IPsoft held its Analyst Event on May 9, 2019 at its headquarters in New York. Here are some observations:
First impressions and highlights of the event:
I sensed a thematic shift in IPsoft’s go-to-market focus from a year ago. At last year’s event, the focus was on internally-facing virtual digital assistant (VDA) solutions in the form of IPsoft’s IT helpdesk solution called 1Desk. This year, the focus was on externally-facing cognitive solutions for customer service.
In terms of highlights, two customers, Telefonica and BNP Paribas, spoke in detail about projects they have underway with IPsoft. Both companies did excellent jobs of describing their use cases and how IPsoft plays a part in improving and automating customer service. It was also instructive to hear how companies with considerably high stakes in customer service solutions were approaching automation and their timeframes for overall solution deployment (both projects have been in process for at least 2 years).
A second highlight was the progress IPsoft has made with its partner program. According to a slide shown at the event, the partner program “supports our direct sales force in collaboratively building tactical enterprise AI deployments” at a variety of levels, from alliance partners (consultants) to implementation partners (professional services) and solutions partners (experts in specific vertical of industry). An executive reeled off an impressive list of partners, including Capstone, Deloitte, Connex, Datacom, EDS, Accenture, GFT, BearingPoint, PwC, and NTT DATA. Businesses rely on many of these companies, particularly global consulting firms like Accenture, Deloitte, and PwC, to design and build large-scale, strategic business systems. Thus, the idea that VDAs are recognized as playing an integrated role in business systems as part of a bundled solution is a progress point. It also speaks well of IPsoft’s relationships and understanding of how solutions will evolve. Other VDA solutions providers rely more on direct sales efforts and currently tend to have a narrower view.
Did IPsoft overplay any themes?
Other comparisons between last year and this year:
IPsoft is coming to the VDA for customer service market a little later than other leading VDA players. This was evident both in the details shared by customers at this year’s event and the lack of customer service use case stories from customers at last year’s event.
This year, there was also a decided de-emphasis on the persona of Amelia. In 2018, IPsoft was insistent on pushing Amelia the avatar as a solution. There was great debate about the company’s choice for the avatar in terms of gender and race. There was also media and analyst skepticism around why companies would necessarily want or need an avatar for their VDA, regardless of the use case. This year, Amelia the avatar is available, but the company was not insistent that customers need an avatar. The example deployments IPsoft discussed didn’t feature the avatar. In one case, the VDA is currently only a text-based VDA with no voice interaction at all.
IPsoft has significant natural language understanding and generation capabilities, but it does not own speech recognition technology. It was mentioned that partners were used in more than one of the company’s deployments. When asked about this lack of speech recognition capability, CEO Chetan Dube said he feels speech recognition is commoditized and that IPsoft is trying to differentiate on other capabilities, such as emotion and sentiment analysis.
Another observation of note is that when asked if they use other cognitive solutions providers, Deloitte said its partnership with IPsoft is not exclusive and that it does use other “players.”
What should customers expect from IPsoft over the next year?
It will be interesting to see if the key global consultants, Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte, can incorporate IPsoft into solutions and, most importantly, knowledgably tell stories of the company’s capabilities. Natural language solutions are a complex undertaking that require patience and a very hands-on approach. The market is years away from quickly deployed, scalable, and plug-and-play solutions and significant revenue (at least for the global consultants).
Will the consultants be patient? Will their customers be patient or simply move on? I think potential IPsoft customers approached by partners should expect some garbled stories and some conflicted priorities until the partners and IPsoft find a sweet spot in their business models with each other. Will the promise of future shared revenue be a good enough incentive for partners?