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May is traditionally a busy month for contact center solution providers, as many conduct their annual user events. Last week, I traveled to Orlando to attend Interactions 2018, the annual user event of NICE and inContact. This post summarizes several takeaways from discussions with company executives and customers at the event.

First, a quick comparison between Interactions last year (2017) and this year. In 2017, inContact’s user event ICUC was scheduled as a joint event with numerous common sessions with NICE’s Interactions. NICE acquired inContact in 2016, and kept the latter’s user event (ICUC) as a joint event to its Interactions in 2017. However, along with integrating inContact’s customer base and product capabilities, NICE seems to have also decided to absorb ICUC within Interactions as a single event.

Combining the two events in 2018 under the same name was a signal of the company’s progress in integrating its past and recent acquisitions. To this point, in 2017, the company announced CXOne – a cloud native contact center platform bringing NICE and inContact capabilities together in a scalable solution for contact centers of all sizes. Barak Eliam, CEO of NICE and Paul Jarman, CEO of inContact, both shared the growth across the company’s cloud products. Briefly, they touched upon an increase in the number of cloud licenses and related revenue, signaling positive market reception for its integrated portfolio capabilities.

Throughout the event, NICE presented four core pillars driving its current and future product roadmap:

This year’s Interactions took place shortly after NICE announced its intent to acquire MatterSight – a persona-based, analytics-enabled routing provider. Company executives, including Barak Eliam, Eran Liron and Larry Skowronek shared insights into how the MatterSight acquisition fits into NICE’s overall analytics roadmap. Briefly, the acquisition will provide NICE with the opportunity to enhance its contextual routing capabilities, going beyond simply routing customers to relevant agents based on agent skills alone, but also adding new dimensions such as personality, likelihood to buy, etc.

Throughout the event there were discussions on the company weaving analytics across its product portfolio, including workforce optimization and journey management. To this point, Larry Skowronek shared detailed insights into the company’s guided and semi-guided machine learning capabilities that help contact centers achieve ‘journey excellence.’ NICE reported 83% growth in analytics-related revenue throughout 2017 – a signal that its analytics focus is well-received by contact center technology buyers struggling with utilizing vast volumes of data to do their job.

During the event, NICE also introduced NEVA – short for ‘NICE employee virtual attendant.’ NEVA is a digital employee designed to empower employees such as contact center agents, marketers, sales reps and back-office employees to do their jobs more efficiently. It does so by monitoring employee activities on the desktop, and can be built to provide employees with contextual guidance (e.g. how to develop a sales forecast) and automate tasks and processes (e.g. delete customer data across various systems to address an opt-out request). As such, it’s different that robotic process automation (RPA). RPA focuses on automating processes, and while NEVA can do that, it also provides contextual guidance to employees and automates tasks.

Robotic automation space is evolving rapidly with the help of AI capabilities such as machine learning and natural language understanding. NEVA reflects how this evolution will further improve employee productivity, and it should open discussions with stakeholders across multiple departments such as operations, IT, and legal, in addition to contact center buyers representing the core target audience for NICE.

One of the questions I asked at the event was about company’s strategy on chat bots and voice assistants such as Google Now and Alexa. Paul Jarman noted that the company is currently partnering with vendors with domain expertise across relevant verticals such as retail and healthcare. The company currently has 15 related partners to bring chat bot and voice assistant capabilities to its customer base. Aberdeen’s research shows that contact centers expect continued increase in chat bot (both voice and text-based) interactions. Also, we’re not quite at the point where consumers are using voice assistants such as Google Now and Alexa to handle support issues. However, both Google and Amazon are said to be working on incorporating voice assistants as a customer service enabler / touch-point. NICE mentioned that it closely tracks developments in the market, and is prepared to address such changes in broader market and customer behavior through adding or acquiring related capabilities within its solution portfolio.

There were also brief hints into how the company plans to utilize capabilities (e.g. voice of the customer) from its Satmetrix acquisition for its journey management capabilities. This is an area where we might expect to hear more updates from the firm later in 2018 and beyond, as the acquisition is still rather recent, and we haven’t yet heard many news on Satmetrix capabilities weaved into NICE’s core products.

We recently finished an extensive survey capturing data across the four key pillars noted earlier in this article. Please visit our site regularly to keep track of our findings, and keep up with how your peers use these technologies to adjust their contact center programs in 2018 and beyond.

Omer Minkara is VP & Principal Analyst at Aberdeen. Follow him @omerminkara

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