’s Avaya Innovations.

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You know, one of the things that I’m having a lot of fun talking to folks about is the customer journey and the ability to identify that customer from the first time you’re prospecting with them all the way through the work that you’re doing with them in acquiring, delivering and managing the account, and carrying it on through the lifecycle to when they buy from you again. New technologies are being used to do that, and they’re technologies that Avaya is very much a leader in. Things like data grid technology for Big Data analytics. We have an application called the Context Store that we’ve started delivering for some of our larger customers. It’s the same kind of technology that’s being used in financial trading applications. You can imagine they have to have very low latency, very large scale, and we’re applying that same technology to the Contact Center. One of the things that it does is provide a real-time store of information about the customer, sort of a 360-degree view of that customer. And think about it like a cache: it could live for a minute, an hour, or a week, and all the different applications that are being used to interact with the customer are reading and writing their information to this Context Store.

What that does is it lets us tie all those touch points together into one comprehensive experience regardless of whether they email you today, instant message you tomorrow, or call you the day after that. So we’re really tying all these things together, and what’s exciting about it is that it’s a different kind of conversation with the customer to achieve this. It’s not about, “Do you want to upgrade your phone system?” It’s not about adding to sort of traditional technology, speeds and feeds, features, etc. It’s about business use cases. You take a step back. You talk to a health care provider about how it can do an effective job of delivering health care through a community outreach service. Things like telemedicine become key there. How do they deliver a specialist to someone who has a chronic health care problem? It’s a single mother who unfortunately might have a child with cancer. You start thinking about solving those kinds of problems and bringing our technology to the table to be able to solve those problems. That’s a really different kind of conversation, and it’s an opportunity for us to really change not only the business of our customer, but the relationship that they have with their customers. And at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make the difference in their business success.

Fletch: I think that’s a really noble thought, and I think that’s what’s driving the change that I see. I’ve been in this industry for two or three decades. I’ve seen a lot of different things come and go. I see this whole new Avaya emerging right now that just has been building and building and building. It’s just the time that it finally came out.

Shockley: Absolutely. We have been a leader in the unified communication and contact center space, the services that surround that, absolutely undisputed. Take a look at any analyst’s report. We’re in the upper right hand corner of the quadrant – thought leader, we deliver. But as we really grow the company we have to think beyond that. Some of the core areas of strategy for us this year: rapid growth in applications, both in terms of delivering end applications to customers that support the kinds of things I was just talking about, as well as the tools for people to create their own applications. So the work we’re doing with Collaboration Environment, as an example, that allows ISVs, VARs, our customers’ developers to quickly create very meaningful applications that are connected directly to the infrastructure associated with Avaya Aura. So you’ve got this ability to create scalable applications without really having to understand a lot of about communications. If you’re someone who’s recently out of school and you have some great web programming skills, you’re going to be able to step right into it and be able to do that. And if you think about why does that matter. Well, in our industry, forever we’ve had this challenge that if you want to program with our products or any of our competitors, to be honest, using technologies like CTI (Computer-Telephony Integration), it requires some very specialized and unique tools to be able to do that and it’s complex.

As a result, three kids out of college can’t go start a company and start selling to large enterprise customers. They have to basically go buy a half-million dollars worth of equipment, train themselves on new things that they didn’t learn in school. They have to hire some sales people that are going to convince our sales people that they’re worthy of being introduced to our enterprise accounts. A lot of barriers to growth, as compared to web world, for example, or the app world on mobile devices where a couple of guys can go create some amazing new application and they can get it distributed in a frictionless way. Well, you think about something like Collaboration Environment and now we have a world, especially where we have these cloud-based collaboratories, sand boxes in the sky, if you will, where, small groups of developers can come together. They can create applications that are meaningful in a business sense, and not worry so much about the underlying technology infrastructure. And because they can create them in the cloud-based collaboratory, they don’t have to go buy that half-million dollars worth of equipment to get started in writing applications.

The cloud provides a way for us to allow people to try new things, test new things, it’s much easier for us to connect that developer that created some cool new small application with a large enterprise, for example, or a mid-market enterprise that needs an application like that. And the technology allows you to string applications together. So this group creates one application, this other group creates another, we string them together and now we’re doing something totally different and very meaningful. So imagine bringing together workflow, SMS and text, notification of people, video, all of these things that are powerful, powerful collaboration tools. But in the past you sort of had to be really specialized to do it. Now we’re putting it into the hands of not just thousands but literally hundreds of thousands of developers potentially.

Fletch: So you’re taking the collaboratory and you’re changing BYOD from “Bring Your Own Device” to “Build Your Own Device”.

Shockley: Absolutely.

Fletch: I think that’s kind of cool. That’s really cool. It’s just another example of the innovation that Avaya brings to it that quite frankly makes me proud to be an Avaya employee. As our technology leader, thank you. It’s incredible vision and strategy.

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Meet Avaya’s Edison Award Gold Winner Blockchain Use Case

In less than two weeks, we are hosting Experience Avaya Asia-Pacific in Singapore, a city that ranks alongside the likes of Dubai and New York as a global business hub. As I get ready for this event, those two cities are very much top of mind for me right now—and it’s because of blockchain.

By now, just about everybody is aware of blockchain, which likely originated in the Asia-Pacific region, as part of the development of bitcoin. While bitcoin today seems to have gone through its bubble moment, blockchain is definitely here to stay.

Invented to serve one purpose, we’ve only just started figuring out what blockchain can do. In my world of technology and customer service, we would say we are developing “use cases.” Our job is to figure out how technologies can be used to solve a business problem, a social challenge and so on.

The inspiration to develop use cases can’t come from a single source—ideas come from everyone and everywhere. We have a team that picks up on those ideas and plays around with technology, putting the pieces together to create use cases to solve problems that are brought to us by our ecosystem or the customers we serve.

Our Winning Blockchain Use Case: Avaya Happiness Index

Inspired by the Dubai government’s drive to improve the citizen experience—and make it literally a happier place to be—our team, with our partners, looked at how blockchain can help track sentiment and enable organizations to respond more quickly to user trends.

We showed the Avaya Happiness Index on Blockchain to the world at GITEX in Dubai last year—and it was a huge hit. While plenty of companies are keen to use the word “blockchain” we didn’t present a concept, we delivered a blockchain use case. Real-time sentiment analysis may seem a very long way away from cryptocurrency, but we’ve demonstrated how this technology can enhance the citizen/customer experience. The value of bitcoin may rise and fall according to market demand, but the ability to make people happier? That is priceless.

I’m proud to say that the Avaya Happiness Index on Blockchain was a Gold winner for innovation at the world-renowned Edison Awards in New York this week, a milestone achievement for the Avaya team, and for our partners, Avanza Innovations and Sundown.ai. By combining our efforts we’ve created something of real value—a concept we call value co-creation.

When I meet with customers in Singapore this month, I will talk more about value co-creation. In today’s fast-moving digital world, it is no longer viable for technology companies like ours to create products and solutions and just push them out to market. Real value doesn’t come from a packaged solution; it comes from stakeholders working together and combining to create better outcomes. Avaya realized this several years ago, and we opened our platforms to make it easier and faster for customers, partners and suppliers to work with us. The end goal is to share the value creation process across our digital ecosystem so that the end result is magnified for all.

For me, it doesn’t matter so much who originated a technology. What matters is what we can do with it. The Avaya Happiness Index isn’t just a blockchain use case—it’s a proof point of Avaya’s business approach and cultural belief.

I’m looking forward to Experience Avaya Asia-Pacific in Singapore because I know that plenty of you share our belief. This event will give us the opportunity to come together and lay the groundwork for future collaboration. I can’t say where that will take us but maybe, it might just take some of us to New York next year for the Edison Awards 2019!

Please don’t feel you have to wait until we host an event near you. If you have an idea you want to discuss, please share it with me, or your local Avaya contact.

Five Things You Must Do to Shift Customer Experience in 2018

We all know that to drive competitiveness, you must shift customer experience—and that this is now more important than ever. But shift to what? How? When? I hear these questions all the time when meeting with customers in our Executive Briefing Centers, and at tradeshows and conferences. The industry is rallying around terms like “omnichannel,” “cloud,” and “analytics,” but the contact center is not a one-size-fits-all entity. You can’t instantly accomplish a great shift for your business simply by buying omnichannel for your contact center. Rather, it’s a delicate process that requires you to refresh and integrate systems together.

How to Shift Customer Experience

As executives and leaders in customer experience, we must be ready to make changes that can shift a contact center to deliver a better customer experience. Here are five things that Avaya recommends you do in 2018. These may seem obvious, but collectively they can yield true lifetime value results from customers:

  1. Understand Your Customer Journeys
    Rather than looking at countless different, individual interactions, choose to put your customer on a journey, one that rarely starts and stops with just one contact. Take an outside-in view by identifying several important customer journeys and customer preferences. Or, consider low CX scores that can be improved either through self-service assistance or by linking channels together with context (this helps to understand where the customer has been before).
  2. Listen to Your Feet on the Street
    While your customers’ feedback is essential, it is your frontline staff who will give you direct pointers. These individuals understand the necessary tools and training for reaching new levels of customer experience. Consider, for example, that 84% of global contact centers are adapting to meet the needs of next-gen millennial workers. Give your agents a sense of ownership and they will tell you where they can personalize and engage with customers on a greater level. Your agents could potentially sell more when they’re able to make customers feel great about their overall experience. The key is to arm agents with the right information on their desktops.
  3. Support Advanced Automation and Analytics
    According to Gartner, more than 50% of CIOs will have artificial intelligence as one of their top five investment priorities by 2020. AI will assist greatly in understanding the customer journey: augmented reality and bots can automate more processes over human-to-human interactions. Keep in mind, however, that humans are still needed. It’s just that advanced automation and analytics, when put in the right place, can lead to richer and more effective experiences between customers and representatives.
  4. Break Internal Silos
    Creating an orchestrated experience requires executives to look as a team at organizational processes. Take charge as the person who identifies and leads change across your entire organization. Departments working in silos—sales, marketing, service—all stop short when processes are not stitched together. Also keep in mind that your CRM systems and contact center processes must complement one another. They need to come together to drive better customer and business outcomes.
  5. Bridge The Gaps
    Now comes the fun stuff: ownership, budget and getting a project underway. This can be done either by way of proof of concept, or segmenting a certain group of interactions to begin changing processes. Take note of the before and after, and check-in with your customers on improvements (consider surveys or one-to-one outreach). Assess if there are new roles or skillsets needed to keep up with the change. Take it one step at a time and prove a return on investment against identified use cases before moving on.

You need to make a shift happen in 2018 to continually innovate customer experience and improve lifetime value. It will require some research and a few bold moves. I promise it will be a rewarding process if it is inclusive of input and bridges critical gaps.

So, where do you start? I encourage you to talk to Avaya about an assessment or visit one of our Executive Briefing Center sites. From initial strategizing to execution, Avaya can help you develop a solid customer experience plan that yields true lifetime value—we can even model a potential ROI or CLV based on your own estimates. Contact Avaya to learn more.

Avaya A.I.Connect Focuses on Improving Companies’ Customer Experiences

For Avaya, AI is all about people. Sure, there are clearly opportunities to increase automation, to provide higher quality, more natural, more life-like conversational self-service solutions for automated IVR, text, and chat interactions. But in all these cases, there is still a person at one end of the interaction—the end customer. At Avaya, our A.I.Connect initiative focuses on using AI and machine learning technologies to enable our customers to deliver more engaging experiences for their end customers.

The Evolution of AI

The term artificial intelligence dates back to 1956 as an academic discipline, born out of a workshop at Dartmouth College by leading researchers in the computer science field. AI’s success has come in fits and starts, with overblown expectations and not a small bit of fear—it’s been predicted that AI-enabled systems and machines will somehow impinge upon the place of human beings in the global pecking order. But interest in AI (and its associated results) is stronger than ever, poised perhaps to deliver upon an almost 70-year-old hypothesis that machines can be smarter than people. But no, we aren’t welcoming our new robotic overlords. At least not yet.

Keeping People in the Center of Our AI Story

Bringing AI capabilities to the table ultimately centers on increasing the positive nature of the customer’s experience. And doing so in the most innocuous, unobtrusive, comforting and, dare I say, enjoyable ways possible.

End customers aren’t the only ones who benefit from a little artificial intelligence boost. AI’s benefits extend to contact center agents and supervisors, making them more capable of meeting customer needs. AI provides capabilities for customer insight and an almost prescient ability for agents to have the right information at their fingertips (and get it to the end customer) just when it can have the most positive impact towards a successful outcome.

Our Key Focus Areas for AI Enablement

Companies are applying AI capabilities in a dizzying number of ways. While consumers may be familiar with automated back-and-forth interactions to select music, play games, order and re-order supplies, or simply update their family calendars, AI in the enterprise is stretching more broadly and deeply.

Within the scope of customer experience, Avaya’s AI strategy takes a more holistic view of the customer journey, creating a feedback loop from first contact through subsequent interactions across any and all channels, to continuously improve the key metrics for customer satisfaction. And through analytics, to feed the outcomes of the customer journey back into the AI engines so that smart technology can grow even smarter for the next iteration of contact by the customer.

As we apply AI to the contact center, we’re focusing on how it intersects with key areas, including:

  • Effortless Self-Service, including adoption through conversational interfaces, and extending Bot-based interaction capabilities.
  • Smart Routing, using Big Data and interaction history, as well as customer sentiment and other analytical/statistical measures, to provide pinpoint customer routing strategies.
  • Agent Augmentation, to drive upsell/retention opportunities through proactive guidance and next-best-action suggestions consistently across voice, video, chat, email and messaging channels.
  • Interaction Insights, using trend spotting and sentiment analysis among other techniques to allow enterprises to elevate offerings and enhance business processes with improved best practices and voice-of-customer analytics.
  • Enhanced Workforce Optimization, automating and improving QA and discovery of best practice models with the assistance of AI, as well as improving resource scheduling by predicting volumes and absentee rates within the enterprise

Introducing A.I.Connect, our Ecosystem of Partners

There’s an adage that says “to be a great leader, surround yourself with people smarter than you.” And that is exactly what we are doing with the launch of A.I.Connect.

A.I.Connect represents our partner ecosystem for delivering AI-enabled experiences joined to Avaya’s team and customer engagement solutions. Drawing upon top-notch AI-enabled technologies, integrators, and capabilities from companies like Afiniti, ArrowSI, Cogito, EXP360, Nuance, ScoreData and Sundown.ai, as well as others to be made public in the coming weeks, we aim to build an ecosystem that delivers exceptional experiences across the entire customer journey, from first contact to improving every subsequent interaction for the lifetime of that customer relationship.