This past year, the media has been full of posts talking about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), bots, next-gen automation, Internet of Things (IoT) and how it all may combine to replace humans in many job sectors (by the way, that’s BINGO, if you’re playing Buzzword Bingo). Our recent announcements at HelpSocial about our Open API platform have us thinking about the same things and wondering if we’ve just helped to make that “replace-all-humans” scenario easier to happen.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) business models are interesting. We used to buy expensive hardware servers and write every line of code for every system up to the user-interface. Then we went to the far less expensive cloud model and only had to focus on building our apps. Now, things are quickly moving to a point where you can nearly forget about the infrastructure completely and focus on the front end of the software, leaving the heart of the application to platform companies who offer it for fractions of cent, based purely on how you use it.
Twilio, who recently IPO’d, is a great example of this. Developers can build new applications easily with voice and SMS capabilities, without needing to have any knowledge of how said voice and SMS technology works. They can ship an application with, relatively speaking, almost no capital required for putting it together and turn that into a billion dollar “unicorn” company (hello, WhatsApp). Businesses can decide to build their own voice systems and create custom software to meet specific internal needs, and only need a front-end developer to make it happen. Plus, they can do all the RnD work on those systems for next to nothing, financially, while they’re proving concepts and testing versions.
At HelpSocial, we offer the same Platform as a Service model with our Open API, so businesses can add social media and messaging apps into their customer service systems. IBM offers the same model for their AI (Watson) products so businesses can make sense of their data and use it in a natural language processing scenario. From Oracle and Google to brand new startups, there are many more examples of these models.
In the digital communication world, speed of response is critically important. Our consumer culture is obsessed with convenience and instant gratification. To keep up with these rising demands and preferences for digital conversations, AI-driven bots continue to be touted as the answer to keeping up with fast digital communication. We are not, by any means, suggesting that humans shouldn’t be involved in customer service, or that bots are, indeed the answer. But, with many PaaS models for communication now available, and with an extremely low-cost barrier to entry, the world of AI driven bots looks primed to explode.
All of this comes at a time when communication industry giants like Avaya are in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings. This has a lot of large enterprises, who are built on that gear, very nervous. They’re looking at cloud options and they’re looking at going their own way internally with PaaS options. Most will make a decision over the next 2 and 3 yrs while their service contracts come to a close.
So, where is this likely headed? We think we’re all going to see phased approaches to this. People still need to be involved all over customer service, but many of their tasks can be automated to become more efficient. That is, allow the people to spend their time focusing on quality conversations vs looking up data or researching the answer to a question. There is no doubt, bots will steadily take the place of people covering frequently asked questions and scripted, routine procedures. PaaS companies, while not necessarily entering the market to replace people with bots, are certainly making it easier to do so with many tasks.
The next few years are going to be interesting. We’re going to see a battle of the all-in-one software suites against the PaaS companies preaching DIY. Which way the majority ends up going is anyone’s guess at this point. Probably, like anything else, it will be a mix of both. We’ll see.
This just in… Amazon has announced their entry into the communications PaaS market with their own internally-proven voice platform…
Editor’s Note: At author’s request, post was updated 4/12/17 to remove reference to Aspect in bankruptcy.