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Nextiva CTO Sees a New Era of Truly Integrated Business Communications

March 15, 2019

By Erik Linask - Group Editorial Director

As business technologies move deeper into the software domain and leave traditional hardware-driven models in the past, the door opens for tighter integration of business applications than ever before.  Already, once disparate communications capabilities are being delivered in all-encompassing unified communications solutions.  In particular, the UCaaS model is making major inroads into all business markets.

But the move to software-based solutions allows for the integration of other applications as well, like contact center, which have traditionally existed in siloed deployments and not easily intertwined with overall business objectives and processes.

 A number of UC providers already offer contact center capabilities as part of their offerings, including Nextiva, which launched its CCaaS product earlier this year.  In fact, it’s been a busy quarter for Nextiva, which continues to grow and now boasts more than 150,000 business customers and recently hired its 1000th employee.  Its recent membership in the Telarus TrustedSky Alliance can only be expected to drive further growth, which will be supported by enhanced network connectivity thanks to multi-site interconnects with Nitel.

The company also has made two executive announcements in this young year, naming Scott Armour as its Chief Revenue Officer back in January, and most recently, announcing Phil Steitz as its first CTO.   

Steitz, whose previous roles include CTO at American Express and chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, brings a software pedigree that he believes will help Nextiva drive its vision of a truly integrated, software-based communications platform.  In fact, during his tenure at Amex, he was part of building what, at the time, were very advanced customer engagement capabilities that effectively equated to leveraging customer journey data and using that to drive more effective engagements. 

“We had an idea that, when customers called us, we should recognize them and then make decisions about how to handle them – whether to cross-sell them, whether to give them some extra treatment, whether to immediately bypass the IVR,” he explained.  “At the time, what was advanced about it was making those decisions in real time, fast enough, and controlling call handle times.”

It’s a concept businesses are struggling with today – making intelligent real-time decisions based on large data streams in a way that will deliver real value to businesses and customers.  It’s also one of the reasons Steitz came to Nextiva – a vision of extending communications beyond traditional definitions by tightly integrating adjacent business operations, like contact center, CRM, and marketing.

“We are pulling together an integrated offering that empowers our customers to simply be more successful in managing their communications and their customer journeys and engagements,” he said. 

But, it’s not about simply replicating contact center, CRM, campaign management, or other applications.  Rather, Nextiva’s vision is to redefine these capabilities with new products that define entirely new product categories that drive new value from customer journeys and allow businesses to be more successful in managing their customers’ experiences.  It’s this desire to take a new approach to technology and software integration that created a need for the CTO role, and it’s one of the reasons the role was so attractive to Steitz.

“The challenge, and also what’s so exciting to me, is making sure the right ideas really win in terms of product definition and that we don’t simply go to market with a bunch of “me too” UCaaS extensions of UCaaS,” he said.  “That's not what we want to do.”

That new view towards software naturally includes AI, which Nextiva has already started building into its product portfolio, such as using it for sentiment analysis.  Ai is going to grow quickly, but much of its early implementation really falls into the automation category, which has value, but is limited in its extensibility and value.

Steitz doesn’t see pure automation as the true future of AI.  He believes automation does have value and will continue to be leveraged to increase operational efficiency and that AI is critical to understanding data, but his sights are set on human-assisted artificial intelligence.  He sees a world where AI delivers information to human agents, who are then armed with maximum decision-making power to most effectively handle each customer engagement.

For instance, through engagement and customer journey analytics, AI engines might identify a customer as a high attrition candidate.  The system can then, based on all the data it has available, identify a number of different options for handling that customer and provide those options to human agents, who can then leverage that information to manage the relationship most effectively – and hopefully retain the customer long-term.  The results of that engagement, then, add to the richness of the data stream for even better future analyses.

While there’s been an awful lot of press given to whether AI will replace humans and result in job loss.  For Steitz, it’s not about that at all – the human experience isn’t going away.  Rather, it’s about leveraging technology to enhance those human interactions to make them more impactful and to create the absolute best possible customer experience

“Instead of driverless cars, I like to think of it as bionic limbs,” Steitz said.  “I see us bringing to market technology that doesn’t make decisions for our customers, but empowers our customers with better information.  I see the future of really good artificial intelligence and machine learning as making the human element as powerful and effective as it can be.”

Nextiva plays in a competitive market, but there are several factors that play to its advantage.  Certainly the continued adoption of cloud-based business services is a benefit.  In addition, the company’s vision of taking the “unified” part of unified communications to a new level and introducing a new era of integrated business applications and services can deliver a new element of value to its existing product portfolio.  Now it also has a CTO who not only is excited about that vision, but has the experience to bring it to fruition.


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