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Key takeaways from Gregg Ames of Conversica at CIX 2018

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Mark McQueen (right), President & Executive Managing Director of CIBC Innovation Banking, and Gregg Ames, Chief Sales Officer of Conversica, at the Canadian Innovation Exchange in Toronto.
Mark McQueen (right), President & Executive Managing Director of CIBC Innovation Banking, and Gregg Ames, Chief Sales Officer of Conversica, at the Canadian Innovation Exchange in Toronto. - Photo by DX Journal
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There’s no turning back: We are officially neck-deep in the AI-ification of everything.

Gaming companies are mining user data for insight, medical imaging companies are using machine learning to detect cancer and SaaS businesses are increasingly augmenting their human salesforce with machines that turn leads into customers.

According to some estimates, more than 75 percent of companies are using artificial intelligence for business development, workflow automation and to improve customer experience.

But not all AI is created equal, and there is still a lot of learning to be shared in the world of tech about what works and what doesn’t.

To learn more about how AI is transforming the sales and marketing worlds, we caught a fireside chat between Mark McQueen, President & Executive Managing Director of CIBC Innovation Banking, and Gregg Ames, Chief Sales Officer of Conversica, at the Canadian Innovation Exchange in Toronto.

The discussion ranged from Ames’ recent experiences building up Conversica’s AI tools for sales and marketing companies, to his time with marketing automation company Marketo. But AI’s importance across multiple industries was the topic capturing all the attention.

Here are the major takeaways from the fireside chat:

People and machines are meant to work together

According to Ames, the notion of the hybrid workforce – where humans work with artificial intelligence – should be exciting to everyone. While the conversation often starts with the discussion surrounding job replacement, Ames said it’s chiefly a question of growth.

“It’s about doing more, not about replacing humans,” he said.

Conversica is an AI-driven lead engagement platform used by marketers and sales teams. The platform promises to “find and secure customers more quickly and efficiently by automatically contacting, engaging, qualifying and following up with leads via natural, multi-channel, two-way conversations.”

The company has raised $72 million in financing, including an $8.5 million from Wellington Financial (now CIBC Innovation Banking).

Ames argues that AI-based solutions are better at accomplishing certain tasks, which ultimately frees up human capital to do things people are better at.

For example, traders who work at exchanges today aren’t working on their own – they’re benefitting from the help of algorithm and AI systems that automate workflow and aim to surface insights that people can use.

Within Conversica itself, Ames says humans will focus on high-value functions such as engaging with customers, and don’t have to bother with AI-driven efforts to take on menial tasks such as scheduling follow-on appointments.

In automotive, where the bulk of Conversica’s customers came from, Ames said that AI is being used to help companies build valuable, long-term relationships and engagement with customers.

In finance, companies are turning to AI as a way to better manage collections and engage with customers to create payment plans.

There are countless use cases where AI helps humans make better decisions, faster.

Mark McQueen (right), President & Executive Managing Director of CIBC Innovation Banking, and Gregg Ames, Chief Sales Officer of Conversica, at the Canadian Innovation Exchange in Toronto.

Mark McQueen (right), President & Executive Managing Director of CIBC Innovation Banking, and Gregg Ames, Chief Sales Officer of Conversica, at the Canadian Innovation Exchange in Toronto.

We’ve moved from automation to AI

If anyone can speak to the evolution of marketing and sales in technology, it’s Ames – he was employee No. 60 with Marketo, a marketing automation business, for nearly six years. The company was acquired by Adobe this year for $4.75 billion after building out a network of 500 partners and 5,000 customers.

Ames thinks the disruptive potential that automation delivered to marketers and salespeople five years ago is comparable to how AI is reshaping businesses across multiple industries today.

Ames said he’s learned a lot about how to bring a disruptive new market idea to businesses, but he’s doing things a little differently now.

While Marketo pushed hard for new customers, the approach at Conversica is different.

“We were on a much more aggressive arc for growth than we are at Conversica today,” said Ames. “The economics we took there were much more aggressive.”

With Conversica, Ames’ sales team is focused on deploying with customers where deep impact is possible, and having so many customer deployments allows the business to make predictions on where success is likely to emerge for Conversica’s customers.

“Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze”

Conversica’s AI Sales Assistant is now used by an more than 1,200 companies worldwide. The company is currently operating in North America and recently acquired Chilean rival Intelligens. The company is also looking to open a new office in the U.K.

But rapid growth is not the plan, said Ames.

Not every customer is created equal, and Conversica makes a big effort to place the right bets when it comes to picking its customers.

Rather than bending the company’s initial mission statement to suit any and every client’s needs, Ames said the company is looking to push its original concept and to repeatedly sell it as it scales.

The goal is to ensure the company can continue to deliver on its core message, that AI sales and marketing tools are helping customers build better businesses.

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Robot delivery: Bots will be bringing parcels to your home

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Ford, FedEx and Amazon are each at an advanced stage with autonomous robot delivery vehicles, designed to bring packages to the doors of businesses and homes. Several successful pilots have been completed.

Each robot looks different but the objective is similar — getting a package to a customer using an autonomous machine. The aim of these new robot delivery tools is to boost efficiency and eliminate the need to pay people to carry out the final part of the delivery process.

Ford / Agility Robotics

Ford, more commonly associated with cars and trucks, is partnering with legged locomotion specialist Agility Robotics to assess how self-driving car deliveries can be improved. The project objective is to ensure self-driving vehicles can accomplish something that’s been very difficult to accomplish: carrying out the last step of the delivery, from the car to the recipient’s front door.

The two companies hope the answer is a two-legged robot called “Digit”.

Digit has been designed to approximate the look and walk of a human. The robot is constructed from lightweight material and it is capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds. In tests, Digit has been shown to be capable of going up and down stairs and to negotiate uneven terrain, thanks to the use of LiDAR and stereo cameras.

FedEx

The courier delivery services company FedEx is developing an autonomous delivery robot designed to assist retailers make same-day and last-mile deliveries to their customers. The device is called the FedEx SameDay Bot, and the aim is to deliver packages by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day. The device has been developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp., run by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway.

The FedEx device is the most adventurous of the three, in that it will cross roads and is destined to cover longer distances. The interaction with roads is supported by machine-learning algorithms to help the robot to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path, and to follow road and safety rules.

Amazon Scout

Amazon’s autonomous delivery robots are about to begin rolling out on California sidewalks. Amazon Scout will begin with delivering packages to the company’s Prime customers residing in Southern California. The new Amazon device will work during daylight hours, providing small and medium-sized packages to customers. The Amazon Scout is a six-wheeled electric-powered vehicle around the size of a small cooler. In terms of movement, the Scout rolls along sidewalks at what’s described as a walking pace.

Amazon began testing out the Scout in January 2019, running a pilot program using six machines to deliver packages in Snohomish County, Washington. Vice president of Amazon Scout Sean Scott said: “We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle, ensuring the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.”

Following the success of the pilot — where the Scout autonomously navigated the various obstacles commonly found in residential neighborhoods like trashcans, skateboards, lawn chairs, the occasional snow blower and more — the device is ready for a wider launch.

The wider launch will feature a small number of Amazon Scout devices, delivering Monday through Friday, during daylight hours in the Irvine area of California, according to Smart2Zero. Customers will order items as they would normally, but in some cases their Amazon packages will be delivered by an Amazon Scout. To make sure things go smoothly, each Scout will initially be accompanied by a human “Amazon Scout Ambassador.”

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Amazon adds fear detection and age ranges to its facial-recognition tech as the Border Patrol looks to award a $950 million contract

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  • Amazon Web Services has added several new features to its facial-recognition technology, Rekognition.
  • This includes expanded age-recognition capabilities and the new ability to recognize fear.
  • Rekognition is a controversial technology and has been the subject of much criticism and protests — from both inside and outside Amazon.
  • These new features drew some flack from commenters on Twitter.
  • Meanwhile, the US Customers and Border Patrol is looking for quotes on a sweeping new border protection system that includes more facial-recognition tech.

Amazon Web Services has expanded the capabilities of its controversial facial-recognition technology called Rekognition.

It now better detects more age ranges and it can also detect fear, the company announced in a blog post on Monday.

The company explained (emphasis ours):

“Today, we are launching accuracy and functionality improvements to our face analysis features. Face analysis generates metadata about detected faces in the form of gender, age range, emotions, attributes such as ‘Smile’, face pose, face image quality and face landmarks. With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification. In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Angry’, ‘Surprised’, ‘Disgusted’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Confused’) and added a new emotion: ‘Fear’.Lastly, we have improved age range estimation accuracy; you also get narrower age ranges across most age groups.”

Earlier this month AWS also announced that Rekognition can now detect violent content such as blood, wounds, weapons, self-injury, corpses, as well as sexually explicit content.

But it was the news of more age ranges and fear detection that was met with comments on Twitter.

Just last month several protesters interrupted Amazon AWS CTO Werner Vogels during a keynote speech at an AWS conference in New York.

They were protesting AWS’s work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the family separation policy at the Southern Border. Amazon hasn’t acknowledged whether ICE uses its Rekognition technology, but the company did meet with ICE officials to pitch its facial-recognition tech, among other AWS services, as revealed by emails between Amazon and various government officials obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations.

Amazon’s Rekognition has come under fire from a wide range of groups who want the company to stop selling it to law enforcement agencies. In April, AI experts penned an open letter to Amazon about it. Civil rights group have protested it. 100 Amazon employees sent a letter to management last year asking the company to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement. Another 500 signed a letter this year asking Amazon to stop working with ICE altogether.

“AWS comes under fire for Rekognition sales to the federal government, who in turn is building concentration camps for children, and AWS’s response is to improve ‘age range estimation’ and ‘fear detection’ in the service? Are you f– KIDDING ME?!” tweeted Corey Quinn from the Duckbill Group, a consultant that helps companies manage their AWS bill. Quinn also hosts theScreaming in the Cloud podcast.

Another developer tweeted, “In 25 years we’re going to be talking about how AWS handled this situation in the same way we talk about how IBM enabled the holocaust. Every engineer and ML researcher who worked on this should be ashamed of themselves.”

The CBP is looking to buy more facial-recognition tech

Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a sister agency to ICE, has put out a new request for quotes on a sweeping new border-security system that includes expanded use of facial-recognition technology.

“Integration of facial recognition technologies is intended throughout all passenger applications,” the RFQ documents say.

The CBP already uses facial recognition at various airports, such as in Mexico City, where it matches passenger’s faces with photos taken from their passports or other government documents, it says.

And the CBP uses other biometric information, such as taking fingerprints of people at the border if it suspects that they are entering the country illegally, it says.

“CBP’s future vision for biometric exit is to build the technology nationwide using cloud computing,” the agency wrote in a 2017 article about the use of facial recognition and finger-print tech.

This new contract for new border security technologies is expected to begin in early 2020 and could be worth $950 million over its lifespan, according to the RFQ documents.

This article was originally published on Business Insider. Copyright 2019.

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IBM launches ‘Trust Your Supplier’ blockchain initiative

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IBM and Chainyard have announced a new blockchain network called Trust Your Supplier, which is a blockchain-based platform that simplifies supply chain management and improves supplier qualification, validation, onboarding and life cycle information management.

IBM sees the new blockchain-based network as critical to the continued growth and advancement of the global supply chain industry. The technology provides a digital passport for supplier identity on the blockchain. This will enable suppliers to share information with any permissioned buyer on the network to make qualifying, validating and managing new suppliers easier and less time-consuming.

The Trust Your Supplier platform is being pioneered by several leading companies, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, GlaxoSmithKline, Lenovo, Nokia, Schneider Electric and Vodafone. Each of these founding participants is in the process of onboarding their suppliers. These are leading companies across industries like technology, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and food and beverage.

By eliminating manual, time-consuming processes, the Trust Your Supplier technology aims to help reduce the risk of fraud and errors by establishing a connected environment among global suppliers. With more than 18,500 global suppliers, IBM itself will begin using and onboarding 4,000 of its North American suppliers to the Trust Your Supplier network. This is expected to be completed during quarter 3 of 2019.

Convening a network of leading companies with shared challenges and goals, Trust Your Supplier has been designed to assist companies working across multiple industries to design and implement more efficient processes to solve a common problem in relation to the supply chain.

Representing one of the first companies to take up the service, Sanjay Mehta, Vice President Procurement, Nokia, states: “Working with IBM and Chainyard on this blockchain initiative represents a great opportunity for Nokia to further enhance our suppliers’ experience and optimize the onboarding process (process of integrating a new supplier into an organization’s network). Using the latest technology to address a classical challenge will be of benefit for everyone, and further increase the speed of using innovative solutions.”

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