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How AI will transform unified communications

Artificial intelligence is already changing the way UC&C contact centre applications work today. But industry experts say it has far greater potential to streamline collaboration, reduce unnecessary clutter and proactively find solutions to common employee problems.


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When Brent Kelly talks about tech trends, it’s worth taking notice.

You might say Kelly has been around the IT block. He’s been a partner at an analyst research firm, a marketing VP in IP communications and (befitting his PhD in chemical engineering) held various positions at Conoco and Monsanto.

He even helped develop precursor systems to IoT and built devices used by Intel to test their Pentium microprocessors, for crying out loud. Someone with his experience has pretty much seen (and had some sort of hand in) every major tech trend of the past few decades.

So when Kelly recently described what unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) might look like in the future, I listened up. In an interview at the recent Enterprise Connect conference, he zeroed in on how artificial intelligence (AI) could change UC&C.

“Imagine you go into a meeting with a number of callers (with) voice, video and some collaboration and sharing. Imagine an AI solution that’s kind of listening in on this meeting. If it’s ‘seen’ the content, it can then summarize what your meeting was about,” said Kelly, who also co-moderated an AI panel at the conference.

In this approach, UC&C moulds to fit
the style and requirements of the business
— not the other way around.

“So if somebody missed the meeting, instead of listening to some long voice recording, (UC&C) can then (recap) the key points for them. It can determine here’s the key action items that were assigned and here’s who they were assigned to and here are the dates,” said Kelly, president and principal analyst at independent IT consulting firm KelCor Inc.

While he framed that example as being somewhat futuristic, Kelly noted in the interview that AI is already changing the way UC&C contact centre applications work today.

“You go to a web page, you begin a chat session and you think you’re with an agent. But you’re really with an AI bot behind the scenes. As these get smarter and smarter, you’ll be able to do more and more self-service. Is that huge for companies? It absolutely is, because it reduces their cost for the agents and so forth,” he said.

Robin Gareiss was also at Enterprise Connect and, like Kelly, she’s keeping an eye on AI in UC&C. In a NoJitter blog post, she gave a specific example of what that might mean for videoconferencing.

“By integrating the calendar into the (UC&C) dashboard, the video call may start automatically at the designated start time, with the relevant materials from the team chat channel and document-sharing site loaded automatically as well,” writes Gareiss, president and founder of Nemertes Research.

In the same blog post, she predicts AI and automation will lead to “persistent video” in UC&C, with a camera that automatically moves to the correct position to capture a drawing or design as team members collaborate on it.

Forrester Research weighed in on AI and UC&C in a market report at the end of last year. Like Kelly and Gareiss, Forrester emphasizes that AI has far greater potential in UC&C beyond contact centre chat bots.

“Collaboration is a great fit for AI because of its promise to streamline collaboration, reduce unnecessary clutter and proactively find solutions to common employee problems. For example, while recommendation engines used to merely suggest followers, they can now help you prioritize emails, suggest actions and review your calendar for conflicts.”

All of the AI/UC&C examples outlined by Kelly, Gareiss and Forrester have something else in common: a vision of enterprise UC&C that is highly consolidated, integrated and customized for business needs and workflows. In this approach, UC&C moulds to fit the style and requirements of the business, not the other way around.

Irwin Lazar, Gareiss’s colleague at Nemertes, lists this as his No. 1 trend among the top five he says are “fundamentally reshaping UC&C.”

Lazar, VP and service director at Nemertes, characterizes this as “the shift from thinking of UC and collaboration as standalone applications to ones that are tightly integrated with workflows and business processes. This means integration with message flows, events, tasks and projects to ensure that collaboration exists within the context of business workflows.”

AI and automation will help make UC&C smarter. Making UC&C work the way businesses actually work, is just smart.

Image: iStock

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