From Telephone Operators, to Moviefone, to AI – Evolving and Modernizing a Traditional IVR Application from Blueworx with Skytap Cloud

Last week I had the opportunity to jump on the phone with Dean Upton, Director at Blueworx.  During our discussion we chatted about the evolution of IVR, the challenges of modernizing a traditional application and the opportunity ahead now that modernization is underway in Skytap Cloud.  Enjoy!

How did you get into the tech industry?

I grew up in the prime of home computing. I learned to program on a British computer called the Sinclair ZX81, and another one, which was very popular in schools at the time, called a Model B. I even wrote an email application for the school’s computer network, and charged fellow students a few pence to use it, so I think it’s always been in my blood. After graduating with an engineering degree, I decided to join IBM, and it was IBM that first developed much of the software that we have today. After many years at IBM, I made the transition to Blueworx.

What is your role at Blueworx?

At Blueworx, it’s my responsibility to determine where we should take our products in the future. Should we create new products? How should we change our existing products to better meet our customers’ needs? I try to spot the trends so we can plan and develop them.

In simple terms, can you describe Blueworx and what is provides?

At its core, Blueworx connects people to computer systems. It started out as what’s called an Interactive Voice Response, or for short, an IVR solution. For example, IVRs power the software that banks use to offer telephone banking to their customers or Telcos use for voicemail, with menu driven touch tones where you press numbers on a phone. Since then, Blueworx is committed to improving the whole experience by helping our customers design intuitive interfaces, and using artificial intelligence to provide a fluid conversation, rather than just a static menu.

How is Blueworx different than other IVR solutions?

Blueworx is designed at the core to be a rock solid solution. Originally, it was built on IBM AIX, which is known for its stability, not just in terms of the software and operating system, but because it runs on IBM Power hardware. Blueworx provides a Telco grade IVR solution, and we pride ourselves on the stability of the system. It’s been very interesting in the last fews years, going on-site to meet our customers, and hearing that they really haven’t touched their IVR solution for seven or eight years. It just sits there and it never crashes, and that’s testament to the engineering in the product.

How have IVR solutions evolved?

As soon as the ordinary telephone became popular, customers wanted to call businesses to resolve their problems. To handle the increasing requests, these organizations had to hire employees to answer incoming calls, which were often fielding the same transactional questions. They would often have a mini exchange, or PBX, in their building. But having a team of people answering calls is expensive, especially when it’s the same question over and over.  IVRs were developed to automatically answer these calls and guide callers through a series of questions to get to the information or department that they wanted. I remember visiting Boston in the early 90s and being blown away by a service called Moviefone. It’ where you would enter the first three letters of a film on your on your push-button phones, and it figured out what you wanted to watch then gave you the showtimes at local theaters. That was very cutting edge back then.

Because IVRs were so cost effective, many organizations started to implement them across their contact center locations. Due to the dramatic increase in automated support, and at times poor design, customers started to hate self-service and wanted to speak directly to a customer service agent.

As the internet and smartphone technology has evolved, many people have started to prefer self-service again. In a sense, we have now come full circle.

How is Blueworx modernizing its software?

Many of our existing customers use our software on-premises. However, there’s a strong desire to move services to the cloud because of the inherent capabilities that cloud infrastructure provides. Cloud technology provides us with an incredible opportunity to offer our software and services to a wider audience of smaller customers, those that, for whom our dedicated Blueworx system just wouldn’t be cost-effective. Our latest version of Blueworx, for both AIX and Linux, has been designed with large, multi-tenant clusters in mind, which allows us to handle hundreds of thousands of phone calls simultaneously for a variety of customers and applications.  We are also integrating with IBM Watson to improve the experience and future analytics of the services we provide.  We’ve been able to get that working between Skytap Cloud and IBM’s cloud enabling a multicloud experience behind the scenes.

What are the challenges are you experiencing by moving to the cloud?

Today, there are so many different interpretations of what cloud means. Some people think is just a private cloud, some think it’s a public dedicated cloud, some people think it’s a shared cloud, some people think it’s just a cloud platform and some think it’s just services offered in the cloud. Skytap Cloud is extremely flexible and allows us to build a cloud environment that our customers are familiar with.

What are your future plans with Skytap Cloud?

To start, we have implemented Skytap Cloud in our test and developments environments, but we’re actively planning  to implement it across our production environments. Many of our customers have a hybrid of AIX and Linux environments in their application infrastructure. Skytap Cloud allows Blueworx to run those configurations side by side in the cloud. We also have some legacy applications that will only run on AIX infrastructure. With Skytap Cloud, our customers can run those applications in the cloud, without having to do any code migration. Our customers have the ability to incrementally rearchitect their applications in their own time in Skytap Cloud.

What’s your favorite Skytap Cloud feature?

I’m quite geeky, so I like the ability to virtually architect a system of several different servers and networks, or even model our customer systems. After the environment is created, I can store it away in Skytap Cloud until it’s needed with no additional costs. We are able to create this broad library of architectures, which we can pull out and power up at any time.  I think that’s really cool.

Where do you see AI or other clouds services making an impact on IVR?

I see AI being at the core of Blueworx in the near future. Each time a customer calls a contact center, we’re creating a brand impression with our customer. That experience for the caller is critical to building loyalty within our brand. To drive customer loyalty, we must continue to invest in our customer experience.

AI allows us to provide a contact center experience that not only does the customer prefer, but they enjoy using. It allows us to converse using fluid, natural language and create customer experiences that are warmer, more engaging, and emotionally rich in experience.

What do you love to do outside of work?

Usually I’m geeking out on something else. I enjoy trying all new things – from scuba diving to flying model helicopters. I recently bought a car lift so I can figure out how to take my cars apart, and hopefully put them back together again, which doesn’t always happen!  My passion is the future, and I’m always trying to figure out current trends, and how technology will ultimately change our lives and the lives of my kids on the future.

For more about Blueworx, see our Blueworx case study.

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