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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in enterprise communications and collaboration, one that will certainly play a big role at our next Enterprise Connect Orlando event (March 18-21, 2019; registration opens soon!). And the contact center is at the leading edge of AI developments.

We saw this play out on a big stage a couple of weeks ago, when Google Cloud used its Next conference to announce a major entry into this marketplace, via partnership deals with a half-dozen contact center vendors -- Cisco, Five9, Genesys, Mitel, Twilio, and Vonage. Those companies will now be able to draw on Google’s AI capabilities to enhance their products’ functionality.

I was on a webinar this week with one of those companies, Five9. The discussion started with the trend toward cloud-based contact center systems. I asked Scott Kolman, VP of marketing at Five9, and analyst Sheila McGee-Smith what benefits enterprises were seeing when they moved to the cloud. They agreed that the quickest win for a cloud transition is often in the area of reporting. Many enterprises gain richer reporting capabilities from cloud systems in comparison to what they had with CPE, and this has enabled them to further optimize their use of contact center resources, including (but not limited to) agents.

As our webinar conversation moved from the cloud to AI, Sheila mentioned that reporting is a natural place for contact centers to apply AI, using AI-powered advanced analytics to further enhance the optimization that better reporting tools can provide.

We’ve seen a lot of hype around the effect AI could have on customer-facing aspects of the contact center—everything from chatbots to natural language/speech synthesis-driven systems like Google Duplex, which seem to portend a future in which Turing Test-passing computers interact with unsuspecting humans (though Google followed up its creepy Duplex demo with a proposal for a set of guidelines to ensure we’re always informed when we’re conversing with a computer).

But it makes more sense that AI starts with areas like reporting. The contact center has always been at the cutting edge of enterprise communications because it promises a clear business case that can be readily demonstrated via well-established metrics. That’s why reporting is where cloud contact centers have first proved their worth, and it seems reasonable to expect that AI in the contact center may well prove out via similar back-end technology enhancements, even as we struggle to establish the real value of things like chatbots on the front end.

Enterprise Connect Orlando 2019 is where you’ll see how contact center technology is transforming the experience for the enterprise, the agent, and the customer—rapidly and in unexpected ways. As always, Sheila is chairing our track on the subject, and will bring her expertise to bear on the trends that are making contact centers one of the most exciting parts of the industry. I’m psyched to start really digging in on all of the amazing new technologies that are coming to bear on what used to be a fairly staid industry—and I’m looking forward to hearing the stories, questions, and debates that will emerge at our show next March.