Last week Microsoft announced the acquisition of Nuance for an estimated USD 19.7 billion. This is Microsoft’s second largest acquisition ever, after they acquired LinkedIn in 2016. Nuance is an established name in the Healthcare industry and is said to have a presence in 10,000 healthcare organisations globally. Apart from Healthcare, Nuance has strong capabilities in Conversational AI and speech solutions to support other industries. This acquisition is in line with Microsoft’s go-to-market roadmap and strategies.
Microsoft’s Healthcare Focus
Microsoft announced their Healthcare Cloud last year and this acquisition will bolster their Healthcare offerings and market presence. Nuance’s product portfolio includes clinical speech recognition SaaS offerings – Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting – on Microsoft Azure. The acquisition builds on already existing integrations and partnerships that were in place over the years.
“Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offers its solution capabilities to healthcare providers using a ‘modular’ approach. Given how diverse healthcare providers are in their technology maturity and appetite for change, the more diverse the ‘modules’, the greater the opportunities for Microsoft. This partnership with Nuance also brings to the table established relationships with EHR vendors, which will be useful for Microsoft globally.
The Healthcare industry continues to struggle as the world negotiates the challenges of mass vaccination. But on the upside, the ongoing Healthcare crisis has given remote care a much-needed shot in the arm. Clinicians today will be more open to documentation and transcription services for process automation and compliance. The acquisition of Nuance’s Healthcare capabilities will definitely boost Microsoft’s market presence in provider organisations.
However, Healthcare is not the only industry that Microsoft and Nuance are focused on. The Microsoft Cloud for Retail that was launched earlier this year aims to offer integrated and intelligent capabilities to retailers and brands to improve their end-to-end customer journey. Nuance has omnichannel customer engagement solutions that can be leveraged in Retail and other industries. As Microsoft continues to verticalise their offerings, they will consider more acquisitions that will complement their value proposition.“
Microsoft’s Focus on Conversational AI
Microsoft already has several speech recognition offerings, speech to text services, and chatbots; and they continue to invest in the Conversational AI space. They have created an open-source template for creating virtual assistants to help Bot Framework developers. In February, Microsoft announced their industry specific cloud offerings for Financial services, Manufacturing, and Non-Profit, and also introduced a series of AI and natural language features in Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Office Lens and Microsoft Office mobile to deliver interactive, voice forward assistive experiences.
“There is no slowing down in this space and the acquisition clearly demonstrates the vision that Microsoft is building with Nuance – a vendor that has made speech recognition, text to speech, conversational AI the foundation of the company. This is a brilliant move by Microsoft in the Conversational AI space and a win-win for both companies.
This move could also mark further inroads for Microsoft into the contact centre space. With Teams now being integrated into contact centre technologies, working with large customers using speech and conversational AI, Dynamics 365 could herald the start of more acquisitions for Microsoft to bolster a wider customer engagement vision.
The Conversational AI war is heating up and various other cloud vendors such as Google and AWS are starting to get aggressive and have made investments in recent years to enhance their Conversational AIcapabilities. Google Dialogflow has been seeing rapid uptake and they now have deep partnerships with Genesys, Avaya, Cisco and other contact centre players. Microsoft coming into the game and acquiring a company with years of history and IP in the speech space, demonstrates how the cloud battle and the war between Google, Microsoft and AWS is heating up in the Conversational AI. All of a sudden you have Microsoft as a powerhouse in this game.”
Genesys and Adobe are collaborating on integrating Genesys cloud and the Adobe Experience Platform. The deeper integration of both platforms is aimed to give organisations a better omnichannel presence. The platform is live for users and Genesys and Adobe will introduce other features and capabilities throughout 2020. Genesys is already a partner of Adobe’s Exchange Program designed for technology partners to supplement Exchange Marketplace with extensions and applications for Adobe Creative Cloud users.
Augmenting the CX journey through Data Synchronization
Ecosystm data finds that 62% of contact centres have driving omnichannel experience as a key customer experience (CX) priority and 57% want to analyse data across multiple data repositories. However, when asked about the challenges of driving consistent CX, data access and integration appears to be a barrier in achieving their priorities. These challenges are the reason why getting a “true view” of the customer data has been an arduous task and achieving consistent CX continues to be a struggle.
William says. “The customer data collected by a particular service or department does not always move along in real-time with the customer interactions across different touchpoints. This complicates maintaining a real-time customer profile and impacts the CX.”
“Sales and Marketing have different KPIs and tend to view customer data from different angles. The data from in-store, Marketing and Sales interactions sits within departmental silos. They may deal with the same customers and not follow them through their entire journey. This leads to missed opportunities in reaching out to them at the right time with the right products to upsell, resell or provide better CX. Data synchronisation across channels, would solve that problem.”
Integrating Genesys and Adobe Experience Platform will give organisations the capability to provide contact centre agents with real-time customer data and profiles from a single point to provide an personalised experience. The platform is powered by Genesys Predictive Engagement that uses AI to provide more intelligence based on past interactions to drive effective, data-driven conversations. In addition to this, the partnership also enables businesses and marketing departments to customise campaigns and extend their digital and voice capabilities for optimal conversions. William says, “The ability to use AI to understand customer intent, behaviour and patterns is critical as it will allow brands to re-look at how to design the customer journey. When you keep using the same and outdated profile, it will be hard to have discussions around intent, customer interest and assess how customer priorities have changed. Accurate and automate data profiling will lead to more targeted and accurate marketing campaigns.”
Genesys Deepening Industry Partnerships
Genesys is re-shaping its strategy on Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) offerings through partnerships and working on its vision of providing Experience as a Service to its global clients. The need for CCaaS has been accelerated by the pandemic. Last month Genesys signed a five year deal with Infosys to develop and deploy cloud CX and contact centre solutions.
Earlier this year, Genesys partnered with MAXIMUS, a US Government services provider to set up the MAXIMUS Genesys Engagement Platform, an integrated, cloud-based omnichannel contact centre solution driven by the government requirement for public sector organisations to provide seamless customer experiences similar to those offered in the private sector.
The company has also partnered with various other industry leaders like Microsoft, Google Cloud, and Zoom to roll out cloud-based innovations to benefit customers.
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
The move comes as many businesses and governments are witnessing a spike in inbound contact centre volumes since the outbreak of the pandemic. The telecom company aims to help the contact centre industry through its on-demand contact centre suite of solutions that can be scaled up or down according to the organisations’ requirements. It can be combined with existing CRM platforms in a single dashboard for better access to data and resolution support.
Vodafone Connect is built on the AWS Connect cloud contact centre solution and uses data analytics and machine learning tools to automate customer interactions across multiple channels – email, messaging and social media – to support the contact centre agents with real-time information.
COVID-19 has accelerated the move to the cloud
The recent pandemic has seen many organisations make a leap almost overnight to cloud contact centre technologies. Many organisations that previously had concerns around data privacy, and securing customer data – and were thus hesitant about deploying cloud contact centre solutions – have moved to the cloud model. The cloud model helped get agents that were forced to work from home up and running in a short duration. The immediate urgency was primarily due to a massive spike in voice calls and non-voice activity such as emails. During the COVID-19 crisis, many organisations used Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections to their legacy on-premises phone system to enable the remote agents. However, there have been challenges reported by many organisations with that approach such as increases to IT budget, difficulty in scaling easily, and the requirement for more IT support that could have been avoided.
Ecosystm research finds that only 30% of organisations have fully migrated their cloud contact centre solutions on the cloud.
This indicates a market opportunity for vendors in the cloud contact centre space. The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely triggered a strong move towards the cloud model. It has become imperative for vendors and solutions providers to strengthen their cloud capabilities.
Driving an Omni-Channel Experience has become increasingly difficult
Ecosystm research also finds that organisations find siloed organisational data as one of the biggest challenges in driving consistent customer experience.
This has been further exacerbated by the high volume of interactions that organisations have been having with their customers, and the need to accommodate work-from-home policies for their customer care agents. At the same time, nearly 60% of organisations want to drive an omni-channel experience to improve CX. This provides a huge opportunity for contact centre vendors and partners to offer consulting services to help organisations bridge the gaps in achieving an omni-channel experience. For many organisations there has been a greater push to integrate CRM, the voice of the customer/surveys, customer journey analytics to the contact centre technologies and this is not an easy task as it involves different stakeholders with different sets of KPIs. Having a single platform that can manage this omni-channel experience will be a huge benefit for many organisations.
New Players in the Competitive Landscape
AWS is a relatively new player in the contact centre market, but it is starting to disrupt the existing players, with a global installed base. However, it is worth noting that Avaya, Cisco and Genesys have a higher installed base and they continue to win new deals. The move to the cloud is witnessing more service providers, telecom providers and other contact centre partners push more cloud-based solutions in the market. Apart from AWS, other important players include NICEinContact, 8×8, Talkdesk, Twillio, Five9, and UJet. The competitive battleground is heating up and there are a lot of options for customers to choose from. It will all come down to working with a vendor that can help them achieve their desired CX outcomes.
There are other important elements in CX that are growing in importance and these include conversational AI, voice biometrics, knowledge management systems, machine learning and CX management solutions. Contact centre solution providers are having discussions around these areas with tech buyers. This will mean that we can expect deeper partnerships and acquisitions in the short to medium term. Security has also emerged as an important issue to be resolved, especially with agents working from home. This is from a compliance perspective and pertaining to how agents are viewing and handling customer data. These new trends indicate that customers will need to work with different vendors to solve the variety of issues they are facing.
The Vodafone Connect solution on AWS Connect is one of the many examples of how more partners of contact centre solutions are gearing up for the rapid move to the cloud. Globally, Vodafone also sells contact centre solutions from Cisco and Genesys. The next 3 years will see a great movement in the market and this will include vendors from North America that will set up operations to push their offerings across Europe and the Asia Pacific.
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
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.
Gain access to more insights from the Ecosystm Cloud Study
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