One of today’s most fashionable tech buzzwords is “cognitive”, a that term represents the dawn of a new era of computing. While technologies in this category give industry veterans and experts a chance to advance their careers, there is a high chance they will lead to job cuts in the entry level space, despite being pitched as complementary solutions to human expertise.
Cognitive computing is a mashup of computer science and cognitive science – the study of the human brain. The term refers to systems that can learn at scale, reason with purpose, and have natural interactions with humans. It encompasses things like machine learning, reasoning, natural language processing, and narrative generation, among others.
In layman’s terms, these are solutions that can think and reason like human beings, allowing companies to achieve value through answers and insights locked away in massive volumes of unstructured data — a capability that will undeniably have a significant effect on human tasks.
Tremors in Contact Center Employment
There are mixed opinions about the true impact on contact center roles. Sebastian Menutti, Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan, explained that the use of cognitive computing for virtual agents will allow service providers to manage a larger number of interactions without the need for human contact center agents.
“Consequently, the industry will need fewer people for handling the same amount of contacts,” he said. “However, a solution based on cognitive could also be used to assist a customer care representative, helping them get more accurate answers more quickly for the customer. The quality of services and customer satisfaction should also be raised with this technology.”
Marcelo Spaziani, Vice president of software for IBM Latin America, expects IBM’s cognitive platform Watson to transform the way agents work. “One of our clients, Brazilian bank Bradesco, has implemented the technology, which shows an opportunity to transform call centers from any industry by supporting and assisting every employee in an intelligent way.” he said.
As well as assisting existing agents, the company sees new positions for experts in different business segments that handle data and feed it to the system. Other companies are hiring data scientists to do a similar role, proving that cognitive systems require deep knowledge and expertise to make them viable.
“The only companies that are adopting cognitive solutions right now are large, hi-tech corporations,” said Gustavo Parés, Partner at Nearshore Delivery Solutions. “In the midterm, there will be a workforce evolution that will determine how companies will be reshaped. While this happens, the manpower will be significantly reduced in terms of basic, entry level jobs, but thousands of added-value jobs will be created in the new digital economy.”
Even so, Parés predicts that, in the long term, education will become more specialized, providing everyone with the training they need to work in a cognitive computing environment, and the entry level for education should be lowered significantly. “This is one of the positive things in this digital revolution,” he said.
Elementary, My Dear Watson
IBM’s Watson solution is a particularly notable entry in the cognitive computing space. Watson is capable of learning the language, jargon, and mode of thought within any given industry, but again requires industry experts to assist it in acquiring literacy in that domain.
In July 2015, IBM began working with Bradesco on the first cognitive computing project in Brazil. The project employs Watson in the bank’s call center. As of July 2016, the system has fully understood 83% of oral questions and 100% of written questions, along with achievements in slang recognition, colloquialisms, and overly long, complicated texts. Today, the system is active in 700 agencies and has answered more than 50,000 questions about more than 15 Bradesco products.
Due to Watson’s capability to learn and improve continuously, these stats will only swell in numbers as time goes on, most likely leading to a cost-versus-efficiency conversation concerning the necessity of entry level human agents. “Cognitive will change the nature of work done by people, it will help us solve tasks faster and more accurately, and it will make many processes cheaper and more efficient,” said Spaziani.
Hype or Today’s Reality?
Right now, the use of cognitive computing for the customer interaction field is still in the very early stages, with companies like Bradesco and Genesys partnering with IBM just this year. Therefore, there hasn’t yet been any significant impact in the industry. But, as Mars Cyrillo of CI&T told us at the start of the year, every single company will be looking to build applications that will be using cognitive computing in one or two years.
The success of cognitive computing will be measured on its ability to provide a return on investment and discover new market opportunities. Although costs may be high today, this will eventually decrease as these types of solutions globally gain traction within enterprises, leading to a reassessment of today’s hiring practices.
Cognitive computing systems are leading us to a world where machines and humans work side by side. But, when these systems evolve to the next level, they will be capable of replicating human interactions in a way that is indistinguishable from the real thing. We can most definitely expect many new roles to emerge from the introduction of cognitive, but they will without a doubt require a deep set of skills that entry level agents simply do not possess.