IBM’s Watson Rationalizes UC

IBM’s Watson Rationalizes UC

November 2nd, 2016

I’m not sentimental for the good old days as I typically embrace new technology, although I do recognize its impact.  In 1995, checking my messages meant checking voice mail from my desk phone, in 2000 it evolved to checking voice mail on my phone and e-mail on my PC, mostly in the office.  Today it means checking 6 or 7 different messaging platforms (including consumer tools and social networks) on 3 or 4 different devices – even if I’m on vacation in the most beautiful setting on earth.

Unified Communications (UC) was created to combat this chaos.  The idea is pretty simple: put all these disparate communication streams into one client so you can go one place and view it all and respond accordingly.  In theory…bada bing, bada boom, chaos solved.  Unfortunately, even with UC, the problem has gotten worse, not better.

We could simply conclude that the premise of UC has been a failure but it’s not that simple, the real problem is that we are creating messaging options faster than we can hope to rationalize their interfaces or federate their content and all this innovation is so compelling that we actually communicate more than ever. (This blog post will be posted on the web, e-mailed, and shared on social media.) 

Simply put, 100, 200 or 500 pieces of information aggregated into a few places is better than the same info spread out but the sheer number of messages is still more than we can rationally organize, consume and respond to.  As a result, reviewing and responding often becomes our primary job, supplanting real work and consuming personal time.  The end result is not just exhausting, it is also unproductive.

Last week at IBM’s World of Watson I finally got to see how we might be able to tame the beast with IBM’s cognitive tools.  Watson offers a practical way to listen, watch and even respond – it learns from your behavior and attempts to prioritize your messages based on the people involved, subject matter and required time frames.  It can also handle some of the more mundane tasks like declining a meeting invite that conflicts with your travel schedule.


At this point I suspect many readers are skeptical…I was too.  Sure, we’ve all seen cool demos and likely observed that our phones can offer us information or services based on our location or activity.  However, we’ve all also tried to get Siri/Google/Cortana to give us directions to the movie theater and wondered if the technology was just a ruse to make us talk to ourselves…So, what can cognitive services really do?

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Cognitive services are far more available (via APIs) than you would expect.  Watson services are also much more powerful than you can imagine, especially in its ability to consume and distill content.  It’s still early days but it’s very real. 
  2. As an example, at the event we combined Watson APIs with our Kandy cloud UC services to listen to a multi-party video conference call, transcribe it and take meeting actions.  We also used Watson as a smart chatbot that could answer questions as well as escalate a chat session to a live agent for text, voice, video & screenshare. More importantly, Watson adapts and learns to reduce the need for escalation in future sessions, reducing agent load and delivering measurable ROI.  And, we were able to create these solutions in just weeks.
  3. Once you appreciate bullets 1 & 2 you begin to see multiple ways to leverage this resource.  Watson can easily consume virtually unlimited amounts of information, rationalize your view of that info and take actions as a result.
  4. The real value is not just in what a cognitive solution can do, but what it can learn to do based on your preferences and past actions, getting smarter and more effective over time.

To be fair, I learned far more but I can’t begin to summarize that in a single blog post.  In the end, what I saw was the foundation for a new way of managing our interactions with other people and with machines.  Watson is challenging the communication paradigm that assumes that each individual should be responsible for distilling all the information they receive each day 

I expect that by the end of 2017 we will be describing unified communications not in terms of combining (unifying) communications but rather in terms of rationalizing or refining communications to eliminate the noise and focus on providing the most salient information we need.  Watson’s cognitive powers offers the opportunity to reduce our communication burden – less C – not just UC.  Perhaps we can return to the “old days” where we spent more of our day doing work vs responding to messages, a development I would welcome!

All in all, last week’s event was an extraordinary peek into the future. We were thrilled to showcase the integration of real-time communications IBM and GENBAND have deployed together:

GENBAND announced a compelling real-time communications enhancement to IBM ConnectionsTM and IBM Sametime® product.  The GENBAND Realtime Connections Client delivers Kandy Business Solutions cloud PBX services to IBM’s social collaboration solutions.  For the first time, IBM customers have a way to migrate all of their communications to the cloud.

IBM announced a new team collaboration tool, Watson Workspace.  We were excited to showcase integration between Watson Workspace and Kandy Business Solution’ voice/video calling and video conferencing.  In some regards Workspace competes directly with Slack, Cisco Spark and Microsoft’s forthcoming Teams.  However, the Watson name points to its compelling advantage, the inclusion of cognitive technology.  IBM demonstrated cognitive integration by including Watson in a Kandy collaboration session, Watson listed to the session and provided action items that were incorporated into the team’s chat session.  Very impressive!

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