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IPsoft’s Challenging Vision for Cognitive Automation

 

I recently attended IPsoft’s Digital Workforce Summit in New York City, an intriguing event that in some ways represented a microcosm of the challenges clients are experiencing in moving from RPA to cognitive automation.

The AI challenge

Chetan Dube loomed large over proceedings. IPsoft’s president and CEO was onstage more than is common at events of this type, chairing several fireside chats himself in addition to his own technology keynote, and participating (with sleeves rolled up) at the analyst day that followed. He brought a clear challenge to the stage, while at the same time conveying the complexity and capability of IPsoft’s flagship cognitive products, Amelia and 1DESK, and making them understandable to the audience, in part by framing them in terms of commercial value and ROI.

RPA vendors have a simpler form of this challenge, but both robotic process automation and cognitive automation vendors have a hill to climb in gaining clients’ trust in the underlying technology and reassuring service buyers that automation will be both a net reducer of cost and a net creator of jobs (rather than a net displacer of them).

From a technological perspective, RPA sounds from the stage (and sells) much more like enterprise software than neuroscience or linguistics, so the overall pitch can be sited much more in the wheelhouse of IT buyers. The product does what it says on the tin, and the cavalcade of success stories that appear on event stages are designed to put clients’ concerns to rest. To be sure, RPA is by no means easy to implement, nor is it yet a mature offering in toto, but the bulk of the technological work to achieve a basic business result has been done. And overall, most vendors are working on incremental and iterative improvements to their core technology at this time.

AI differs in that it is still at the start of the journey towards robust, reliable customer-facing solutions. While Amelia is compelling technology (and is performing competently in a variety of settings across multiple industries), the version that IPsoft fields in 2025 will likely make today’s version seem almost like ELIZA by comparison, if Dube’s roadmap comes to fruition. He was keen to stress that Amelia is about much more than just software development, and he spent a lot of time explaining aspects of the core technology and how it was derived from cognitive theory. The underlying message, broadly supported by the other presenters at the event, was clearly one of power through simplicity.

IPsoft’s vision

The messaging statements coming from the stage during the event portrayed a diverse and wide-ranging vision for the future of Amelia. Dube sees Amelia as an end-to-end automation framework, while Chief Cognitive Officer Edwin van Bommel sees Amelia as a UI component able to escape the bounds of the chatbox and guide users through web and mobile content and actions. Chief Marketing Officer Anurag Harsh focused on AI though the lens of the business, and van Bommel presented a mature model for measuring the business ROI of AI.

Digging deeper, some of what Dube had to say was best read metaphorically. At one point he announced that by 2025 we will be unable to pass an employee in the hallway and know if he or she is human or digital. That comment elicited some degree of social media protest. But consider that what he was really saying is that most interaction in an enterprise today is performed electronically – in that case, ‘the hallways’ can be read as a metaphor for ‘day-to-day interaction’.

The question discussed by clients, prospects, and analysts was whether Dube was conveying a visionary roadmap or fueling hype in an often overhyped sector. Listening to his words and their context carefully, I tend towards the former. Any enterprise technology purchase demands three forms of reassurance from the vendor community:

  • That the product is commercially ready today and can take up the load it is promising to address
  • That the company has a long-term roadmap to ensure that a client’s investment stays relevant, and the product is not overtaken by the competition in terms of capacity and innovation
  • And perhaps most importantly, that the roadmap is portrayed realistically and not in an overstated fashion that might cause clients to leave in favor of competitors’ offerings.

I took away from Digital Workforce Summit that Dube was underscoring the first and second of these points, and doing so through transparency of operation and vision.

There are only two means of conveying the idea that you sell a complex product which works simply from the user perspective – you either portray it as a black box and ask that clients trust your brand promise, or you open the box and let clients see how complex the work really is. IPsoft opted for the latter, showing the product’s operation at multiple levels in live demonstrations. Time and again, Dube reminded the audience that it is unnecessary to grasp evolved scientific principles in order to take advantage of technologies that use those principles – so light switches work, in Dube’s example, without the user needing to grasp Faraday’s principles of induction. It still benefits all parties involved to see the complexity and grasp the degree to which IPsoft has worked to make that complexity accessible and actionable.

Conclusion

The challenge, of course, is that clients attend events of this kind to assess solutions. The majority of attendees at Digital Workforce Summit were there to learn whether IPsoft’s Amelia, in its latest form, is up-to-speed to manage customer interactions, and will continue to evolve apace to become a more complete conversational technology solution and fulfill the company’s ROI promises.

I came away with the sense that both are true. Now it is up to the firm’s technology group to translate Dube’s sweeping vision into fiscally rewarding operational reality for clients.

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