Tag Archives: Enhance

Nuage Networks, Talari SD-WAN tack on multi-cloud connectivity

Software-defined WAN vendors are rushing to enhance their SD-WAN platforms with multi-cloud support, as more enterprises and service providers migrate their workloads to the cloud. This week, both Nuage Networks and Talari made multi-cloud connectivity announcements of their own.

Nuage Networks, a Nokia company, updated its SD-WAN platform — Virtualized Network Services — to better support SaaS and multi-cloud connectivity.

The platform enhancement moves to address three specific pain points among customers, according to Hussein Khazaal, Nuage’s vice president of marketing and partnerships. The three points, multi-cloud connectivity, value-added services and end-to-end security, are already available to customers.

“It’s a single platform that you can deploy today and get connectivity to software as a service,” Khazaal said. “We support customers as they send traffic directly from the branch to the SaaS application.”

In addition to multi-cloud connectivity, Nuage VNS offers customers the option to add value-added services — or virtual network functions (VNFs) — that can be embedded within the SD-WAN platform, hosted in x86 customer premises equipment (CPE) or through service chaining (a set of network services interconnected through the network to support an application). These VNFs are available from more than 40 third-party partners and can include services like next-generation firewalls, voice over IP and WAN optimization, Khazaal said.

While many service providers are leaning toward the VNF and virtual CPE approach, the process isn’t simple, according to Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research.

“Many service providers are finding the vCPE and VNF approach side to be challenging,” Doyle said. “Those with the resources can, and will, pursue it, and that’s where Nuage could be a piece of the puzzle.”

When it comes to enterprise customers, however, the VNF approach is less attainable, both Doyle and Khazaal noted.

“Nuage is one piece of the puzzle that a customer might add if they’re able to do it themselves,” Doyle said. “But most customers don’t want to piece together different elements.”

For smaller enterprise customers, Khazaal recommended using the option with embedded features, like stateful firewall and URL filtering, built into the SD-WAN platform.

Although Nuage has more than 400 enterprise customers, according to a company statement, its primary market is among service providers. Nuage counts more than 50 service providers as partners that offer managed SD-WAN services — including BT, Cogeco Peer 1, Telefónica and Vertel — and has been a proven partner for service providers over the years, Doyle said.

“Nuage is a popular element of service providers’ managed services strategies, including SD-WAN,” he said. “These enhancements will be attractive mainly to the service providers.”

Nuage VNS is available now with perpetual and subscription-based licenses, and varies based on desired features and capabilities.

Talari launches Cloud Connect for SaaS, multi-cloud connectivity

In an additional multi-cloud move, Talari updated its own SD-WAN offering with Talari Cloud Connect, a platform that supports access to cloud-based and SaaS applications.

Talari also named five accompanying Cloud Connect partners: RingCentral, Pure IP, Evolve IP, Meta Networks and Mode. These partners will run Talari’s Cloud Connect point of presence (POP) technology in their own infrastructure, creating a tunnel from the customer’s Talari software into the cloud or SaaS service, according to Andy Gottlieb, Talari’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.

“The technology at the service provider is multi-tenant, so they only have to stand up one instance to support multiple customers,” Gottlieb said. Meantime, enterprises can use the Cloud Connect tunnel without having to worry about building infrastructure in the cloud, which reduces costs and complexity, he added.

Talari’s partner list reflects the demands of both customers and service providers, he said. Unified communications vendors like RingCentral, for example, require reliable connectivity and low latency for their applications. Meta Networks, on the other hand, offers cloud-based security capabilities, which enterprises are increasingly adding to their networks. Talari SD-WAN already supports multi-cloud connectivity to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Talari Cloud Connect will be available at the end of October. The software comes at no additional charge for Talari customers with maintenance contracts or with subscriptions, Gottlieb said. Also, Cloud Connect partners can use the Cloud Connect POP software free of charge to connect to Talari SD-WAN customers, he added.

Salesforce Datorama acquisition to bolster Marketing Cloud

The Salesforce Datorama acquisition is expected to enhance the Salesforce Marketing Cloud system and better compete with Adobe — the CRM software vendor’s main competitor in the marketing space.

The Salesforce Datorama acquisition marks the fourth purchase for the vendor this year, following its acquisitions of Attic Labs, CloudCraze and MuleSoft. The cost of buying Datorama, according to reports, was about $800 million.

Datorama uses AI and machine learning to provide marketing intelligence and analytics to help organizations identify which campaigns work best and what the next best marketing tactic should be. Salesforce appears to be looking to the Israel-based company’s technology to bolster its Einstein AI-backed business intelligence software.

The move will strengthen Salesforce’s portfolio in marketing and analytics, said Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research.

“Datorama looks at every piece of analytics around the campaign to figure out why one was more successful than another. Salesforce has been building out its Marketing Cloud and [has] been doing specific acquisitions to bolster its marketing and ad-tech capabilities,” Wang said.

Not all observers think the Salesforce Datorama acquisition was the best move to help with marketing analytics.

Datorama customers have used the product more for reporting, rather than analytics, according to Tina Moffett, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

“Datorama’s strong suit is in its ability to connect disparate data sources — from Facebook and ad servers and email providers — into one central system, and it uses AI to do that,” Moffett said. “A lot of the organizations that we’ve talked to use Datorama as a central reporting and dashboard tool.”

Building capabilities through acquisition

When you see this acquisition, you have to think the next thing for Salesforce is ad tech.
Ray Wangprincipal analyst and founder of Constellation Research

Salesforce has been visibly working to improve Marketing Cloud and has done so mainly through acquisitions.

That campaign started with acquiring ExactTarget in 2013 and turning it into the core Marketing Cloud system. Salesforce then bought Krux in 2016 to improve Marketing Cloud’s data management capabilities and soon renamed Krux to Salesforce DMP.

Salesforce’s acquisition of Datorama AI marketing software fits the same theme, but the purchase may have surprised some.

“Salesforce’s [approach] is to build capabilities through acquisitions,” Moffett said. “For them to focus on marketing performance measurement and then acquire a company wasn’t that big of a shock. I think what was a big of a surprise was that it was Datorama.”

Surprise or not, Salesforce appears to have big plans for Datorama.

“Salesforce’s acquisition of Datorama will enhance Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud with expanded data integration, intelligence and analytics, enabling marketers to unlock insights across Salesforce data and the myriad of technologies used in today’s marketing and consumer engagement ecosystem,” Ran Sarig, Datorama CEO and co-founder, wrote in a blog post.

Meanwhile, Wang said he could see the Salesforce Datorama acquisition laying the groundwork for another Salesforce product: an advertising cloud.

“When you see this acquisition, you have to think the next thing for Salesforce is ad tech,” Wang said.

Salesforce graphic with Marketing Cloud logo
Salesforce acquired Datorama, an AI marketing analytics company, to help bolster its Marketing Cloud (pictured).

Salesforce sets sights on Adobe

Salesforce’s focus on strengthening Marketing Cloud also is apparently aimed at Adobe — another marketing software giant.

The two software goliaths have battled fiercely in recent years, and the Salesforce Datorama acquisition should be viewed in the context of that technological arms race, Wang said.

“From a Marketing Cloud perspective, it’s Salesforce and Google versus Microsoft and Adobe, and that’s what people need to recognize when considering their investments,” he said.

The big tech leaders all are trying to make it easier for organizations to connect the dozens of marketing tools that most large enterprises use.

“The bigger issue is the fact that most organizations run 40 to 50 martech solutions and want to know how to consolidate [their data],” Wang said. “Everyone is looking for one vendor to make this easier, and the integrations that Datorama has are important and allow you to connect those different pieces.”

Call center chatbots draw skepticism from leaders

ORLANDO, Fla. — Artificial intelligence chatbot vendors may hype machine learning tools to enhance customer service, but call center leaders aren’t necessarily ready to trust them in the real world.

Part of the reason is call centers are judged by hard-to-achieve performance metrics based on volume, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Once a call center performs successfully against those expectations set by management, it’s hard to convince leaders to entrust call center chatbots with the hard-fought, quality customer relations programs they’ve built with humans.

“I don’t anticipate them having any kind of utility here,” said Jason Baker, senior vice president of operations for Entertainment Benefits Group (EBG), which manages discount tickets and other promotions for 61 million employees at 40,000 client companies. Baker oversees EBG customer service spanning multiple call centers.

“We strive for creating personalized and memorable experiences,” Baker said. “A chatbot — I understand the reason behind it, and, depending upon the type of environment, it might make sense — but in the travel and entertainment industry, you have to have the personalized touch with all interactions.”

Artificial intelligence chatbots were the most-talked-about technology at the ICMI Contact Center Expo, with a mix of trepidation and interest.

Navy Federal Credit Union employs “a few bots” for fielding very basic customer questions, such as balance inquiries, said Georgia Adams, social care supervisor at credit union, based in Vienna, Va.

Her active social media team publishes tens of thousands of posts and comments annually on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook without the help of artificial intelligence chatbots, but “they’re on the horizon.” She stressed that call center chatbots must be transparent — identifying themselves as a bot — and be empowered to transfer customers to human customer service agents quickly to be effective.

“It’s coming, whether you want it or not,” Adams said. “We’re strategizing [and] looking at it. I certainly think they have a lot of value, especially when it comes to things that are basically self-service … but if I’m talking to a bot, I want to know I’m talking to a bot.”

Call center chatbots not gunning for humans’ jobs — yet

Another part of the reason call center personnel might be wary of chatbots — true or not, fair or unfair — is robotic automation will eventually take the humans’ jobs. This idea was dismissed by neutral industry experts such as ICMI founding partner Brad Cleveland, who said alternative customer service channels such as interactive voice response (IVR), email, social media and live chat each caused similar panic in the call center world when they were new. But none of them significantly affected call volumes.

“We hear predictions that artificial intelligence will replace all the jobs out there,” Cleveland said, not just in customer service. “If it does, we’re definitely going to be the last ones standing in customer service. But I don’t think it’s going to happen that way at all.”

Cleveland said he believes artificial intelligence chatbots will likely have utility in the near future, as technology advances and call centers find appropriate uses for them. Machine learning tools that aren’t chatbots, too, will make a difference, he said.

One example on display was an AI tool that can be trained to find — and adapt on the fly — pre-worded answers to common, or complex and time-consuming, customer queries that a human agent can paste into a chat window after a quick edit for sense and perhaps personalization. The idea is they get smarter and more on point over months of use.

But even live chat channels have their limits when they’re run by humans, let alone artificial intelligence chatbots. Frankie Littleford, vice president of customer support at JetBlue, based in Long Island City, N.Y., said during a breakout session here that her agents have to develop a sixth sense about when to stop typing and pick up the phone.

“You know in your gut when to take it out of email or whatever channel that isn’t person-to-person,” Littleford said. “You just continue to make someone angrier when you’re going back and forth — and let’s face it, a lot of people are really brave when they’re not face-to-face or on the phone … If your agents are skilled to speak with those customers, you can allow them to climb their mountain of anger and then de-escalate.”

AI chatbot benefits illustration
ICMI commissioned an artist for select Call Center Expo sessions by whiteboard artist Heather Klar. Here, she illustrated high points from a pro-AI chatbot lecture.

Vendors hold out hope

ICMI attendees weren’t fully buying into the promise of AI chatbots, but undeterred software vendors kept up the full-court press, attempting to sell the benefits of automation and allay fears that chatbots will eventually replace attendees’ jobs.

“We don’t use [AI] to replace human work,” said Mark Bloom, Salesforce Service Cloud senior director of strategy and operations, during his keynote, adding that organizations that attempt to replace people with AI tools haven’t been successful. “We want to augment the work our people are doing and make them more intelligent. That is how we are moving forward.”

You could train a new employee, and they could leave tomorrow. A bot is not going to give up and leave, it’s not going to get sick, and it’s so scalable.
Kaye Chapmancontent and client training manager, Comm100

Setting up call center chatbots will require extensive training in test environments — just like human agents do. Once they’re trained, they require maintenance and updating, but they will solve another vexing problem for call center managers — employee turnover, said Kaye Chapman, content and client training manager for chatbot vendor Comm100, based in Vancouver, B.C.

“You could train a new employee, and they could leave tomorrow,” Chapman said. “A bot is not going to give up and leave, it’s not going to get sick, and it’s so scalable.”

Bob Furniss, vice president at Bluewolf, an IBM subsidiary known for Salesforce automation integrations that’s based in New York, said he believes artificial intelligence chatbots are coming, and AI in general will change both our personal and work lives. He said the potential is there for AI to help ease call center agents’ workload — up to 30% of the simplest customer queries — similar to the promises of IVR and the other channels when they came online in the industry.

Just like all other call center systems, Furniss warned that anything AI-powered will require attention and maintenance to attenuate its actions and keep abreast of changing workflow and updated customer relations strategies.

“This is just like any other technology we have in the contact center,” Furniss said. “You don’t set it and leave it, just like workforce management [applications]. There’s an art and a skill to it.”