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AI Advancements Can Enhance Collaboration and Facilitate Hybrid Work

A woman working at a computer in an office.

​The recently held 2023 Enterprise Connect conference featured the latest systems, software, services and applications in communications, collaboration and customer experience among large companies. Executives from Microsoft, Cisco, RingCentral, Google, Zoom, Vonage, Amazon and others announced an array of new tools. Artificial intelligence was very much at the forefront.

Cisco Upgrades

Snorre Kjesbu, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Collaboration Devices, laid out the many AI-based features of the latest version of the Cisco Webex collaboration platform. 

"AI presents the next evolution of hybrid work," Kjesbu said. 

The AI features in the Cisco Room OS enhance hybrid work experiences through video intelligence. This ensures everyone can participate equally when they collaborate. Cameras follow individuals through voice and facial recognition, automatically switching views to capture the best angle of an active speaker.

Another upgrade provides high-definition (HD) meetings, even with low-quality cameras or under low-bandwidth conditions. Smart re-lighting automatically adjusts for light that's too dim or bright. An automatic "be right back" message pops up, blurs the background and mutes audio when a user steps away. Further enhancements include being able to deliver 1080P quality video, scale it down to 270P to transmit it over a network, and scale it up again when viewed.

AI is also used to provide meeting summaries, notes, key talking points, and actions to be undertaken by participants. Finally, audio intelligence filters out background noises such as coffee grinding, dogs barking, or outside construction or traffic.

"The next normal is here, everything is hybrid, and 98 percent of all meetings will now have at least one remote participant," Kjesbu said. 

Microsoft Teams Upgrades

Nicole Herskowitz, vice president of Microsoft Teams and platform marketing, announced that 280 million people are now using Teams. She walked the audience through the features in Microsoft 365 Copilot, which combines large language models with data in Microsoft 365 apps.

Copilot is embedded in all Microsoft 365 apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, etc.). In Word, Copilot can be set up to provide the first draft of a document to edit. Copilot in PowerPoint suggests appealing presentations and automatically adds relevant content based on instructions to pull it from another document. In Excel, it provides automatic analysis of trends as well as data visualizations. Copilot in Outlook can learn how to clear an inbox in minutes. Herskowitz also mentioned Business Chat, which can surface information and insights from a sea of data. Business Chat is accessible from Microsoft, Bing or Teams and is linked to calendars, e-mails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts. Natural language prompts can generate a status update based on meetings, e-mails and chat threads.

RingCentral Upgrades

Mo Katibeh, RingCentral's president and COO, announced RingSense, which leverages RingCentral's own native generative AI and connects to other natural language platforms.

RingSense for Sales is the first offering in the RingSense AI portfolio. It analyzes interactions among salespeople and prospects to surface insights and performance measures, helping them increase their sales efficiency.

"The first module for sales can sense needs and deliver insights, meeting notes, coaching and more," Katibeh said. "Sales reps no longer have to take notes, and managers receive automated summaries, forecasts and actionable reports."

Features include follow-ups automatically loaded into a customer relationship management (CRM) system or productivity suite; AI-generated summary scoring and reporting to prioritize conversations; and integration with apps such as CRMs (Salesforce, HubSpot and Zoho), calendars (Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook), and call and video meeting providers. It can also track keywords and phrases such as competitor names or product features.

Making Life Easier for Employees and HR

All these new apps aim to make life easier for employees and HR teams. While automated follow-ups can assist sales, they can also benefit HR personnel in rounding up performance reviews and other documents. Similarly, AI-generated summary scoring and reporting can aid in reviewing resumes, employee performance and more.

Dan Miller, an analyst for Opus Research, heralded these advances as a way to make data available for apps everywhere all the time, and an example of how AI functions can create opportunity for innovation. But he offered a word of caution.

"These are good tools, but they can never replace humans," Miller said. "They need to evolve to become assistants under our full control."

He explained that they will sometimes give bad answers. They need oversight by a responsible human who can treat the response as something to review. Blindly using AI to write letters is likely to cause some serious rifts in customer relations, for example.

"Use AI as a way to make employees more efficient, not just as a means of call deflection," he said. "You want to enhance employees, call centers and personnel and help them do a better job and provide better service. The correct usage is to enhance the user experience and agent capabilities, not just prevent calls." 

Drew Robb is a freelance writer in Clearwater, Fla., specializing in IT and business.


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