In the recently published the Top 5 Cybersecurity & Compliance Trends for 2021 report Ecosystm predicts that 2021 is when M&As will ramp up in earnest to consolidate the fragmented cybersecurity market. The pandemic has slowed down M&A activities in 2020. Early signs of what we can expect from the market when we emerge from COVID-19 can be seen in the recent acquisition of Asavie by Akamai Technologies. The market is realising the full implication of the shift to remote working and the potential of increased cyber threats – and this acquisition is a sign that larger vendors will continue to strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities by acquiring vendors, with complementary capabilities.
Asavie Enabling the Secure Office Anywhere
Asavie, headquartered in Ireland, offers a global platform that manages the security, performance, and access policies for mobile and internet-connected devices. Asavie delivers secure access to business resources for a mobile workforce – without requiring installation and management of client software. Increasing mobile workloads and Office Anywhere trends mean that the enterprise private network is no longer just PCs/laptops. All enterprise endpoints must be considered to be a part of the enterprise network – and security and authentication solutions must be able to handle this. Organisations will need to explore options where they can give seamless access to their employees without straining their IT and cybersecurity teams – a rapidly installable, scalable, and cloud-managed solution will become a necessity.
More than ever before, enterprises will have to treat all endpoints as branches of the organisation, and the Future of Work goes beyond enabling home offices. The Global CXO Study: The Future of the Secure Office Anywhere finds that 66% of IT and business leaders think of multiple locations, when they think of Office Anywhere. Employees will work wherever they get the best work experience and are most productive. Future work patterns will require that all endpoints are considered as extended branches of the organisation. This involves the ability to extend the enterprise WAN – with speed, flexibility, and security in mind – whether it is a temporary or a home office, an ad-hoc point of sales or an employee on the go. Every employee or device should be treated like a Branch of One.
“Akamai has been diversifying away from its well-known content delivery network (CDN) offering and has successfully built its security business offering in recent years. In 2019, the company nearly doubled its security revenue to USD 849 million from just USD 488 million in 2017. In their 3rd quarter financial results reported in end October 2020, the Cloud Security Solutions revenue was US$266 million, up 23% year-over-year.”
“The move into the mobile security segment has been timely for Akamai as enterprise application and content is moving from behind the firewall to the cloud; adding to the criticality of the cybersecurity threat management. The COVID-19 pandemic has further driven the onboarding of businesses and consumers alike, adding to significant addressable market opportunities.”
“The acquisition of Asavie is a strategic move. Asavie’s solution effectively extends the enterprise security management to incorporate mobile devices as a ‘Branch of One’ enabling CIOs and CISOs to manage security and policies the same way as traditional enterprise network resources. The growth of 5G will further drive IoT devices and a myriad of applications and use cases which will provide for a significant growth opportunity for Akamai – the acquisition of Asavie is a positive move to support this trend.”
Akamai Strengthens Intelligent Edge Capabilities
Asavie’s mobile, IoT and security solutions will integrate with Akamai’s Security and Personalisation Services (SPS) product line sold to carrier partners that embed the solution within the technology bundle sold to their subscribers. With the Asavie acquisition, Akamai intends to help their carrier partners address enterprise and mid-market customer demand for IoT and mobile device security and management services.
“The addition of Asavie to Akamai’s SPS product line provides synergy for the company to expand into new addressable markets for the remote workforce and internet-connected devices to deliver superior experience in a multi-cloud environment. The Global CXO Study conducted by Ecosystm found that three quarters of the organisations rate mobile security as an important or very important part of their digital transformation strategy. Secure mobile experiences will be a core element of the enterprise going forward in the post COVID-19 business environment – driven by employee needs for mobile services and corporate resources from remote locations, with superior identity and policy management, in a frictionless manner.”
“There is an opportunity for mobile service providers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to leverage the Asavie solution combined with Akamai’s strength at the edge with over 1,500 networks worldwide to offer cloud-based value-added cybersecurity services. The Global CXO Study also found that scaling of endpoint security was a major pain point for half the organisations with more than 100 branches. Service providers can become the enabler by offering services for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to dynamically adapt their network and security services to fluctuating demand conditions.”
“Although Akamai does offer CDN services for the SME segment, the company heavily relies on service providers and carriers to address this segment in the CDN, cloud security and its burgeoning IoT Edge offerings. Asavie’s market approach is similar and its products and services portfolio appears to complement Akamai’s very well, making it a very good fit for the company. Not only will it enhance Akamai’s SME positioning on the secure connectivity space, but it will also boost its offerings for carriers in the IoT space.”
“Carriers have had a checkered history at best, in understanding and making the most of data services. Mobile Internet took off because of smartphone manufacturers (Apple) and Internet companies – not through carrier offerings. Although carriers appear to be more proactive and forward-looking with regards to IoT, they should not expect to have the foresight to see what services and business cases will make 5G and IoT truly profitable. Rather, their main focus should be on enabling the secure and flexible infrastructure that can ultimately enable others to develop the use cases. The next logical step would then be for carriers to develop IoT orchestration platforms that can manage much larger parts of the IoT value chain. If they succeed in this (and even if they don’t) it could result in a major boost for Akamai’s CDN business.”
“In other words, carriers need help with IoT and to that end, Akamai’s acquisition of Asavie may strengthen its ability to support carriers to reach that goal.”
The full findings and implications of The top 5 Cybersecurity & Compliance Trends For 2021 are available for download from the Ecosystm platform. Sign up for Free to download the report.
Five9, a cloud-based contact centre solutions provider announced the acquisition of intelligent virtual agent (IVA) platform provider, Inference Solutions for about USD 172 million. Five9 and Inference Solutions have been partnering for the last couple of years, with Five9 being a reseller for Inference Solutions’ IVA platform. The acquisition is expected to provide a boost to Five9’s AI portfolio, automate contact centre agent activities and provide AI-based omnichannel self-service solutions.
The need to drive greater automation in the contact centre is high on the agenda, and this acquisition demonstrates how important AI and automation is to contact centre modernisation. The old-fashioned ways of long wait times, being passed on through different menus on the IVR and being asked to repeat yourself through the older speech recognition engines is starting to not only frustrate customers but will become obsolete. Based on Ecosystm’s research, close to 60% of contact centres globally stated that investing in machine learning and AI is a top customer experience priority in the next 12 months.
Inference has come a long way since its inception at Telstra Labs
Inference Solutions (founded in 2005) was spun out of Telstra Labs. It has since expanded to the US and developed a suite of solutions in the IVA segment. They have a good partnership strategy with the leading telecom providers globally as well as the UC/contact centre vendors. Inference Solutions uses resellers such as service providers, UC, and contact centre software providers – and these include AT&T, Cisco (Broadsoft), Momentum Telecom, Nextiva, 8×8 and many others. The Inference Studio solution will see a new release in the next few months where the solution will come pre-built with the ability for the contact centre team to pre-load the contact centre conversations. These can be conversations that have been going on for 6 months or longer. The Studio solution will then be able to analyse and understand the underlying intent of the conversation, match the intent so that it can be used to auto train the bots accurately. That process of matching the intent and training is expensive and if you can automate some elements of that, it will bring the cost of the deployment down. Its solution integrates into NLP engines from Google, AWS, and IBM. In Australia they continue to work on patents in close partnerships with Melbourne University and RMIT. Throughout its journey, Inference has built a good base of customers in the US, UK, and Australia.
Five9 to accelerate on its vision of AI and Cloud
Contact centre modernisation is high on the agenda for many organisations and this will lead them to build AI and automation at the core of their customer strategies. The discussion spans across the CEO, Digital and Innovation, and the Contact Centre teams.
Five9 had acquired Whendu, an iPaaS platform provider empowering businesses and developers with no-code, visual application workflow tool, optimised for contact centres in November 2019, and Virtual Observer, an innovative provider of cloud-based workforce optimisation, also known as Workforce Engagement Management (WEM) in February of this year.
The pandemic has resulted in increased engagement of contact centres with customers. Companies are gradually looking for ways to automate tasks, deliver better communication, speech and text recognition, decipher languages, and implement solutions mimicking humans. As a solution to these challenges, IVAs are being viewed as efficient and effective digital workers for a modern contact centre. IVAs represent increased throughput, more accurate results, and better-informed agents.
Successful use cases have shown that conversational AI can reduce calls and repetitive queries by 70-90%. IVRs with monolithic, complicated menus will start becoming unpopular and force contact centres to embark on a modernisation and automation strategy. If we evaluate the shift in priorities after COVID-19, we see that organisations are ramping up their self-service capabilities and their adopt of AI and machine learning (Figure 1).
The acquisition will give Five9 a foothold in the Asia Pacific region with an initial focus on the Australia market. The Australia market is by far the most advanced cloud contact centre market in the Asia Pacific. Five9 gains a team of staff that will help them fuel the contact centre modernisation discussion across the Asia Pacific. As the region has a complex market, the need to work with local carriers and partners will be critical for further expansion. Five9 has made an important acquisition in building in IVA capability into its CCaaS solution.
Click below to access insights from the Ecosystm Contact Centre Study on visibility into organisations’ priorities when running a Contact Centre (both in-house and outsourced models) and the technologies implemented and being evaluated
Video conferencing company Zoom hosted its virtual Zoomtopia user conference lasts week. Given the attention the company has received as the de-facto standard video communication service for the many stranded work-from-home folks, Zoom has been using the event to launch a number of new products. This includes bringing into general availability its OnZoom events platform and marketplace, and introducing Zapps which brings apps from other providers into the Zoom experience.
In this age of work-from-home connectivity, we are all asked to multi-platform depending on customer preference, company standards and choice of scale-out from a licensing perspective. But will video-led unified communications help position Zoom to be the infrastructure platform of choice of the workforce? Will Zoom as a Platform (ZaaP!) become a well-used phrase to discuss unified collaboration infrastructures?
The agenda of Zoomtopia, covering healthcare, government, financial services, sales engagement, blending learning in education, mindfulness, CSR, and a whole gambit of other vertical topics, demonstrates a virtual play to highlight use cases where other platforms have focused on the horizontal aspect of productivity.
If you compare Microsoft’s horizontal approach with Cisco’s networking approach, both come from places of productivity. Zoom, being video-led and UC oriented, comes from a place of communication and collaboration. Is collaboration now the real driver for the future of work?
Zoom connects the dots with these two product introductions. Zapps is designed to link productivity tools directly into the Zoom experience for user access to multiple applications from the platform. OnZoom allows hosts to run one-time events or event series with up to 100 or 1,000 attendees (depending on their license) and sell tickets for them. Zoom is also integrating the ability to receive donations through events via Pledgeling. Think a combination of EventBrite meeting GoFundMe meeting Facebook Events.
With the wide variety of activities during this social distancing period around the world that have been Zoom-powered, familiarity leads to experimentation and early adoption.
Without using the word ‘portal’ – Zoom as a Platform (ZaaP!) enforces the drive for a main infrastructure for live interaction via video as the main means of communication over written material or pre-recorded media materials. And many of us are video-led, more than ever.
Zoom is scaling rapidly. When it started out many years ago, they were known as a company that offered video sessions for free and everyone was wondering who this new kid on the block was. In a span of a few years, they have become a powerhouse.
The announcement of OnZoom is something that marketeers will take note of. Many marketeers are Zoom users but could be using other platforms for hosting events. The solution will have in-built tools for selling tickets, scheduling, gifting tickets, promotional activities, etc. Zoom is thinking about video and layering that with added functionality to run a large-scale event. You can see them going into using AI to churn out rich analytics on attendees, attendance rates, effectiveness of campaigns and so on. All of a sudden it is about hosting an event with in-built rich features plus analytics so events can be run better. They are reaching a new audience and making it a fully built all-purpose solution for event organisers and marketeers.
Security Front and Centre
Ecosystm research shows that security has been a key component in organisation’s COVID-19 responses – and rightly so (Figure 1).
While Zoom received some negative publicity this year around security, they were quick to admit the issues and made incremental changes in the subsequent months including an acquisition. With E2EE, no third party including Zoom is provided with access to the meeting’s private keys. Zoom’s E2EE ensures that communication between meeting participants using Zoom applications is encrypted using cryptographic keys known only to the devices of those participants. Zoom is starting to penetrate larger accounts and the security aspect is important as it is the top of the mind discussion for every business leader.
With the hybrid work model evolving between home and work, and work patterns changing, one thing that is going to stay is the use of video and collaboration tools and it is only going to accelerate (Figure 2).
What Zoom is doing well is how they take workflows and APIs seriously, making productivity flow into UC and UX, and not the other way around.
With longer work hours becoming a norm, growing instances of emotional stress and mental fatigue, UX becomes paramount. Knowledge workers want to seamlessly move between workflows and still find the experience simple and not tiring. Zoom is building on that vision as a platform enabler and infrastructure provider.
More insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and technology areas that will see transformation post COVID, as organisations get into the recovery phase, can be found in the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study
Telstra and Microsoft have extended their partnership to jointly build solutions harnessing the capabilities of AI, IoT, and Digital Twin technologies in Australia. The partnership will also enable both companies to work on sustainability, emission reduction, and digital transformation initiatives.
The adoption of cloud and 5G technology is already on the rise and creating opportunities across the globe. The Microsoft-Telstra partnership is set to bring together the capabilities of both providers for businesses in Australia and globally. Their focus on AI, IoT, cloud and 5G will enable Australia’s developers and independent software vendors (ISVs) to leverage AI with low latency 5G access to drive efficiency, and enhance decision making. This will also see practical applications and new solutions in areas like asset tracking, supply chain management, and smart spaces to enhance customer experience.
Technology Enhancing the Built Environment
Microsoft Azure and Telstra’s 5G capabilities will come together to develop new industry solutions – the combination of cloud computing power and telecom infrastructure will enable businesses and industries to leverage a unified IoT platform where they can get information through sensors, and perform real-time compute and data operations. Telstra and Microsoft will also build digital twins for Telstra’s customers and Telstra’s own commercial buildings which will be initially deployed at five buildings. Upon completion, the digital twin will enable Telstra to form a digital nerve centre and map physical environments in a virtual space based on real-world models and plot what-if scenarios.
Telstra CEO, Andy Penn says, “If you think about the physical world – manufacturing, cities, buildings, mining, logistics – the physical world hasn’t really been digitised yet. So, how do you digitise the physical world? Well, what you do is put sensors into physical assets. Those sensors can draw information around that physical asset, which you can then capture and then understand.”
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Mike Zamora finds the comment interesting and says, “It isn’t so much that the physical world is digitized – it is more about how digital tools enhance and enable the physical world to be more effective to help the occupier of the space. This has been the history of the physical space. There have been many ‘tools’ over time to help the physical world – the elevator in the late 1880s enabled office buildings to be taller; the use of steel improved structural support, allowing structural walls to be thinner and buildings taller. These two ‘tools’ enabled the modern skyscraper to be born. The HVAC system developed in the early 1900s, enabled occupants to be more comfortable inside a building year-round in any climate.”
“Digital tools (sensors, etc) are just the latest to be used to enhance the physical space for the occupant. Digital twins enable an idea to be replicated in 3D – prior to having to spend millions of dollars and hundreds of man hours to see if a new idea is viable. Its advent and use enable more experimentation at a lower cost and faster set up. This equates into a lower risk. It is a welcomed tool which will propel the experimentation in the physical world.”
Talking about emerging technologies, Zamora says, “Digital twins along with other digital tools, such as 3D printing, AI, drones with 4K cameras and others will enable the built environment to develop at a very quick pace. It is the pace that will be welcomed, as the built environment is typically a slow-moving asset (pardon the pun).”
“Expect the Built Environment developers, designers, investors, and occupiers to welcome the concept. It will allow them to dream of the possible.”
Telstra and Microsoft – Joint Goals
Telstra and Microsoft have partnered over the years over multiple projects. Last year, the companies partnered to bring Telstra’s eSIM functionality to Windows devices for data and wireless connectivity; they have also worked on Telstra Data Hub for secured data sharing between data producers, businesses and government agencies; and most recently collaborated on Telstra’s exclusive access to Xbox All Access subscription service to Australian gamers with the announcement of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S gaming consoles expected to release in November.
This announcement also sees them work jointly towards their sustainability goals. Both companies are committed to sustainability and addressing climate change. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced its plans to be carbon negative by 2030, while Telstra has also set a target to generate 100% renewable energy by 2025 and reducing its absolute carbon emissions by 50% by the same time. To enable sustainability, Telstra and Microsoft are exploring technology to reduce carbon emissions. This includes further adoption of cloud for operations and services, remote working, and piloting on real-time data reporting solutions.
Telstra also aims to leverage Microsoft technology for its ongoing internal digital transformation, adopting Microsoft Azure as its cloud platform to streamline operations, and infrastructure modernisation, including transition from legacy and on-premise infrastructure to cloud based applications.
I wanted to unpeel the onion a bit to take a closer look at what is going on and discovered a world of interesting developments around this product.
My first thoughts on hearing the announcement was that Microsoft, who has been steadily losing the battle of consoles to Sony’s PlayStation platform, was reviving this old favourite to resuscitate its drooping share.
Not a bad move. Flight Simulator has a core of die-hard fans – it even boasts of professional pilots who play the game as relaxation. It has a long history and a captive fan community. But it is old. That loyal community is not part of the demographic that a gaming company would normally look at today.
The other interesting aspect to consider is the COVID-19 situation this year. Obviously, Microsoft did not know this at the time they embarked on this project but the pandemic has turned everything on its head – hardware sales are through the roof – including accessories, at a time when people have been homebound and looking for entertainment within the four walls of one’s abode. The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study finds that 76% of organisations increased their hardware investments when the crisis hit – and 67% of organisations expect their hardware spending to go up in 2020-21. And that is only on the enterprise side of things. On the consumer side, at this point joysticks are in short supply – a trend that seems to have been accelerated by the Microsoft launch last week, interestingly – and so are PCs. The PC vendors are all enjoying a bumper year of growth. This is an ideal time to launch a really cool new version of the game.
Microsoft’s Bigger Game
The reality however is that while Flight Simulator will add to the revenue and also give Xbox One a fillip, Microsoft is probably after a much bigger “game” (excuse the pun!). The company has called its ‘Xbox Game Pass’ the Netflix of the gaming market. With multiple cloud-based gaming platforms having been launched – many with subscription services – the battle is on to decide the winners in a relatively new space. To this end, Microsoft has announced an intention to make Game Pass available across different devices – XBox console, PCs, tablets, phones. Having a title like Flight Simulator available through Game Pass, will act as a key hook to get customers to sign up for the subscription.
The new Flight Simulator version has been developed using AI and real-world imagery brought in with data from Bing Maps. With the newly added realistic scenery, it also seems like a great fit for use with the HoloLens Virtual Reality headsets. In one shot Microsoft is showcasing their lead in areas of technology which are likely to prove attractive to developers in a big way. I believe that this is a way for them to entice more developers on to Azure and to Microsoft cloud to develop their games – “AI SDKs anyone? Virtual Reality tools anyone?”
What seems at first glance like the launch of a new “future is here” version of a great game will turn out to be a possible big swing at multiple targets by Microsoft – at leadership in gaming with Game Pass; at reviving Xbox fortunes; at leadership in game development platforms, with Azure packing AI services, Bing Maps, AR/VR tools, among other technologies to move more development on to the Microsoft cloud. In the process Microsoft launched a highly enjoyable game and got closer to their ultimate aim to indeed become the Netflix of gaming.
Great move Microsoft! Tip: This could also give them a foothold in the virtual travel and virtual vacations market! That would be a hot seller in these times.
Initiatives such as the UK Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and Google Cloud agreement will also help in the recovery phase. This allows qualified public sector agencies to avail of a discounted price for their Google Cloud deployments. Earlier in the year CCS entered into a price arrangement with Microsoft as well. If Cloud has to be the vehicle for economic recovery, such arrangements will benefit cash-strapped public sector organisations.
The recovery will also require the entire technology ecosystem to engage not only with large enterprises but also small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Alibaba Cloud announced an investment of US$ 283 million to revamp its global partner program. They plan to introduce new partner-customer communication processes to enhance response time and bring more opportunities to independent software vendors (ISVs) managed service providers (MSPs) and system integrators (SIs) as partners.
Europe Emerging as a Cloud Hub
As a fallout of the current political scenario, Europe is pushing for more cloud independence and to become an innovation hub as a vendor-neutral network for cloud computing providers and their customers.
GAIA-X Foundation is a federated data infrastructure project initiated to build a unified system of cloud and data services to be protected by EU Laws – including GDPR, the free flow of non-personal data regulation and the Cybersecurity Act. France and Germany kicked off the GAIA-X cloud project last year and the system is open for participation to national and European initiatives for exchange of data across industries and services such as AI, IoT and data analytics. GAIA-X took another step towards becoming a real option for European organisations with the establishment as a legal entity in June. Various organisations – including Dassault, Orange, Siemens, SAP, Atos, Scaleway and Deutsche Telekom are a part of this non-profit platform, working together on Cloud applications, high-performance computing as well as edge systems. The project is expecting to release a working model by early 2021 and will be further enhanced in phases.
Global Cloud leaders are also focusing on expanding their presence in Europe. In February, Microsoft announced a new data centre in Spain leveraging Telefónica infrastructure. In a similar move, Google Cloud announced its plans to expand in the region in partnership with Telefónica. Telefonica and Google are expected to jointly work on Spain’s digitalisation through edge infrastructure and 5G for consumers and telecom infrastructure.
Cloud Providers Bolstering their Cybersecurity Capabilities
2020 has witnessed a host of cybersecurity threats and data breaches. While Cloud providers have always evolved their cybersecurity capabilities, it has become important for them to become vocal about these measures to build trust in the industry.
To complement the Microsoft Azure IoT security, Microsoft acquired IoT security specialist CyberX, last month. The acquisition will enable greater security for the IoT devices connected to the Microsoft network and will help their customers to gain visibility through a map of devices thus allowing them to gather information on security risks associated with thousands of sensors and connected devices. This will enhance smart grid, smart manufacturing and digital assets and profiles and reduce vulnerabilities across production and supply chain.
In another move which will benefit the ISV and SI ecosystem, NetFoundry’s zero trust networking API is now available on RapidAPI. RapidAPI’s marketplace enables developers to easily find, connect to, and manage the APIs they need to build a range of applications. Now the ISV and developer community can access NetFoundry’s software-only, zero trust models on RapidAPI.
More Partnerships between Software/Industry Solutions Providers and Cloud Providers
The COVID-19 crisis has had a far-reaching impact on several industries. The technologies that are expected to see the most uptake are IoT and Future of Work technologies.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “COVID-19 has brought to the fore the need for managing risks better. And the key to managing risks is to have better visibility and drive data-driven decisions; the sweet spot for IoT technologies.”
Last week, Microsoft and Hitachi announced a strategic alliance to accelerate the digital transformation of the Manufacturing and Logistics industries across Southeast Asia, Japan and North America. The first solutions are expected to be made available in Thailand as early as this month. Hitachi brings to the table their industry solutions, such as Lumada, and their IoT-ready industrial controllers HX Series. These solutions will be fully integrated with the Microsoft cloud platform, leveraging Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365.
Another sector that has seen significant disruption is Real Estate. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Andrew Milroy in his blog Proptech: Driving Digital Transformation in the Wake of COVID-19 sees a real opportunity for the sector to transform. “Many activities within the property ecosystem have remained unchanged for decades. There are several opportunities for digital engagement and automation in this sector, ranging from the use of robots in construction to the ‘uberisation’ of the residential property customer journey.”
June saw Honeywell and SAP partner to create a joint cloud-based solution based on Honeywell Forge and SAP cloud. The cloud solution is aimed at real estate operators and customers providing aggregated financial and operational insights in real-time. The solution leverages the Honeywell Forge autonomous buildings solution and the SAP Cloud for Real Estate solution, enabling facility managers and building owners to reposition their real estate portfolios through parameters such as cost savings and energy efficiency and help improve the tenant experience.
As organisations struggle to maintain operations during the ongoing crisis, there has been an exponential increase in employees working from home and relying on the Future of Work technologies. Ecosystm principal Advisor, Audrey William says, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become reliant on voice, video and collaboration tools and even when things go back to normal in the coming months, the blended way of work will be the norm. There has been a surge of video and collaboration technologies. The need to have good communication and collaboration tools whether at home or in the office has become a basic expectation especially when working from home. It has become non-negotiable.”
AWS and Slack announced a multi-year partnership to collaborate on solutions to enable the Workplace of the Future. This will give Slack users the ability to manage their AWS resources within Slack, as well as replace Slack’s voice and video call features with AWS’s Amazon Chime. And AWS will be using Slack for their internal communication and collaboration.
Delivering excellent customer experience in the midst of the crisis has proved to be difficult for organisations. Customer care centres have been especially impacted by high volumes of customer interactions – through voice and non-voice channels. This will see a major rise in adoption of cloud contact centre solutions. Contact centre providers are ramping up their capabilities in anticipation. Genesys selected AWS as their preferred cloud partner to deliver new features to customers and build a global and secure infrastructure.
The industry can expect more news from Cloud providers in the next few months as they ramp up their capabilities and channel their go-to-market messaging.
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5/5 (2) I’m really excited to launch our AI and Automation VendorScope! This new tool can help technology buyers understand which vendors are offering an exceptional customer experience, which ones have momentum and which are executing and delivering on their promised capabilities. The positioning of vendors in Ecosystm VendorScopes is independent of analyst bias or opinion or vendor influence – customers directly rate their suppliers in our ongoing market benchmarks and assessments.
The Evolution of the AI Market
The AI market has evolved significantly over the past few years. It has gone from a niche, poorly understood technology, to a mainstream one. Projects have moved from large, complex, moonshot-style “change the world” initiatives to small, focused capabilities that look to deliver value quickly. And they have moved from primarily internally focused projects to delivering value to customers and partners. Even the current pandemic is changing the lens of AI projects as 38% of the companies we benchmarked in Asia Pacific in the Ecosystm Business Pulse Study, are recalibrating their AI models for the significant change in trading conditions and customer circumstances.
Automation has changed too – from a heavily fragmented market with many specific – and often very simple tools – to comprehensive suites of automation capabilities. We are also beginning to see the use of machine learning within the automation platforms as this market matures and chases after the bigger automation opportunities where processes are not only simplified but removed through intelligent automation.
Cloud Platform Providers Continue to Lead
But what has changed little over the years is the dominance of the big cloud providers as the AI leaders. Azure, IBM and AWS continue to dominate customer mentions and intentions. And it is in customer mentions that the frontrunners in the VendorScope – Microsoft and IBM – set themselves apart. Not only are they important players today – but existing customersAND non-customers plan to use their services over the next 12-24 months. This gives them the market momentum over the other players. Even AWS and Google – the other two public cloud giants – who also have strong AI offerings – didn’t see the same proportions of customers and prospects planning to use their AI platforms and tools.
While Microsoft and IBM may have stolen the lead for now, they cannot expect the challengers to sit still. In the last few weeks alone we have seen several major launches of AI capabilities from some providers. And the Automation vendors are looking to new products and partnerships to take them forward.
Without the market momentum, Microsoft and IBM would still stand above the rest of the pack – just not as dramatically! Both companies are not just offering the AI building blocks, but also offer smart applications and services – this is possibly what sets them apart in an era where more and more customers want their applications to be smart out-of-the-box (or out-of-the-cloud). The appetite for long, expensive AI projects is waning – fast time to value will win deals today.
The biggest change in AI over the next few years will hopefully be more buyers demanding that their applications are smart out-of-the-box/cloud. AI and Automation shouldn’t be expensive add-ons – they should form the core of smart applications – applications that work for the business and for the customer. Applications that will deliver the next generation of employee and customer experiences.
Ecosystm Vendorscope: AI & Automation
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While the private sector is often quicker in their adoption of digital technologies for better customer experience (CX), the adoption in the public sector can be challenging due to various concerns such as legacy systems, privacy, national security, inter-departmental dependency and more. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Audrey William says, “Most cloud contact centre solution providers today have the highest level of security wraps and certifications including country-level certifications. However, verticals such as Government, have remained concerned about security. This has not allowed them to innovate as fast as some of the other sectors on leveraging some of the best-in-class customer experience technologies.”
In the US, MAXIMUS, a government services provider company and Genesys recently announced a partnership to set up the MAXIMUS Genesys Engagement Platform, an integrated, cloud-based omnichannel contact centre solution. This was driven by the government requirement for public sector organisations to provide seamless customer experiences similar to those offered in the private sector. The platform is certified by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). FedRAMP promotes the adoption of secure cloud services across the US Federal Government, in partnership with federal agencies, cloud service providers and 3rd party assessment organisations and provides the standards for security and risk assessment.
This is in line with what we see in the Ecosystm data. Government agencies that use contact centres are increasingly evaluating cloud options, with 17% saying that they operate fully on the cloud (Figure 2). While this may be difficult for all public sector organisations, with mandates around data location and security, a majority are partially on the cloud.
There are several benefits to using the cloud model including the ability to make changes and scale up/down without much customisation or professional services (which can come in handy for a quick re-alignment of the workforce) and manage seasonal spikes. Additionally, cloud solutions allow almost instantaneous access to new features and easy testing of proofs of concept. Public sector organisations are fast realising the value of cloud contact centres.
William sees the FedRAMP certification having immense potential. “FedRamp provides a secured environment for any service that is rolled out as this involves multiple levels of security. Citizens expect a more personalised service through chat, Twitter, mobile, social messaging channels like WhatsApp and many more. However, they also want to feel safe when providing personal information and want to know that the platform that holds their data is secure. When they know that security is at the highest level, they will be more open to providing personal data.”
Managing an Omnichannel Experience
Over half of public sector organisations in the Ecosystm CX study mentioned that they are driving an omnichannel experience for their customers. This has become especially relevant today, as organisations have the need to reduce the call volumes for their contact centres – through non-voice services and customer self-service. The MAXIMUS Genesys Engagement Platform will leverage Genesys Engage, which provides integrated features and functionalities across multiple channels through a single voice and digital user interface. Solutions such as these provide the ability to integrate calls, emails, chats, messages and social comments into one connected platform.
William says, “The cloud platform can help with the highest level of efficiency, scale and speed by integrating multiple channels on a single platform, for more connected customer experience. Government departments will look to leverage capabilities such as Conversational AI, in-app mobile messaging, SMS, email and voice calls within a multi secure environment. Citizens have high expectations from government departments – they expect fast, reliable and efficient service and automation. It would be difficult for governments to provide that level of service without leveraging cloud contact centre technology. That is the only way to move away from inefficient traditional architectures.”
Speaking about the adoption of cloud contact centres in the Asia Pacific region, William says, “Despite initiatives like Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency, the adoption has been relatively low in the public sector. But that has been changing fast with the COVID-19 situation forcing some government departments to move almost immediately to the cloud allowing easier changes to call workflows and other dynamic services that may have to be addressed on a daily basis.”
For more insights on Ecosystm’s ongoing research on business and technology priorities in Contact Centres