Artificial intelligence (AI) has captured the popular imagination. As a result, many managed service providers (MSPs) are wondering how they can incorporate AI into their service portfolios and use it to generate new business. Those service providers operating in the collaboration and hybrid work sector are especially fortunate because vendors in those areas are leading the way when it comes to harnessing AI in their existing products.
Microsoft, for example, was an early adopter of ChatGPT. It’s now adding AI to its Microsoft Teams collaboration platform, which is about to surpass the 300 million user mark. The company recently released Microsoft 365 Copilot, which is now embedded into Microsoft 365 apps such as Teams, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook as a way to bring powerful AI capabilities to some of the most heavily used consumer and business applications.
“Copilot combines large language models with data in Teams and other Microsoft 365 apps,” said Nicole Herskowitz, vice president of Microsoft Teams and platform marketing at Microsoft. “Natural language prompts can be used to generate status updates based on meetings, emails, and chat threads.”
When used with PowerPoint, AI automatically suggests presentation designs and relevant content as directed by instructions from users on what to pull from other documents. For Excel, Copilot offers automatic analysis and visualization of trends. Those using Outlook for email can use it to clear an inbox in minutes.
“Copilot can surface information and insights from a sea of data,” said Herskowitz. “It is linked to calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings, and contacts, and is accessible from Teams, Microsoft 365.com, or Bing.”
MSPs focusing on Microsoft applications should contact existing customers to help them take advantage of Copilot in their collaboration efforts. MSP expertise can add value by walking them through Copilot and showing them how to use it to enhance Teams meetings and chats and raise productivity. For many customers still on old versions of Office or yet to adopt Teams, these new AI features represent major upsell potential.
AI in RingCentral
RingCentral’s RingSense is another new AI-based collaboration and sales app. It uses RingCentral generative AI to connect to other natural language platforms to make phone, message, video, and contact center applications more intelligent.
“RingSense for Sales analyzes interactions among salespeople and prospects, helping them increase sales efficiency,” said Mo Katibeh, RingCentral’s president and COO. “It can sense needs and deliver insights, meeting notes, and coaching and provide managers with automated summaries, forecasts, and actionable reports.”
Salespeople can use it to track keywords and key phrases such as competitor names or product features. AI automatically loads follow-up reminders into CRM and productivity suites. AI-generated summary scoring and reporting helps salespeople and managers prioritize conversations. RingSense is already integrated with Salesforce, HubSpot, Zoho, and other CRM applications as well as calendars such as Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook, and a variety of call center and video meeting tools.
With RingCentral being so widely utilized in collaboration and sales, these added AI features offer many upsell opportunities to MSPs serving the RingCentral user community as well as reasons to contact existing customers to ensure they’re maximizing the value of current licenses.
AI in WebEx
Not to be outdone, Cisco has also been hard at work adding AI to WebEx, one of the most popular business collaboration platforms. The Cisco Room OS can now take advantage of AI to enhance the hybrid-work experience in several ways. Cameras can follow the movements of individuals through voice and facial recognition. This enables them to automatically switch views to capture the best angle of an active speaker.
Perhaps the most important feature for Cisco-based MSPs to grasp, though, is what AI means to performance. WebEx now offers high-definition (HD) meetings that don’t require HD bandwidth even with low-quality cameras or low-bandwidth connections.
AI facilitates the delivery of 1080P quality video by scaling it down to 270P to transmit it over a network and then scaling it up again when viewed. Additional AI-based capabilities include smart relighting that automatically improves poor lighting whenever it’s too dim or bright. Background noises such as coffee grinding, dogs barking, or traffic are filtered out. A “be right back” message pops up, blurs the background, and mutes the sound when a user steps away. AI also supplies meeting summaries, notes, key talking points, and to-do lists for participants.
“AI presents the next evolution of hybrid work,” said Snorre Kjesbu, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Collaboration Devices.
AI-Based Collaboration Needs Human Support
AI may represent the future, but it also requires MSPs to step up their support efforts to ensure their customers are using it correctly. Some users may believe that AI is designed to do their thinking and administration for them. These customers need to understand that AI is another excellent tool, but it doesn’t replace human ingenuity.
“There are now many good collaboration and AI tools, but they can never replace humans,” said Dan Miller, an analyst for Opus Research.
Collaboration platforms infused with AI functionality can certainly add tremendous value. They’re particularly useful in making data available for apps everywhere all the time, creating opportunities for innovation, and eliminating time consuming or repetitive work. However, they can’t be relied upon 100% because they will sometimes give bad answers. Therefore, humans need to review the actions, suggestions, and responses of AI to ensure they’re valid within the context of the tasks at hand.
“AI should be used to enhance employee productivity and provide better service,” said Miller. “These tools should be thought of as assistants and be under our full control.”