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Tag: Service

Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service

September 22, 2019 No Comments

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

Screenshot 2019 09 21 at 23.25.18

Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.


Social – TechCrunch


Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service

September 22, 2019 No Comments

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

Screenshot 2019 09 21 at 23.25.18

Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.


Startups – TechCrunch


Kadena brings free private blockchain service to Azure Marketplace

August 27, 2019 No Comments

The hype around blockchain seems to have cooled a bit, but companies like Kadena have been working on enterprise-grade solutions for some time, and continue to push the technology forward. Today, the startup announced that Kadena Scalable Permissioned Blockchain on Azure is available for free in the Azure Marketplace.

Kadena co-founder and CEO Will Martino says today’s announcement builds on the success of last year’s similar endeavor involving AWS. “Our private chain is designed for enterprise use. It’s designed for being high performance and for integrating with traditional back ends. And by bringing that chain to AWS marketplace, and now to Microsoft Azure, we are servicing almost all of the enterprise blockchain market that takes place in the cloud,” Martino told TechCrunch.

The free product enables companies to get comfortable with the technology and build a Proof of Concept (PoC) without making a significant investment in the tooling. The free tool provides 2000 transactions a second across 4 nodes. Once companies figure this out and want to scale, that’s when the company begins making money, but Martino recognizes that the technology is still immature and companies need to get comfortable with it, and that’s what the free versions on the cloud platforms like Azure are encouraging.

Martino says Kadena favors a hybrid approach to enterprise blockchain that combines public and private chains, and in his view, gives customers the best of both worlds. “You can run a smart contract on our public Chainweb protocol that will be launching on October 30th, and that smart contract can be linked to a cluster of private permission chain nodes that are running the other half of the application. This allows you to have all of the market access and openness and transparency and ownerlessness of a public network, while also having the control and the security that you find in a private network,” he said.

Martino and co-founder Stuart Popejoy both worked at JPMorgan on early blockchain projects, but left to start Kadena in 2016. The company has raised $ 14.9 million to date.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Microsoft makes a push for service mesh interoperability

May 21, 2019 No Comments

Services meshes. They are the hot new thing in the cloud native computing world. At Kubecon, the bi-annual festival of all things cloud native, Microsoft today announced that it is teaming up with a number of companies in this space to create a generic service mesh interface. This will make it easier for developers to adopt the concept without locking them into a specific technology.

In a world where the number of network endpoints continues to increase as developers launch new micro-services, containers and other systems at a rapid clip, they are making the network smarter again by handling encryption, traffic management and other functions so that the actual applications don’t have to worry about that. With a number of competing service mesh technologies, though, including the likes of Istio and Linkerd, developers currently have to chose which one of these to support.

“I’m really thrilled to see that we were able to pull together a pretty broad consortium of folks from across the industry to help us drive some interoperability in the service mesh space,” Gabe Monroy, Microsoft’s lead product manager for containers and the former CTO of Deis, told me. “This is obviously hot technology — and for good reasons. The cloud-native ecosystem is driving the need for smarter networks and smarter pipes and service mesh technology provides answers.”

The partners here include Buoyant, HashiCorp, Solo.io, Red Hat, AspenMesh, Weaveworks, Docker, Rancher, Pivotal, Kinvolk and VMWare. That’s a pretty broad coalition, though it notably doesn’t include cloud heavyweights like Google, the company behind Istio, and AWS.

“In a rapidly evolving ecosystem, having a set of common standards is critical to preserving the best possible end-user experience,” said Idit Levine, founder and CEO of Solo.io. “This was the vision behind SuperGloo – to create an abstraction layer for consistency across different meshes, which led us to the release of Service Mesh Hub last week. We are excited to see service mesh adoption evolve into an industry level initiative with the SMI specification.”

For the time being, the interoperability features focus on traffic policy, telemetry and traffic management. Monroy argues that these are the most pressing problems right now. He also stressed that this common interface still allows the different service mesh tools to innovate and that developers can always work directly with their APIs when needed. He also stressed that the Service Mesh Interface (SMI), as this new specification is called, does not provide any of its own implementations of these features. It only defines a common set of APIs.

Currently, the most well-known service mesh is probably Istio, which Google, IBM and Lyft launched about two years ago. SMI may just bring a bit more competition to this market since it will allow developers to bet on the overall idea of a service mesh instead of a specific implementation.

In addition to SMI, Microsoft also today announced a couple of other updates around its cloud-native and Kubernetes services. It announced the first alpha of the Helm 3 package manager, for example, as well as the 1.0 release of its Kubernetes extension for Visual Studio Code and the general availability of its AKS virtual nodes, using the open source Virtual Kubelet project.

 


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Facebook says it filed a US lawsuit to shut down a follower-buying service in New Zealand

April 26, 2019 No Comments

Facebook is cracking down on services that promise to help Instagram users buy themselves a large following on the photo app. The social network said today that it has filed a lawsuit against a New Zealand-based company that operates one such ‘follower-buying service.’

The suit is in a U.S. court and is targeting the three individuals running the company, which has been named as Social Media Series Limited.

“The complaint alleges the company and individuals used different companies and websites to sell fake engagement services to Instagram users. We previously suspended accounts associated with the defendants and formally warned them in writing that they were in violation of our Terms of Use, however, their activity persisted,” Facebook wrote in a post.

We were not initially able to get a copy of the lawsuit, but have asked Facebook for further details.

This action comes months after a TechCrunch expose identified 17 follower-buyer services that were using Instagram’s own advertising network to peddle their wares to users of the service.

Instagram responded by saying it had removed all ads as well as disabled all the Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts of the services that we reported were violating its policies. However, just one day later, TechCrunch found advertising from two of the companies Instagram, while a further five were found to be paying to promote policy-violating follower-growth services.

Facebook has stepped up its efforts to crack down on “inauthentic behavior” on its platforms in recent months. That’s included removing accounts and pages from Facebook and Instagram in countries that include India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the U.K, Romania, Iran, Russia, Macedonia and Kosovo this year. Higher-profile action has included the suspension of removal of UK far-right activist Tommy Robinson from Facebook and in Myanmar, where Facebook has been much-criticized, the company banned four armed groups.

Note: the original version of this article has been updated to include the name of the company


Social – TechCrunch


ServiceNow teams with Workplace by Facebook on service chatbot

March 30, 2019 No Comments

One of the great things about enterprise chat applications, beyond giving employees a common channel to communicate, is the ability to integrate with other enterprise applications. Today, Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration and communication application, and ServiceNow announced a new chatbot to make it easier for employees to navigate a company’s help desks inside Workplace Chat.

The beauty of the chatbot is that employees can get answers to common questions whenever they want, wherever they happen to be. The Workplace-ServiceNow integration happens in Workplace Chat and can can involve IT or HR help desk scenarios. A chatbot can help companies save time and money, and employees can get answers to common problems much faster.

Previously, getting these kind of answers would have required navigating multiple systems, making a phone call or submitting a ticket to the appropriate help desk. This approach provides a level of convenience and immediacy.

Companies can brainstorm common questions and answers and build them in the ServiceNow Virtual Agent Designer. It comes with some standard templates, and doesn’t require any kind of advanced scripting or programming skills. Instead, non-technical end users can adapt pre-populated templates to meet the needs, language and workflows of an individual organization.

Screenshot: ServiceNow

This is all part of a strategy by Facebook to integrate more enterprise applications into the tool. In May at the F8 conference, Facebook announced 52 such integrations from companies like Atlassian, SurveyMonkey, HubSpot and Marketo (the company Adobe bought in September for $ 4.75 billion).

This is part of a broader enterprise chat application trend around making these applications the center of every employee’s work life, while reducing task switching, the act of moving from application to application. This kind of integration is something that Slack has done very well and has up until now provided it with a differentiator, but the other enterprise players are catching on and today’s announcement with ServiceNow is part of that.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


AI has become table stakes in sales, customer service and marketing software

March 19, 2019 No Comments

Artificial intelligence and machine learning has become essential if you are selling sales, customer service and marketing software, especially in large enterprises. The biggest vendors from Adobe to Salesforce to Microsoft to Oracle are jockeying for position to bring automation and intelligence to these areas.

Just today, Oracle announced several new AI features in its sales tools suite and Salesforce did the same in its customer service cloud. Both companies are building on artificial intelligence underpinnings that have been in place for several years.

All of these companies want to help their customers achieve their business goals by using increasing levels of automation and intelligence. Paul Greenberg, managing principal at The 56 Group, who has written multiple books about the CRM industry, including CRM at the Speed of Light, says that while AI has been around for many years, it’s just now reaching a level of maturity to be of value for more businesses.

“The investments in the constant improvement of AI by companies like Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce are substantial enough to both indicate that AI has become part of what they have to offer — not an optional [feature] — and that the demand is high for AI from companies that are large and complex to help them deal with varying needs at scale, as well as smaller companies who are using it to solve customer service issues or minimize service query responses with chatbots,” Greenberg explained.

This would suggest that injecting intelligence in applications can help even the playing field for companies of all sizes, allowing the smaller ones to behave like they were much larger, and for the larger ones to do more than they could before, all thanks to AI.

The machine learning side of the equation allows these algorithms to see patterns that would be hard for humans to pick out of the mountains of data being generated by companies of all sizes today. In fact, Greenberg says that AI has improved enough in recent years that it has gone from predictive to prescriptive, meaning it can suggest the prospect to call that is most likely to result in a sale, or the best combination of offers to construct a successful marketing campaign.

Brent Leary, principle at CRM Insights, says that AI, especially when voice is involved, can make software tools easier to use and increase engagement. “If sales professionals are able to use natural language to interact with CRM, as opposed to typing and clicking, that’s a huge barrier to adoption that begins to crumble. And making it easier and more efficient to use these apps should mean more data enters the system, which result in quicker, more relevant AI-driven insights,” he said.

All of this shows that AI has become an essential part of these software tools, which is why all of the major players in this space have built AI into their platforms. In an interview last year at the Adobe Summit, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis had this to say about AI: “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he told TechCrunch. He appears to be right. It has certainly been transformative in sales, customer service and marketing.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


LinkedIn debuts LinkedIn Live, a new live video broadcast service

February 12, 2019 No Comments

LinkedIn — the social network for the working world with close to 600 million users globally — says that video is the fastest-growing format on its platform alongside original written work, shared news and other content. Now it’s taking its next step in the medium in earnest.

This week, the company is launching live video, giving people and organizations the ability to broadcast real-time video to select groups, or to the LinkedIn world at large.

Launching in beta first in the U.S., LinkedIn Live (as the product is called) will be invite-only. In coming weeks, LinkedIn will also post a contact form for others who want to get in on the action. It’s not clear when and if LinkedIn will make it possible for everyone to create LinkedIn Live videos, but if you consider how it developed its publishing features for written work, that will come later, too.

Initial live content that LinkedIn hopes to broadcast lines up with the kind of subject matter you might already see in LinkedIn’s news feed: the plan is to cover conferences, product announcements, Q&As and other events led by influencers and mentors, office hours from a big tech company, earnings calls, graduation and awards ceremonies and more.

And to underscore how LinkedIn is keen to develop this — especially in its first phase — not as rough-and-ready user-generated content, but as streams of the kinds of videos that fit with its wider ethos, it has selected several third-party developers of live broadcasting streaming services that creators will work with to create and post more polished live video on LinkedIn.

These include Wirecast, Switcher Studio, Wowza Media Systems, Socialive and Brandlive, “with more to come in the following weeks,” LinkedIn said.

There is another technical partner for LinkedIn’s live video effort, too: Microsoft, whose Azure Media Services, part of its cloud division, is providing encoding. Although Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in 2016, it has mostly kept a distance in terms of knitting together product development between the two, so this is a notable exception. Skype, incidentally, is not part of this video effort.

Better late than never?

Compared to its competitors in the social networking sphere, LinkedIn has been a late bloomer when it comes to video.

Amid developments from competitors like Twitter and Facebook going back years to bring more engagement to its platforms with the use of moving pictures, the Microsoft-owned LinkedIn introduced its first native video features only in the summer of 2017.

But in the 17 months since launching video features, LinkedIn has seen a big boost in traffic and revenues from (non-live) video on its platform.

“Video is the fastest growing format on our platform right now, and the one most likely to get people talking,” said Pete Davies, the director of product management at LinkedIn. He and LinkedIn declined to give specific figures in terms of how many video creators or viewers there are, except to note that “millions” of LinkedIn members have used the feature.

Davies said that live video has been a big request — not least, I’d wager, because it is such a prominent part of how video is being used on other social platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, putting the functionality front of mind.

“Live has been the most requested feature,” he said. These other social platforms are serving as a template of sorts: as with these other platforms, users can “like” videos as they are being broadcast, with the likes floating along the screen. Viewers can ask questions or make suggestions in the comments in real time. Hosts can moderate those comments in real time, too, to remove harassing or other messages, Davies added.

There may be another reason beyond user requests for why LinkedIn is expanding video: it’s proving to be a strong engine for engagement and revenue growth at the company.

So far, the only monetization that LinkedIn has introduced around video is for video advertising. While Microsoft does not break out how much LinkedIn brings in in advertising revenues, much less video advertising, Microsoft reported in its last quarterly earnings that revenues at LinkedIn were up 29 percent, with a reference to growing its ads business specifically: “with record levels of engagement highlighted by LinkedIn sessions growth of 30 percent.”

That, it seems, is directly coming from its video products: LinkedIn tells me that video ads earn 30 percent more comments per impression than non-video ads and that LinkedIn members spend almost three times more time watching video ads compared to time spent with static Sponsored Content.

With LinkedIn looking at tapping into unique content with LinkedIn Live, there is a clear opportunity for the company to explore other ways of monetizing the content beyond ads. For example, it could charge viewers for unique experiences like conferences, or make certain Live events part of the company’s paid tier to lure in more premium subscribers. On the part of the broadcasters, it could potentially provide fee-based services to provide a platform to broadcast certain content like video-based earnings reports.

LinkedIn wouldn’t comment on future monetization plans, and for now isn’t even putting video ads into LinkedIn Live videos. “That will come down the road, but for right now we are focused on awesome use cases,” said Peter Roybal, head of video product management, in an interview. “This could even be a way to try out some new ideas.”


Social – TechCrunch


Red Hat acquires hybrid cloud data management service NooBaa

November 27, 2018 No Comments

Red Hat is in the process of being acquired by IBM for a massive $ 34 billion, but that deal hasn’t closed yet and, in the meantime, Red Hat is still running independently and making its own acquisitions, too. As the company today announced, it has acquired Tel Aviv-based NooBaa, an early-stage startup that helps enterprises manage their data more easily and access their various data providers through a single API.

NooBaa’s technology makes it a good fit for Red Hat, which has recently emphasized its ability to help enterprise more effectively manage their hybrid and multicloud deployments. At its core, NooBaa is all about bringing together various data silos, which should make it a good fit in Red Hat’s portfolio. With OpenShift and the OpenShift Container Platform, as well as its Ceph Storage service, Red Hat already offers a range of hybrid cloud tools, after all.

“NooBaa’s technologies will augment our portfolio and strengthen our ability to meet the needs of developers in today’s hybrid and multicloud world,” writes Ranga Rangachari, the VP and general manager for storage and hyperconverged infrastructure at Red Hat, in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled to welcome a technical team of nine to the Red Hat family as we work together to further solidify Red Hat as a leading provider of open hybrid cloud technologies.”

While virtually all of Red Hat’s technology is open source, NooBaa’s code is not. The company says that it plans to open source NooBaa’s technology in due time, though the exact timeline has yet to be determined.

NooBaa was founded in 2013. The company has raised some venture funding from the likes of Jerusalem Venture Partners and OurCrowd, with a strategic investment from Akamai Capital thrown in for good measure. The company never disclosed the size of that round, though, and neither Red Hat nor NooBaa are disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Cockroach Labs launches CockroachDB as managed service

October 30, 2018 No Comments

Cockroach Lab’s open source SQL database, CockroachDB, has been making inroads since it launched last year, but as any open source technology matures, in order to move deeper into markets it has to move beyond technical early adopters to a more generalized audience. To help achieve that, the company announced a new CockroachDB managed service today.

The service has been designed to be cloud-agnostic, and for starters it’s going to be available on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. Cockroach, which launched in 2015, has always positioned itself as modern cloud alternative to the likes of Oracle or even Amazon’s Aurora database.

As company co-founder and CEO Spencer Kimball told me in an interview in May, those companies involve too much vendor lock-in for his taste. His company launched as open alternative to all of that. “You can migrate a Cockroach cluster from one cloud to another with no down time,” Kimball told TechCrunch in May.

He believes having that kind of flexibility is a huge advantage over what other vendors are offering, and today’s announcement carries that a step further. Instead of doing all the heavy lifting of setting up and managing a database and the related infrastructure, Cockroach is now offering CockroachDB as a service to handle all of that for you.

Kimball certainly recognizes that by offering his company’s product in this format, it will help grow his market. “We’ve been seeing significant migration activity away from Oracle, AWS Aurora, and Cassandra, and we’re now able to get our customers to market faster with Managed CockroachDB,” Kimball said in a statement.

The database itself offers the advantage of being ultra-resilient, meaning it stays up and running under most circumstances and that’s a huge value proposition for any database product. It achieves up time through replication, so if one version of itself goes down, the next can take over.

As an open source tool, it has been making money up until now by offering an enterprise version, which includes backup, support and other premium pieces. With today’s announcement, the company can get a more direct revenue stream from customers subscribing to the database service.

A year ago, the company announced version 1.0 of CockroachDB and $ 27 million in Series B financing, which was led by Redpoint with participation from Benchmark, GV, Index Ventures and FirstMark. They’ve obviously been putting that money to good use developing this new managed service.


Enterprise – TechCrunch