With the launch of Alexa for Business this week we are seeing a flurry of announcements around business applications being controlled by NLP (Natural Language Processing). This isn’t new; I’ve been asking Cortana to reschedule my appointments since last year. I also use an AI digital assistant to take notes during my conference calls and video meetings and send them out to the participants afterward. It is a natural and easy experience that I almost immediately adopted.

It’s an exciting time to be in the UCC space as NLP, and AI, are going to unlock many of the user experiences we have all been waiting for. I’ve talked to many colleagues this past week and the excitement we are all feeling is palatable. The game is about to change. Big time.

The biggest challenge we face in UCC is creating quality and ubiquitous user experiences. Everyone has an opinion on it, no one designs the same, and end users are forced to know how to use many different tools to communicate. We know this isn’t ideal and we’ve been trying to fix it, but as an industry, we’re still really far away.

There has been some recent progress with competitive co-operation. We are seeing companies beginning to work with their competition to design a cohesive experience for their customers trying to use both technologies together. A great example of this is Polycom’s recent announcements around offering a native BlueJeans or Zoom experience for customers using Polycom devices with these services.

This is a huge step forward. However, it only partially addresses the challenge that exists here – people’s fear. We can remove all the buttons we want, but we still have to make people comfortable commanding the solution.

This is where NLP is going to make a difference.

As an industry, we’ve done a good job so far of making virtual meetings easy. Brian Phillips – Polycom’s Senior Product Marketing Manager, who was a key member of the integration project with Amazon, sees voice as the natural evolution of Polycom’s goal to bring ‘easy’ to every conference room:

Polycom is already a leader in making video calls easy to use. We paved the way for bringing AI to the meeting room through EagleEye Director II, NoiseBlock, and other innovations that automatically adjust to the meeting conditions to deliver the best experience to users. Amazon Alexa and NLP technology is such a natural next step for us because it sits at the intersection of these efforts. The meeting room experience in 5 years will be barely recognizable compared to what is available today, and Polycom is at the forefront of delivering this next wave of innovation.

Today a user can walk into a Polycom conference room with facial detection technology and the system will know someone is there and turn itself on. When they sit down and the camera auto frames them. They push a big green button on a touchpad and the meeting begins. Polycom has got this experience down to opening the door and hitting GO to start a meeting.

However, once in the meeting, our industry still has a lot of challenges with ‘easy’. We can fix these with voice.

Let’s take the above scenario and replay it, with voice commands running the show. Disclaimer: a lot of this still can’t actually be done.

Someone walks into a conference room and the system turns itself on. They sit down and say “Alexa, please dial into my 3pm meeting” and the system connects to the call. While this is happening, the camera is auto framing and the NLP device is measuring the volume of your voice and adjusting the gain levels of the microphone in front of you. Your meeting begins.

Two of the three participants are here, so you say “Alexa, please dial out to Jane Doe” and Alexa calls Jane to join the call. Two more people walk in and sit at the front of the room to try and avoid being on camera (you know that person, we all do). The camera tracker catches them, and re-frames them into the shot. As soon as one of them speaks the gain is again adjusted to make sure they can be heard. You’ re finally ready to start, so you say “Alexa, please start recording this call. Also, send a copy of the recording and transcript from this meeting to all participants”.

Even if we make a meeting easy to start, there are still many ‘in meeting’ requirements that people never learn how to do. These keep people from using the technology. Voice will fix that.

“Alexa, please turn off the camera”

“Alexa, pause the recording”

“Alexa, Share the file named Revenue Report 2017 from my OneDrive”

I will not explain how to do all these things in today’s conference room; it involves lots of buttons, remotes and different UI’s that people still have to learn before they can use – and most won’t bother. This is why we see video adoption levels that pale in comparison to other business technologies. It is easy to see how NLP will address this.

The conference room is about to change forever. That day when everyone will be able to use it is finally in sight.

From someone who has spent his entire career trying to solve these exact problems for my customers all I can say is…

“Alexa, thanks.”