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IPsoft Looks to Reduce Time to Value While Increasing Return on AI

 

NelsonHall recently attended the IPsoft Digital Workforce Summit in New York and its analyst events in NY and London. For organizations unfamiliar with IPsoft, the company has around 2,300 employees, approximately 70% of these based in the U.S. and 20% in Europe. Europe is responsible for aproximately 30% of the IPsoft client base with clients relatively evenly distributed over the six regions: U.K., Spain & Iberia, France, Benelux, Nordics, and Central Europe.

The company began life with the development of autonomics for ITSM in the form of IPcenter, and in 2014 launched the first version of its Amelia conversational agent. In 2018, the company launched 1Desk, effectively combining its cognitive and autonomic capabilities.

The events outlined IPsoft’s positioning and plans for the future, with the company:

  • Investing strongly in Amelia to enhance its contextual understanding and maintain its differentiation from “chatbots”
  • Launching “Co-pilot” to remove the currently strong demarcation between automated and agent interactions
  • Building use cases and a partner program to boost adoption and sales
  • Positioning 1Desk and its associated industry solutions as end-to-end intelligent automation solutions, and the key to the industry and the future of IPsoft.

Enhancing Contextual Understanding to Maintain Amelia’s Differentiation from Chatbots

Amelia has often suffered from being seen at first glance as "just another chatbot". Nonetheless, IPsoft continues to position Amelia as “your digital companion for a better customer service” and to invest heavily to maintain Amelia’s lead in functionality as a cognitive agent. Here, IPsoft is looking to differentiate by stressing Amelia’s contextual awareness and ability to switch contexts within a conversation, thereby “offering the capability to have a natural conversation with an AI platform that really understands you.”

Amelia goes through six pathways in sequence within a conversation to understand each utterance and the pathway with highest probability wins. The pathways are:

  • Intent model
  • Semantic FAQ
  • AIML
  • Social talk
  • Acknowledge
  • Don’t know.

The platform also separates “entities” from “intents”, capturing both of these using Natural Language Understanding. Both intent and entity recognition is specific to the language used, though IPsoft is now simplifying implementation further by making processes language-independent and removing the need for the client to implement channel-specific syntax.

A key element in supporting more natural conversations is the use of stochastic business process networks, which means that Amelia can identify the required information as it is provided by the user, rather than having to ask for and accept items of information in a particular sequence as would be the case in a traditional chatbot implementation.

Context switching is also supported within a single conversation, with users able to switch between domains, e.g. from IT support to HR support and back again in a single conversation, subject to the rules on context switching defined by the organization.

Indeed, IPsoft has always had a strong academic and R&D focus and is currently further enhancing and differentiating Amelia through:

  • Leveraging ELMo with the aim of achieving intent accuracy of >95% while using only half of the data required in other Deep Neural Net models
  • Using NLG to support Elaborate Question Asking (EQA) and Clarifying Question & Answer (CQA) to enable Amelia to follow-up dynamically without the need to build business rules.

The company is also looking to incorporate sentiment analysis within voice. While IPsoft regards basic speech-to-text and text-to-speech as commodity technologies, the company is looking to capture sentiment analysis from voice, differentiate through use of SLM/SRGS technology, and improve Amelia’s emotional intelligence by capturing aspects of mood and personality.

Launching Co-pilot to Remove the Demarcation Between Automated Handling and Agent Handling

Traditionally, interactions have either been handled by Amelia or by an agent if Amelia failed to identify the intent or detected issues in the conversation. However, IPsoft is now looking to remove this strong demarcation between chats handled solely by Amelia and chats handled solely by (or handed off in their entirety) to agents. The company has just launched “Co-pilot”, positioned as a platform to allow hybrid levels of automation and collaboration between Amelia, agents, supervisors, and coaches. The platform is currently in beta mode with a major telco and a bank.

The idea is to train Amelia on everything that an agent does to make hand-offs warmer and to increase Amelia’s ability to automate partially, and ultimately handle, edge cases rather than just pass these through to an agent in their original form. Amelia will learn by observing agent interactions when escalations occur and through reinforcement learning via annotations during chat.

When Amelia escalates to an agent using Co-pilot, it will no longer just pass conversation details but will now also offer suggested responses for the agent to select. These responses are automatically generated by crowdsourcing every utterance that every agent has created and then picking those that apply to the particular context, with digital coaches editing the language and content of the preferred responses as necessary.

In the short term, this assists the agent by providing context and potential responses to queries and, in the longer term as this process repeats over queries of the same type, Amelia then learns the correct answers, and ultimately this becomes a new Amelia skill.

Co-pilot is still at an early stage with lots of developments to come and, during 2019, the Co-pilot functionality will be enhanced to recommend responses based on natural language similarity, enable modification of responses by the agent prior to sending, and enable agents to trigger partial automated conversations.

This increased co-working between humans and digital chat agents is key to the future of Amelia since it starts to position Amelia as an integral part of the future contact center journey rather than as a standalone automation tool.

Building Use Cases & Partner Program to Reduce Time to Value

Traditionally, Amelia has been a great cognitive chat technology but a relatively heavy-duty technology seeking a use case rather than an easily implemented general purpose tool, like the majority of the RPA products.

In response, IPsoft is treading the same path as the majority of automation vendors and is looking to encourage organizations (well at least mid-sized organizations) to hire a “digital worker” rather than build their own. The company estimates that its digital marketplace “1Store” already contains 672 digital workers, which incorporate back-office automation in addition to the Amelia conversational AI interface. For example, for HR, 1Store offers “digital workers” with the following “skills”: absence manager, benefits manager, development manager, onboarding specialist, performance record manager, recruiting specialist, talent management specialist, time & attendance manager, travel & expense manager, and workforce manager.

At the same time, IPsoft is looking to increase the proportion of sales and service through channel partners. Product sales currently make up 56% of IPsoft revenue, with 44% from services. However, the company is looking to steer this ratio further in support of product, by targeting 60% per annum growth in product sales and increasing the proportion of personnel, currently approx. two-thirds, in product-related positions with a contribution from reskilling existing services personnel. 

IPsoft has been late to implement its partner strategy relative to other automation software vendors, attributing this early caution in part to the complexity of early implementations of Amelia. Early partners for IPcenter included IBM and NTT DATA, who embedded IPsoft products directly within their own outsourcing services and were supported with “special release overlays” by IPsoft to ensure lack of disruption during product and service upgrades. This type of embedded solution partnership is now increasingly likely to expand to the major CX services vendors as these contact center outsourcers look to assist their clients in their automation strategies.

So, while direct sales still dominate partner sales, IPsoft is now recruiting a partner/channel sales team with a view to reversing this pattern over the next few years. IPsoft has now established a partner program targeting alliance and advisory (where early partners included major consultancies such as Deloitte and PwC), implementation, solution, OEM, and education partners.

1Desk-based End-to-End Automation is the Future for IPsoft

IPsoft has about 600 clients, including approx. 160 standalone Amelia clients, and about a dozen deployments of 1Desk. However, 1Desk is the fastest-growing part of the IPsoft business with 176 enterprises in the pipeline for 1Desk implementations, and IPsoft increasingly regards the various 1Desk solutions as its future.

IPsoft is positioning 1Desk by increasingly talking about ROAI (the return on AI) and suggesting that organizations can achieve 35% ROAI (rather than the current 6%) if they adopt integrated end-to-end automation and bypass intermediary systems such as ticketing systems.

Accordingly, IPsoft is now offering end-to-end intelligent automation capability by combining the Amelia cognitive agent with “an autonomic backbone” courtesy of IPsoft’s IPcenter heritage and with its own RPA technology (1RPA) to form 1Desk.

1Desk, in its initial form, is largely aimed at internal SSC functions including ITSM, HR, and F&A. However, over the next year, it will increasingly be tailored to provide solutions for specific industries. The intent is to enable about 70% of the solution to be implemented “out of the box”, with vanilla implementations taking weeks rather than many months and with completely new skills taking approx.. three 3 months to deploy.

The initial industry solution from IPsoft is 1Bank. As the name implies, 1Bank has been developed as a conversational banking agent for retail banking and contains preformed solutions/skills covering the account representative, e.g. for support with payments & bills; the mortgage processor; the credit card processor; and the personal banker, to answer questions about products, services, and accounts.

1Bank will be followed during 2019 by solutions for healthcare, telecoms, and travel.

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