Brands want to evolve enterprise messaging into enterprise conversation. Is it possible? MEF convened a stellar line-up of experts to debate this topic…

Enterprise messaging is on the cusp of huge change. In fact, it’s already here. And any service provider that’s still in the existing mindset of ‘transport, report, repeat’ is facing a tough time.

This was the sobering message that kicked off a lively session at MWC, supported by RealNetworks.

The participants were:

  • Dror Oren, VP of product, Kasisto
  • Kevin Redmond, Global head of sales, IBM Watson
  • David Vigar, Director of strategic carrier partnerships, Nexmo
  • James Lasbrey, Head of Wholesale Messaging, Telefonica
  • Jay Emmett, General manager, OpenMarket
  • Paul Ruppert, Strategy consultant, RealNetworks

Ruppert argued that advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) are already changing the way businesses talk to customers.

Companies are building the tech into their own software, so that customers can get the information they need by ‘talking’ to machines that understand them.

He said: “These changes are going to revolutionise enterprise messaging. Chat bots will track your preferences, your likes and dislikes, your location and hosts of other data to make your connected life richer. By 2020, 80 per cent of all enterprise software will have AI and chatbots built into it.”

Self-evidently this innovation is coming from the enterprise software space, not the traditional messaging ecosystem.

That said, Ruppert is still hopeful that everyone can benefit. He said: “Be nimble. Develop your own AI capabilities or partner with IBM Watson or Salesforce or any of the others that are opening up this market. We need to satisfy enterprise customers differently.”

Watch the panel in full

Ruppert believes such thinking could boost an already huge A2P messaging market. According to Mobilesquared, enterprises spent $17.21 billion messaging their customers in 2016. And it believes that, by 2020, every mobile subscriber will receive an average of one A2P message per day.

Unsurprisingly, Dror Oren shared this bullish view. His company, Kasisto, powers chat bots for financial services companies including Mastercard. These bots allow customers to ‘talk’ to Mastercard about their spending patterns, and carry out tasks using natural language.

He said: “We sell to banks, and the truth is SMS is not that high on their list. They want to be omni-channel and they see conversation as the channel, not messaging. Now, obviously, there are a lot of challenges, not least security or at least perceived security.”

Jay Emmett applied a brake to the general air of bullishness with a reminder that SMS is the only channel that is ubiquitous, immediate and universally understood. And he challenged the terminology around chatbots too.

“I don’t want a conversation with a bot,” he said. “I want to have a transaction. I don’t even like the word chat bot. I prefer ‘service bot’. If I have a car quote, that’s nine questions. That’s what I want. Not a conversation.”

Whatever the wording, the panel agreed that one of the big issues to solve is making ‘conversations’ work across multiple channels seamlessly.

David Vigar said: “What will drive enterprise messaging is how they consumers interact with each other. So they might want to start a conversation on Twitter but then get reply somewhere else. It’s hard to do this without the context being lost, but that’s what we should be working on.”

This is something IBM Watson could help with. Watson is a ‘brain in the cloud’ – a resource that app makers and brands can plug into to get more insight and context when having conversations with users.

IBM’s Kevin Redmond said: “We’ve launched a virtual agent for operators which digests all their plans and uses this context to have natural language conversations. Operators can use it to talk to consumers about changing tariffs and network performance and so on.”

Needless to say the role of operators was also a major point of conversation for the panel. Most agreed that OTT apps, for all their consumer popularity, are still marginal in the A2P space. Operators still dominate.

Keynote – Paul Ruppert, Strategy Consultant, RealNetworks

And in the days prior to the panel taking place, Google and many of the the world’s biggest MNOs had announced more momentum for RCS. This is the update of SMS, which delivers rich media features.

OpenMarket is one of the aggregators testing the idea with brands. And Jay Emmett believes the channel can provide a powerful alternative to native apps.

“Apps have failed in most use cases,” he said. “RCS can deliver an app like experience inside a message and this is why customers like Virgin Trains are so interested in it.”

James Lasbrey agreed, though he was open about whether RCS or some other tech with be the channel on which to build ‘SMS 2.0’.

He said: “The way people interact with brands will change to something like RCS. It needs critical mass. When it becomes clear what the right solution is, we will invest.”

Get more Insights from MWC 17

For more from MEF events held throughout Mobile World Congress on check out the coverage of industry sessions, panel discussion and keynotes examining Consumer Trust, Sponsored data, Mobile Messaging and more.

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