This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Everything Enterprise Connect 2024: News, trends and insights

IT leaders curb GenAI enthusiasm at Enterprise Connect

IT leaders at Enterprise Connect expressed enthusiasm for GenAI experimentation in customer experience as well as circumspection that vendors should take on board.

Enterprise IT's enthusiasm for generative AI for customer experience has not dwindled into nothing in 2024, but it is tempered with caution, at least on the evidence of a prominent panel at this year's Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando.

In an opening keynote panel, Sinead Aylward, senior director of IT for call center platforms at Johnson Controls International, received enthusiastic applause when she said organizations do not want to be overcharged for AI being introduced into platforms in which they have already invested.

"I've been a customer of cloud technology since 2016. I've paid into the pot, month after month; we don't want to be overcharged for this technology," Aylward said. "We want to be recognized as the founding partners who gave you the money to develop this. We want to see this come in at a price that's either free or reasonable."

She made this point in the context of a segment of the panel -- which included representatives of five vendors as well as three users -- about the need to secure and govern the use of generative AI.

Gary LaSasso, senior director of global IT at Amicus Therapeutics, concurred with Aylward and highlighted the need to focus on data security, data privacy, data governance and compliance, particularly in regulated sectors such as biotech.

"Our scientific research, our manufacturing information, our patient data -- that can't get out. We need to make sure that we have controls on that," LaSasso said. "And the data needs to be trusted."

He added that AI tools provide wrong answers because users either are not asking the right questions or are not providing valid sources. "Those old sources need to be taken out of the pool," LaSasso said.

Craig Youngs, portfolio director of unified communications at Brigham Young University, said privacy, security and governance is key to his organization. The university is being "methodical and purposeful" in its adoption of AI tools.

"We have formed an interdisciplinary departmental task force to review the various AI options that are in the industry right now. But I think it's important that somebody's at the front of that effort," he said.

Youngs said the person overseeing AI adoption in this fast-changing market must be able to spend time investigating different tools and how those tools can be integrated into business processes.

An organization's culture also plays an important role in deciding which AI tools to adopt and how quickly to roll them out, he said.

"If the culture of the organization is very conservative, you might need to go a little bit slower than if it is nimble and quick," Youngs said. "If you do it wrong, then it's not going to work out well, and you're not going to get the adoption you hoped for."

Meanwhile, vendors will say, "do not be afraid to try GenAI," even in areas as sensitive as customer service in general and in contact centers specifically. And, indeed, the vendors on that panel did just that.

That does seem to be the typical oscillation: User organizations do not want to be left behind, but the AI hype of 2023 is diminishing to positive but cautious.

GenAI can express empathy

However, there are reasonable grounds for optimism that GenAI and other AI technology developments on the vendor side of the house will yield business value, and in surprising ways.

One member of that panel from the vendor community was Kevin Shatzkamer, managing director of strategic partnership delivery and incubation with the Applied AI Engineering team at Google Cloud. Following the panel discussion, he spoke with me about empathy with respect to GenAI. What he said was arresting and interesting.

"The best humans are better at empathy than the best software. But it's not true that software is incapable of dealing with empathy," Shatzkamer said.

He used an anecdote to illustrate the point.

"There also are a lot of people -- particularly if they're new on the job, or if this isn't their native language -- [who] find that empathy can be challenging; they won't necessarily recognize that they're in a situation that's sensitive, they won't necessarily appreciate the right words, to use them in that sensitive situation," he said.

"But we see with these models, that they do have the ability to recognize that this is a sensitive situation, and they do have the ability to generate text that is empathetic, and they can be useful in making suggestions for those people working in those moments, so the humans can be even better at demonstrating empathy."

The question of how generative AI will impact customer service is one I'll be exploring this year, beginning with a proposed research project for TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group. I will be looking at how organizations will balance efficiency with empathy in contact center operations, but not just there. Shatzkamer offers food for thought, in my view. And I spoke to other vendors at the event about the issue.

In the research, we will ask questions such as the following:

  • What are the top existing and projected enterprise use cases for GenAI in customer service?
  • What are the top benefits realized by GenAI for customer service use?
  • What are the main barriers to adoption of GenAI for customer service?
  • How are organizations measuring the value and effectiveness of AI more generally for customer service?

Getting answers to those questions from user organizations will help to gauge their enthusiasm for GenAI more precisely. Between vendor excitement and user caution, there is most probably a middle way. Perhaps users need to temper their caution with some enthusiasm? Especially in view of how fast-moving this particular hyped technology is.

Brian McKenna is a senior analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group, who focuses on customer experience and other business applications. Previously, he was an editor at ComputerWeekly.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget. Its analysts have business relationships with vendors.

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