Massive Cloud Telecom Outage Shows The Benefit Of A Chatbot As Microsoft Bags Another Bot Vendor

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Many office functions and systems have moved to the cloud in recent years; apps, data, servers and even company telephone PBX systems. So, should that bit of the cloud ever go down, no work or telephones! That nightmare scenario happened recently (Wednesday 14th November) across the UK, with a total blackout across Gamma Horizon’s cloud-hosted phone PBX system.

While the Gamma Horizon Twitter support and portal was hammered with requests for help, companies and their customers were left stranded. At this point, businesses were left to direct people to email or websites. And, if they were thinking ahead, they already had a chatbot up and running to handle the increased level of interaction.

For those not equipped with a bot, you can imagine the larger businesses drowning in a flood of emails, tweets and messages. When services are restored and support agents come back from a well-earned rest, most businesses will take a look at contingency plans for such an event happening in the future.

Some may switch providers, but most will investigate and find that a chatbot can quickly provide all the information customers need, can handle a large volume of queries without disrupting the usual business operations and can be updated as the company grows to provide new services and information. That might be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but there will be more outages, and likely hackers learning from this issue.

Judging by Gamma Horizon’s tweets the problem started with a failure in an application cluster, and the company had no easy way to navigate around the issue. The company’s own alert read, “We have started to receive reports that BLF keys have disappeared from customers handsets, we have also received reports of intermittent access failures when trying to log into Horizon direct to the GUI and via the Portal. Our Engineer teams have been fully engaged and this is being treated as a priority.” Their ultimate solution was asking users to reset their phones!

It affected Premier League club AFC Bournemouth, insurer CoverDrone, recruiter Language Matters, even our local vets and hundreds, likely thousands, of other companies. Gamma Horizon provides its service to many resellers, who’s customers were also caught up in the wipeout. The service vanished around 10:30 AM UK and wasn’t restored until the evening with a full service not promised until the following Thursday. All critical time and lost business for those suffering the outage.

Microsoft bulks up its AI bot roster

Back to positive news, while the big vendors continue to focus on developing or acquiring chatbot technology to round out and improve their offerings. The latest deal sees Microsoft pick up XOXCO, a company founded in 2009, and focused on bots since 2013.

While figures are undisclosed, Microsoft has been snapping up AI and chatbot technology firms at a prodigious rate this year, highlighting the importance of the field, and the need for companies to include AI and bots in their internal and external processes, in this case, those driven by SharePoint, Office 365 and Microsoft’s other services as it moves further away from being an OS company.

Microsoft’s release states “we have signed an agreement to acquire XOXCO, a software product design and development studio known for its conversational AI and bot development capabilities. The company has been paving the way in conversational AI since 2013 and was responsible for the creation of Howdy, the first commercially available bot for Slack that helps schedule meetings, and Botkit, which provides the development tools used by hundreds of thousands of developers on GitHub. Over the years, we have partnered with XOXCO and have been inspired by this work.”

The deal follows on from Microsoft’s acquisition of Semantic Machines in May, Bonsai in July and Lobe in September, all firms aimed at making AI and bots easier to deploy and use. Expect the technology to appear in Microsoft products across 2019, and the employee expertise to help drive the direction of future MS AI efforts.

Many businesses aren’t convinced about leaving their bots in the hands of the major players. Dedicated services like SnatchBot focus on nothing but bots for all types and size of business. They roll out features organically and don’t bolt products together from various parts, making building and operating bots less of a challenge.