Amazon’s cloud platform AWS hosted its annual re:Invent conference this week, which featured the usual slew of announcements revealing new features and products for customers of the market-leading public cloud provider. Alongside plans to move into 5G networking and to help companies transition from legacy mainframe systems, AWS revealed a new feature which will help businesses build better chatbots. This could prove a boon for organisations looking to embed the tech in the user experience, an expert told Tech Monitor.
After last year’s virtual gathering, the tenth edition of re:Invent was held as a hybrid event, with delegates watching online or joining the fun in Las Vegas. The conference was the first since Adam Selipsky took over as AWS CEO from Andy Jassy, who moved upstairs earlier this year to succeed Jeff Bezos as Amazon’s chief executive.
Previously AWS has focused on providing underlying infrastructure for businesses using the cloud, but during his keynote speech, Selipsky took the opportunity to outline a host of new products for specific business sectors, which will help AWS build out its offer to different industry verticals. “There is something bigger at play, the opportunity to transform,” Selipsky said. “Despite everything we’ve done over the past 15 years, we’re only getting started on this transformation promise. The cloud is an opportunity to reimagine everything, it provides a pathway to true transformation.”
AWS Lex Chatbot: more accurate conversational AI?
One area ripe for transformation is customer experience. The digitisation of commerce accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, and with more transactions moving online businesses are increasingly relying on automated chatbots to filter information or answer basic queries. The chatbot, or conversational AI, market was worth $6.8bn this year according to a report released last week by analyst company Research and Markets, and is predicted to grow to $18.4bn by 2026.
AWS wants a slice of the action, and at re:Invent it revealed Amazon Lex, an automated chatbot designer that uses AI to analyse call transcripts and automatically build chatbots which, the company claims, can accurately answer queries from customers. This marks it out from chatbot builders offered by other cloud providers.
Swami Sivasubramanian, VP of Amazon AI, said in his speech at the conference that this can cut what was previously a manual process that would take developers days or weeks down to a couple of hours. “The organisational design of a chatbot is highly complex, manual and prone to errors,” Sivasubramanian said. “It requires understanding the nuances of a spoken language and human interactions, and without this specific expertise, developers spend hundreds of hours combing through all the historic called transcripts to find things like common user requests and the required information to solve this problem.”
“I think this is a notable announcement,” says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, who attended re:Invent. “The interest in chatbots is at an all-time high as companies look to use them to help offload calls from overworked contact centres.” However, he believes the technology is still in need of refinement, and systems such as AWS Lex could help address this. “There is a high degree of risk in using chatbots though as, if they do not work correctly, they can irritate customers and hurt the overall customer experience,” he adds.
Indeed, chatbots are not always well received by customers. Research from the University of Göttingen in Germany, released earlier this year, looked at the reactions of consumers when they discovered they were talking to a bot rather than a human, and found that businesses that deploy bots to deal with important issues can run into resistance from clients. “If service issues are perceived as particularly important or critical, there is a negative reaction when it is revealed that the conversation partner is a chatbot,” the researchers said. “This scenario weakens customer trust.”
AWS and 5G: Selipsky ready to take on the telcos
Elsewhere at re:Invent, aside from the Lex Chatbot, AWS announced Mainframe Modernization, a product it hopes will help businesses move away from legacy mainframe systems and accelerate the transition to the cloud.
It also revealed its intentions to make a splash in networking. AWS Private 5G will allow customers to order and run a private 5G network through the company’s online portal. Users will be able to specify the coverage area and capacity for their network, and AWS will deliver the required networking equipment within days. This will come pre-configured so it can simply be switched on and activated, the cloud provider claims.
It also announced AWS Cloud WAN, a service that will allow users to build, manage, and monitor global private wide area networks (WAN) through AWS. Tech Monitor has previously reported on the trend of cloud providers moving into the telecoms space through cloud-enabled 5G, while established communications companies such as Nokia are beginning to fight back with the launch of software-as-a-service offerings which deliver software-defined networking functions.
Kerravala believes the networking announcements are the most significant of re:Invent 2021. “Every market AWS has entered, it has disrupted and I’m expecting them to do the same here,” he says. “It has taken one long-established industry, WAN and one emerging area, 5G, and will try to do what it does best – let customers run and manage their environment through a single console and shift to a consumption-based approach.”