The Traditional Phone Call is Dead

Like many, I've been a Skype user forever. I also use WhatsApp, Facebook's Messenger and a host of other "calling apps." Many of my calls are scheduled, so it's UberConference or Zoom and sometimes GoToMeeting or WebEx. For some "personal" calls its a combination of Apple's FaceTime and Google's Hangouts. And as far as the idea of "dialing" a number, that's rare air territory, as I click someone's name, a number listed in an email or on a website or something found in a Google Maps listing. So, when I say the traditional phone call is dead, it really is.

Back in the day we dialed, or punched digits. The smartphone, with its integrated contact directory meant we no longer needed to "remember" someone's phone number. Then with click to call, we didn't even need to dial. The web did it for us. With WebRTC calls are being made right inside the browser or mobile app, and we really don't know (or care) if the call goes over WiFi, LTE or dials out over the carriers network. Yes, the traditional phone call is dead, we just don't know that.

Where I see all this going is someplace very much just around the corner. Already we can make calls via the Amazon Echo, and using tons of applications on our smartphones and tablets. With voice activation, imagine compiling your order with say, Amazon owned Whole Foods, and then wanting to talk to the butcher at your local store to custom order some burgers made with a bit of lamb, some pork, but mostly sirloin. You put your order in, schedule it for pick up, ask to talk to the butcher and add the special order to your digital one, and then go pick it up, or have it delivered. 

Let's go one step farther. You're doctor prescribes a medication for your upset tummy. The local pharmacy can send it over via Postmates, but you have questions on drug interactions. Inside the pharmacy app is a voice connection, you navigate through the IVR to get some help, and either a live pharmacy assistant or an AI powered voice bot provides information and answers questions.

The key to both these scenarios is the "call" goes through the app, and all the data associated with the call does too. At the end of each call, the voice AI provides you a summary. In the case of the pharmacy call, the interactions and proper usage instructions are dropped inside your in app inbox. If you want, you can, by voice, send them to your doctor or to a family member or caregiver. For people who take care of their parents or have a nanny taking care of their kids, the information helps avoid mistakes, but more importantly, if everyone has the app installed, the caregiver can call back in, and pick the language they want to hear the instructions in further avoiding complications.

In all of these scenarios, it's the App that makes the call.  

Oh, and for those who still think calling their friends happens the same way as always..think again. How many times do you text and touch to call them. Once your friends have their own "calling" service, that call will be like the old days of Burger King. You'll have it your way. 


Microsoft Moves More into Conversational AI

Last week when 8x8 made an acquisition I remarked that there would be more. A day later Dialpad announced their purchase. Today, it's Microsoft's turn with the purchase of Semantic Machines.

It's easy to speculate why its become a BUY vs. BUILD game surrounding AI. The smart money on the BUY side recognizes that there have been teams working on AI in many different discreet niches, and in turn those teams have developed massive understanding of those specific spaces. That knowledge and specificity is known as domain experience, so while 8x8's move is surrounding contact centers, and Dialpad's is around better understanding of the voice conversation in real time, Microsoft move is about the entire range of conversations (voice, video, text, bots)  between man and machine across the board in including ML (Machine Learning), NLP (natural language processing) and likely NN (neural networks).

My view is that AI will only get more entrenched in business and technology, and the buying of what imaginative minds create won't be stopping any time soon. But it's not the buying or building that matters. It's the implementation and adoption that does, for selling in is one thing, but selling through is where it counts.

SNARKY NOTE: Perhaps Microsoft will outsource the thinking behind Skype to AI, as pal Om Malik's quip from last week entitled "Skype Interrupted" and the related Bloomberg article, leads one to realize that the humans behind Skype sure aren't thinking.

 

 


Dialpad Adds Voice AI via TalkIQ Acquisition

Today Dialpad announced the acquisition of  TalkIQ. Just like yesterday's 8x8 AI acquisition this underscores my belief that VoiceAI will be as ubiquitous as collaboration. That means if you're a telco and you're not moving down the AI path and you offer functions like IVR, Voice recording, contact center or conferencing, not to mention regular calling you will be nothing more than PSTN 1.0, not VoIP 3.0.

AI brings lots of new features to telcos, and as I also implied yesterday, Cloud+AI+Fast Network means smarter, faster and cheaper interaction. But all that said, there is the requisite need for human intelligence and that's where neural networks will come into play. Adding a neural brings the ability to learn from a human, and then act like them. For contact centers, as the AI learns what to do right in each situation, the ability to get things done flattens.

The announcement by Dialpad, in which I hold shares, is the first stroke in the direction of where AI helps the entire calling process. More will likely come from this over time, as the service enters beta today, with scheduled launch for later this year.


8x8 Makes an AI Acquisition

Today long time VoIP pioneer 8x8 (the company formerly known as Packet8) made another in their ongoing acquisitions to bolster feature set, capabilities and likely to acquire more talent. They purchased MarianaIQ (MIQ) a company which has been around since 2013 in the AI space.

AI is the next battleground in telecom, and just like collaboration was to conferencing, AI will be the next rung on the ladder when contact centers, conference calls and even real-time one on one calls are being enhanced. With AI you get all types of use of the conversation that goes well beyond machine learning and natural language processing (NLP). AI in the call path will also supplant and surpass the concept of rules based responses. This replacement and advancement will occur when AI based smart IVR's come into play, and where they learn, can be corrected or confirmed by humans, and then based on what is the right answer or action, replicate that over and over again. And that's where the money is, or in reality the savings and that will involve big data, NLP, ML and Neural networks all combined to deliver a richer, smarter and more precise outcome.

AI,  Cloud and gigabit networks also go together, as the speed in which the computations can be done in the cloud and delivered to any device are essential soulmates in the delivery of the data back to the person on the other end. This is where necessary human oversight, by experienced staff comes into play at the very start.

I personally expect to see many other acquisitions and partnerships with AI companies formed by telcos and communications service providers, especially in the UCaaS and Collaboration space as the needed integration can't just be part of the interop like in the old days of VoIP but needs to be woven into the fabric of the business.

8x8, like the other telcos who will follow on quickly with this type of acquisition, will benefit by weaving the AI technology into the core of their platforms. It will be those who innovate swiftly and deliver a superior grade of service, not just features, but actual benefits to their customers and their customers' customers in turn, who win the race.

 


My Time Has Come: I'm Being Inducted Into The AAHA Hockey Hall of Fame

Tomorrow something very special is happening to. I'm being inducted into the AAHA's Hall of Fame. I'm already the youngest ever Director Emeritus since 1988 and now will become the youngest ever Hall of Fame inductee....but given how early I started, well, this should be no surprise.
 
Thirty years ago I "retired" from the Philadelphia Flyers after almost 13 years of running what was first known as Hockey Central for the Philadelphia Flyers, and what later became the Flyers Office of Amateur Hockey Affairs. As I look back so much was done in the 12 1/2 years of my time in the AAHA and with the Flyers that it seems like what many hope to accomplish in their lifetime.
 
Some background
 
Hockey Central was the brainchild of Aaron Siegel, Ken Gesner and Jim Shute, and I was hired in 1976 along with my very first mentor, Sy "The Wiley Old Veteran" Roseman, someone Larry Lloyd had the great fortune to see in action...he was the best. What I learned from Sy, Aaron, Ken and the late John Gardner during my days in Philadelphia set the BAR high in every walk of life. While Sy may go down as the best mentor, Ed Tepper hired me at age 14 so he gets the credit, while Aaron was the person who molded me, while Ken gets the credit for schooling me all those years. John is who transformed me.....so to all THANK YOU for tomorrow's honor never would have come without any of you shaping me and guiding me.
 
Given I started in my senior year of HIGH SCHOOL as I look back I am a bit in awe of my own accomplishments before I even graduated college.
 
Here are just a few of my accomplishments from that era:
 
Tied for first -Employee of Hockey Central as Communications Officer (1976) age 17
 
Hockey Central was the model, the archetype of a professional sports team getting involved with their "community." We started as a media dissemination organization, but quickly evolved into the hub of all things amateur hockey in the Delaware Valley as I expanded the focus into community events, youth hockey clinics, promotional programs, public affairs, broadcasting and eventually large scale spectator events.
 
Placing the First Hockey Player ever to be named Athlete of the Week in Philadelphia Inquirer (1977)-Gump Whiteside (age 17)
 
Co-Publisher of the College Hockey Guide (1977) age 18
 
Helped launch expanded Coaching Achievement Program (1977) age 18 with 400 person coaching clinic with Flyers Coaches Fred Shero, Barry Ashbee and Mike Nykoluk
 
Named as the second ever Executive Director of Hockey Central (1978) age 18
 
Color Commentator of Suburban High School Hockey on WBUX (1978-1980) age 19-21)
 
Starting The Pepsi Shootout TV Series (1979) age 19/20
 
Named Commissioner Mid Atlantic Womens' Hockey League (1977)
 
Named Commissioner Delaware Valley Hockey League (1978) age 19
 
Creating the Philadelphia Inquirer Hockey Top Ten Poll with High School Sports Editor, Don McKee (winter of 1978/79) age 19
 
Published Delaware Valley Ice Rink, Youth Hockey and Officiating Guides (1979) age 20
 
Established first Flyers Sponsored On Ice Official Clinic (1979) age 20 with Vin Godleski, John Shetzline, Mike Condon, Brad Murphy
 
Placing Scott Chamness in Sports Illustrated's Faces in The Crowd-first Philadelphia area hockey player ever to receive national recognition. (1979) age 20
 
Named USA Hockey Registrar (1980) age 20
 
Launched The Flyers Cup High School Hockey Championship (1980) age 20
 
Placed Scott Chamness to be Named HighSchool Athlete of the Year by Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Magazine (1980) age 20
 
Named Chief Counselor USA Hockey Midget Development Camp 1981 (age 21) taking Mike Richter went on to play in the Olympics and with New York Rangers (NHL) repeated in 1982
 
Launched High School and Youth Hockey at the Spectrum (1981) age 22
 
Co-founder Pennsylvania Cup High School Hockey Championship (1981)
 
Led effort along with Frank Black to put hockey into the Keystone State Games (1982) age 23
 
Launched Mites on Ice at Flyers Game (1982) age 23
 
Restructured and expanded Flyers Youth Hockey Clinic Program (1983) age 24 with help from many players
 
Named Office Manager, Philadelphia Flyers, 1984 (age 25)
 
Produced Bobby Clarke's retirement night (November 15 1984) Age 25
 
Created Flyers Learned to Skate Program at City of Philadelphia Ice Rinks with Jay Snider. First sponsorship was Medford Meats at Cobbs Creek Ice Rink (1984) Age 25
 
Named President, Hockey Central, (1985) by Jay Snider Age 26
 
Staged sold out Celebrity All Star Hockey Challenge vs. Flyers Alumni including return of Bobby Clarke February 1988) age 28 raising over $200,000 for youth hockey programs.
 
General Manager Celebrity All Star Hockey Team 1989-1998 raising 6 million dollars for charity across North America with the leadership and support of many great people starting with Tony Loiacono, Jerry Houser. John Perry and more.
 
Thank you all who served, played, managed or officiated as you all made this happen....including Jim Doyle, Pat D'Puzzo, Vin Godleski, Joan Schofield, Paul Saylor, Max Putter, Don Anderson, Jim Plunkett, Bruce Craig, Joe Moderski, Andy Richards, Jim Cunningham, Ken Reddy, Iris Jewel, Bob Gastwirth, Albert Natelli, Mike Fore, Tommy Capaccio, The Murph, Barbara Cornwell, Linda Sorens, Elenor Seeds, Delores McDermott, Donn Patton, Rob Grossman, Carl Hirch, Ed Golden, Tom Gorence, Joe and Jim Watson and my idol Bobby Clarke...
 
 
 

It All Relevant

A few days ago I wrote about the changes with Google search algorithm. The folks at Revvim have now come forward with a new video series called Workshop Wednesday, designed to help digital marketers uncover and better understand the challenges their facing.

In this week's video Matt LeBaron goes into detail about the importance of relevance and how to set up  web pages so they maintain their authority and page ranking, and not get lost in the listings.

Give it a watch....and learn.


No Surprise Mitel Gets Acquired

A private equity firm, Searchlight, is buying Mitel for 2 Billion dollars reports TechCrunch. This is no surprise but clearly the buy of Shoretel helped as the cloud focus of Shortel is the direction where things are heading, while Mitel has a large list of legacy telco customers.

It's an interesting buyout by a PE firm that has already taken out Rackspace and has a melange of holdings in tech and telecom.

When a PE firm buys a company they look to see profits be maintained and grow. That means a few things to me. Programs get cut to make sure margins are always maintained. Sooner or later people transition out, are laid off, offered incentives to leave so new, less expensive talent can be brought in. Lastly, projects to advance technology either happen or get killed off. As long as the numbers hit their projections everyone is fine. But miss the mark, and it's curtains for many, and those projects just languish.

Beyond that, paying a 25% premium for a company largely built on the past, with customers who are old school more than new school leaves a lot of room to keep making their numbers, so in that way it's a safe bet, but it's not a service provider for a post iPhone era startup or business to be looking towards for their phone service.

 

 


Relevance Matters

My SEO guru friend Steven Ray Marshall shared something with me this morning about Google's search algorithm changing and what it means. 

It comes down to RELEVANCE...For all the years I wrote about VoIP, one of the reasons VoIPWatch ranked on the first page of Google for so long, which is how I got to know Steve when he consulted to 8x8 and then LifeLock was my content had authority.

It had authority because of RELEVANCE. It's also why I don't write about Wine here, vs. on Winescene or why my attempt at remote working, called WorkingAnywhere were all different blogs back in the day.

With Google's change back to RELEVANCE maybe it's time to blog again. But there's more. In my view this latest move is a swipe at Facebook and is Google's way to garner even more ad dollars, and take them away from Facebook when the social network is under fire and attack for so many things they've done. Facebook ads were supposed to be highly personalized delivery while Google search was about authority.

Content marketing. Paid placements and yes, FAKE news all have damaged the reliability of the rankings. Google just changed that, upending the entire SEO world, for the good of Google's most important asset.

YOU.


Relevance Matters

My SEO guru friend Steven Ray Marshall shared something with me this morning about Google's search algorithm changing and what it means. 

It comes down to RELEVANCE...For all the years I wrote about VoIP, one of the reasons VoIPWatch ranked on the first page of Google for so long, which is how I got to know Steve when he consulted to 8x8 and then LifeLock was my content had authority.

It had authority because of RELEVANCE. It's also why I don't write about Wine here, vs. on Winescene or why my attempt at remote working, called WorkingAnywhere were all different blogs back in the day.

With Google's change back to RELEVANCE maybe it's time to blog again. But there's more. In my view this latest move is a swipe at Facebook and is Google's way to garner even more ad dollars, and take them away from Facebook when the social network is under fire and attack for so many things they've done. Facebook ads were supposed to be highly personalized delivery while Google search was about authority.

Content marketing. Paid placements and yes, FAKE news all have damaged the reliability of the rankings. Google just changed that, upending the entire SEO world, for the good of Google's most important asset.

YOU.


Alt Transit Battles Are Like Deja Vu

I'm guessing that when the first horseless carriage arrived there was outrage by public officials, but I don't know as I wasn't around back then. I do know that each time something "new" in transportation comes along that sooner or later some group of public officials challenges their right to be on the streets and sidewalks. It happened, and continues to happen to UBER, and now it's happening to BIRD, LIME and SPIN in San Francisco.

Let's face it. In the words of my 9th grade World History teacher, Royal Black, "history always repeats." So why is anyone, least of all the founders of any of these companies surprised. I'm sure not.

Having ridden a Bird scooter, complete with helmet, I can say its fun. What's more, city officials shouldn't look at the scooters and bikes as "the danger" but instead look at how they reduce traffic, curb carbon emissions, provide exercise and most of all get people out of cars, while reducing the overload on public transportation. 

It's easy to see the dockless bikes and scooters as litter on the sidewalk, but really those scooters and bikes don't linger long. The opportunities and possibilities surrounding these new modes of transportation are endless, starting simply as a way to get around without the hassle of a car, finding a parking spot and still being in control of my own ride vs. in the hands of another driver.

But for today, the battleground of change vs. keeping things status quo is happening, and that has to be deja vu....