ChannelVision Magazine

EMERGENT Channel Vision | January - February, 2018 8 Artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual assistants are making their way into the business communications market, including unified communications (UC) – offering a next-gen product differen- tiator for channel partners to keep their eyes on. Amazon, for instance, could soon be shaking up the landscape with a de- vice that began in the consumer realm, but may launch for enterprises: The Amazon Echo Show. The gadget offers an “immersive search experience” that leverages the Alexa voice assistant, a touchscreen display and a 5-megapixel camera for video calls. It already can connect to emails and calendar via voice, along with other UC-friendly aspects. As such, it could be disrup- tive for business enterprises. “Voice recognition and UC are a natural combination,” said David Portnowitz, chief market- ing officer at Star2Star Com- munications. “The goal of UC is to streamline communica- tions at every level and provide end users with a seamless experience. The trend of incorporating voice rec- ognition with UC adds a hands-free, ultra-accessible component to any communications portfolio.” Gartner analyst Werner Goertz took a test-drive with the gadget, participat- ing in an Echo Show videoconference call between Amazon offices in San Francisco and Seattle that showed zero latency and HD video support. The demo showed that the potential for businesses to use these as endpoints to connect to corporate productivity applications is clearly there, he said. Amazon already offers APIs and the Alexa Skills program that allow devel- opers to create applications for Echo Show, and opening these to business applications creators isn’t too far of a move ahead. “Established companies in unified communications should be nervous,” Goertz said, adding that he could see the Echo Show being initially aimed at use cases in telemedicine and home healthcare, along with hospitality. Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said that despite the promise of Echo Show for enabling UC, Amazon hasn’t yet shown off significant enterprise chops, so there remain open questions. “Enterprises need systems that tie back to their internal infrastructure of apps running their businesses, wheth- er they are in the cloud or on-prem- ises,” he said. “At this point, I don’t know if Amazon has provided enough in the way of APIs and software devel- opment kits to make it worthwhile for business users.” And, indeed, there are of course areas that will need development out- side of the consumer applications that the Echo Show initially targets. As with most internet of things (IoT) devices, privacy and security will be initial IT concerns. For instance, in the enter- prise market, voice authentication is increasingly important. Some banks, for instance, use voice recognition for sign-in and account authentication. “Speaker authentication is needed on Echo Show, and that’s on the road map of Amazon,” Goertz said. Virtual assistants are applicable in other areas, as well. For instance, Mist, which recently launched a chan- nel partner program, has debuted the AI-driven Virtual Network Assistant (VNA) for wireless operations, with an integrated help desk module. It will be available via its channel partner network of resellers and managed service providers. Powered by Mist’s AI engine, Marvis, VNA is a cloud-based micro- service that uses natural language processing (NLP) to make it easy to query the Mist global cloud for real-time monitoring of mobile client activity. VNA uses data science to identify Wi-Fi issues, understand the impact of wireless problems, corre- late events across the wireless/wired/ mobile device/IoT domains and auto- alert on anomalies. “VNA is the next step in Mist’s journey toward building an intel- ligent AI-driven network that simpli- fies operations, lowers operational expenses and gives unprecedented insight into the wireless user experi- ence,” said Bob Friday, CTO and co-founder at Mist. “We started with a robust distributed micro-services- based software architecture built on a cloud-based platform that collects and manages an enormous amount of data. On top of this, we imple- mented a patented methodology for organizing and classifying this data into domain-specific service levels. Mist now delivers a VNA that can an- swer questions on par with a wireless domain expert.” Despite the lingering questions, it’s clear that AI and virtual assistant- enabled devices will continue to come to market, offering UC-like functionality for businesses. The ad- vancement of these connected things making their way to the business realm is one we should all be consid- ering as this rapidly changing market continues to progress. Alexa, Virtual Assistants Make Way into Business Realm Amazon Echo Show By Tara Seals