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AI: let’s collaborate!

March 20, 2019

Peter Quinlan   

Vice President, Unified Communications and Collaboration Product Management

Far from being the job-stealing, world-dominating villain portrayed in science fiction movies and popular culture, AI is going to be the number one way that collaboration between humans will be enhanced in the coming decades. Our recent study, AI & The Future of Work, discussed the ways in which AI-enabled technologies can enhance collaboration between humans, rather than the reason many of us find ourselves replaced by a bot in the not too distant future.

AI can streamline collaboration between humans by automating tedious or repetitive tasks, therefore enabling humans to focus their energy on more value-adding activities that require attributes like empathy, and creativity which machines don’t have. Also, AI systems are not intuitive like us – but what they do bring to the table is superfast analysis, which will guide humans’ decision making like never before.

Imagine sitting in a meeting with colleagues discussing a marketing strategy, or customer usage or buying patterns for a portfolio of products. AI can synthesize large amounts of disparate data and find patterns or insights not readily apparent, or easily discoverable by humans.  That frees humans to spend more time assessing better data, discussing options, and planning a path forward.  In other words, AI doesn’t replace your people or substitute for their skill – it complements and actually enhances their value.

Bridging communication barriers with AI

Businesses across the globe are on a constant path of adaptation and innovation – and seamless collaboration between people is a major enabler of this transformation.  Surprisingly, AI is already being deployed to improve human interaction in global, multi-cultural contact centre applications.

Take for example any of the millions of sales or customer support interactions supported by BPOs in the low cost countries.  A lot of resources are devoted to helping contact centre agents better understand their customer’s language, and even to mimic their accents and manner of speech.  But for a speaker from a different culture, it’s not always easy to detect all the nuances and emotion in a remote caller’s voice.  And even if some agents “get it”, it’s not easy to scale and maintain the successes of your best performers across large numbers of agents spread across multiple locations, shift patterns, and types of work.  By recording, and sometimes transcribing customer interactions, and “training” AI to recognise patterns of speech that lead to successful and unsuccessful outcomes, scripts, training materials, and even real-time “pop up” help for agents can be enabled in the contact centre to improve agent effectiveness.  It’s not even necessary that we humans can articulate what made the interaction successful – we just need to use a branch of AI called natural language processing, or NLP, to “listen” to transactions that lead to a particular result so that it can learn and identify similar patterns in future.  It’s like having your best performing agents listening in and helping every single one of their colleagues hear buying signals, identify hidden needs and upsell opportunities, or understand and respond appropriately when a customer gets agitated.   That would improve outcomes for everyone: your staff, your business, and most importantly, your customer.

Amplifying human skills

Of course, introducing AI to a workforce will take some getting used to. It has the potential to free people from a lot of drudgery, allow them to see new possibilities and make more informed decisions, and complement their skills in myriad ways.  To do that, however, AI needs people to identify where it can best be applied, to change processes and gather data to better apply it, and to pose the right questions and train it with examples to improve outcomes.  That requires people to be engaged and to embrace the transition, not fearful that AI will eliminate their job.  This will require leaders to, well, lead, their organisations in understanding AI’s potential.  They need to communicate and educate their teams, and encourage them to learn and experiment with AI.  It managed well, this transition could open new and exciting dimensions to traditional roles, and throw up great opportunities for people development, while simultaneously driving business outcomes.

This people-centric view will champion curiosity and experimentation, both as personal and organisational traits. The human skills – uniquely human qualities, like creativity, empathy, emotional intelligence, and entrepreneurialism will shape a significant proportion of the future workforce.  So it’s somewhat ironic that the technology many fear will replace us – or even threaten our very existence – actually has the power to help people do more and to magnify their effectiveness.  It may require people to change how they think and what they do, but the reward for doing so is more rewarding work and more valuable employees.

That is why I am so excited to see many of our customers explore the potential of AI-enabled tools in transforming how they communicate and collaborate. As a recognition of our role in helping businesses harness the full potential of the latest digital platforms in how they work together and engage with their customers, we were named the 2018 APAC Managed UC Services Provider of the Year award by Frost & Sullivan. I firmly believe that when more businesses realise the vast potential of AI and embrace innovations like this in how they operate and collaborate, this will spark the positive change that can be felt by employees and customers alike.


Watch Vinod Kumar, MD and CEO of Tata Communications, and Ken Goldberg, Professor, UC Berkeley, discussing how they think AI will impact on jobs and employment in the future.