Category Archives: Tech News

Adobe looks to AI to lift customer experience business

Posted by on 10 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

For years, marketers have been trying to optimize the online shopping experience to better understand their customers and deliver more customized interactions that ultimately drive more sales. Artificial intelligence was supposed to accelerate that, and today Adobe announced enhancements to Adobe Target and Adobe Experience Manager that attempt to deliver at least partly on that promise.

Adobe has been trying to lift the enterprise side of its business for some time, and even though they are well on their way to becoming a $10 billion company, the potential for even more revenue from the enterprise side of the business remains tantalizing. They are counting on AI to help push that along.

Adobe’s Loni Stark says companies are looking for more sophisticated solutions around customization and optimization. Part of that involves using Adobe’s intelligence layer, which they call Sensei, to help marketers as they tweak these programs to drive better experiences.

For starters, the company wants to help users choose the best algorithms for any given set of tasks. Adobe is bringing AI in to assist with a tool it released last year called Auto-Target. “One of the challenges marketers face has been which algorithms do you use, and how do you map them to your personalization strategy. We are enabling Adobe Sensei to choose the best algorithm for them.” She says giving them a smart assistant to help choose should make this task much less daunting for marketers.

Adobe is also bringing some smarts to layout design with a new tool called Smart Layouts, first introduced in March at Adobe Summit. The idea here is to deliver the right layout at any given time to allow marketing teams to scale personalization and increase the likelihood of action, which in marketing speak means buying something.

Once again the company is letting AI guide the process to generate different layouts automatically for different segments, depending on visitor behavior at any given moment. That means a retailer should be able to deliver ever more granular pages based on what it knows about visitors as they move through the shopping process. The more customized the experience, the more likely the shopper turns into a buyer.

Adobe is also looking at new delivery channels, particularly voice, as devices like the Amazon Alexa become increasingly popular. As with the web, mobile, print and other delivery approaches, marketers need to be able apply basic tasks like A/B testing on different voices or workflows, and the company is building these into their tools.

All of these new features are part of Adobe’s ongoing attempt to streamline its marketing tools to make life easier for its customers. By using artificial intelligence to help guide the workflow, they hope to drive more revenue from the digital experience side of the house. While these tools should help, Adobe still makes the vast majority of its money from Creative Cloud. The Digital segment still lags at $586 million (up 18 percent YoY) out of total quarterly revenue of 2.20 billion in the most recent report in June.

The company spent a hefty $1.68 billion in May to snag Magento. They are due to report their next quarterly report on September 18th, and it will be interesting to see if the Magento acquisition and increasing use of artificial intelligence can help continue to grow this side of the business .

PagerDuty raises $90M to wake up more engineers in the middle of the night

Posted by on 6 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $90 million Series D round at a valuation of $1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $170 million.

The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management . Accel, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners participated. Given the leads in this round, chances are that PagerDuty is gearing up for an IPO.

“This capital infusion allows us to continue our investments in innovation that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to help our customers transform their companies and delight their customers,” said Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty in today’s announcement. “From a business standpoint, we can strengthen our investment in and development of our people, our most valuable asset, as we scale our operations globally. We’re well positioned to make the lives of digital workers better by elevating work to the outcomes that matter.”

Currently PagerDuty users include the likes of GE, Capital One, IBM, Spotify and virtually every other software company you’ve ever heard of. In total, more than 10,500 enterprises now use the service. While it’s best known for its alerting capabilities, PagerDuty has expanded well beyond that over the years, though it’s still a core part of its service. Earlier this year, for example, the company announced its new AIOps services that aim to help businesses reduce the amount of noisy and unnecessary alerts. I’m sure there’s a lot of engineers who are quite happy about that (and now sleep better).

Microsoft commits to fixing custom apps broken by Windows 10 upgrades

Posted by on 6 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Microsoft wants to make life easier for enterprise customers. Starting today, it is committing to fix any custom applications that may break as a result of updates to Windows 10 or the Office 365 product suite.

Most large companies have a series of custom applications that play a crucial role inside their organizations. When you update Windows and Office 365, Murphy’s Law of updates says one or more of those applications is going to break.

Up until this announcement when that inevitably happened, it was entirely the problem of the customer. Microsoft has taken a huge step today by promising to help companies understand which applications will likely break when you install updates, and working to help fix them if it ultimately happens anyway.

One of the reasons the company can afford to be so generous is they have data that suggests the vast majority of applications won’t break when customers move from Windows 7 to Windows 10. “Using millions of data points from customer diagnostic data and the Windows Insider validation process, we’ve found that 99 percent of apps are compatible with new Windows updates,” Microsoft’s Jared Spataro wrote in a blog post announcing these programs.

To that end, they have a new tool called Desktop Deployment Analytics, which creates a map of your applications and predicts using artificial intelligence which of them are most likely to have problems with the update.

“You now have the ability with the cloud to have intelligence in how you manage these end points and get smart recommendations around how you deploy Windows,” Spataro, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, told TechCrunch.

Even with that kind of intelligence-driven preventive approach, things still break, and that’s where the next program, Desktop App Assure, comes into play. It’s a service designed to address any application compatibility issues with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. In fact, Microsoft has promised to assign an engineer to a company to fix anything that breaks, even if it’s unique to a particular organization.

That’s quite a commitment, and Spataro recognizes that there will be plenty of skeptics where this program in particular is concerned. He says that it’s up to Microsoft to deliver what it’s promised.

Over the years, organizations have spent countless resources getting applications to work after Windows updates, sometimes leaving older versions in place for years to avoid incompatibility problems. These programs theoretically completely remove that pain point from the equation, placing the burden to fix the applications squarely on Microsoft.

“We will look to make changes in Windows or Office before we ask you to make changes in your custom application,” Spataro says, but if that doesn’t solve it, they have committed to helping you fix it.

Finally, the company heard a lot of complaints from customers when they announced they were ending extended support for Windows 7 in 2020. Spataro said Microsoft listened to its customers, and has now extended paid support until 2024, letting companies change at their own pace. Theoretically, however, if they can assure customers that updating won’t break things, and they will commit to fixing them if that happens, it should help move customers to Windows 10, which appears to be the company’s goal here.

They also made changes to the standard support and update cadence for Windows 10 and Office 365:

All of these programs appear to be a major shift in how Microsoft has traditionally done business, showing a much stronger commitment to servicing the requirements of enterprise customers, while shifting the cost of fixing custom applications from the customer to Microsoft when updates to its core products cause issues. But they have done so knowing that they can help prevent a lot of those incompatibility problems before they happen, making it easier to commit to this type of program.

Salesforce updates Sales Cloud ahead of Dreamforce with increased automation

Posted by on 6 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Dreamforce, Salesforce’s massive customer conference is coming later this month to San Francisco, but the news is starting already well ahead of the event. Today, the company announced updates to its core Sales Cloud with an emphasis toward automation and integration.

For starters, the company wants to simplify inside phone sales, giving the team not only a list of calls organized by those most likely to convert, but walking them through a sales process that’s been defined by management according to what they believe to be best practices.

High Velocity Sales is designed to take underlying intelligence from Salesforce Einstein and apply it to the sales process to give sales people the best chance to convert that prospect. That includes defining contact cadence and content. For calls, the content could be as detailed as call scripts with what to say to the prospect. For emails, it could provide key details designed to move the prospect closer to sale and how often to send that next email.

Defining sales cadence workflow in Sales Cloud. Photo: Salesforce

Once the sales teams begins to move that sale towards a close, Salesforce CPQ (configure, price, quote) capabilities come into play. That product has its roots in the company’s SteelBrick acquisition several years ago, and it too gets a shiny new update for Dreamforce this year.

As sales inches toward a win, it typically moves the process to the the proposal stage where pricing and purchases are agreed upon, and if all goes well a contract gets signed. Updates to CPQ are designed to automate this to the extent possible, pulling information from notes and conversations into an automated quote, or relying on the sales person when it gets more complex.

The idea though is to help sales automate the quote and creation of bill once the quote has been accepted to the extent possible, even providing a mechanism for automatic renewal when a subscription is involved.

The last piece involves Pardot Einstein, a sales and marketing tool, designed to help find the best prospects that come through a company’s marketing process. This is also getting some help from the intelligence layer in a couple of ways.

Einstein Campaign Insights looks at the range of marketing campaigns that are coming out of the marketing organization, determining which campaigns are performing — and those that aren’t — and pushing the art of campaign creation using data science to help determine which types of activities are most likely to succeed in helping convert that shopper into a buyer.

The other piece is called Einstein Behavior Score, which again is using the company’s underlying artificial intelligence tooling to analyze buying behavior based on intent. In other words, which people coming through your web site and apps are most likely to actually buy based on their behaviors — pages they visit, items they click and so forth.

Salesforce recognized the power of artificial intelligence to drive a more automated sales process early on, introducing Einstein in 2016. In typical Salesforce fashion, it has built upon that initial announcement and tried to use AI to automate and drive more successful sales.

The core CRM tool that is the center of the Sales Cloud, is simply a system of record of the customers inside any organization, but the company is trying to automate and integrate across its broad family of products whenever possible to make connections between products and services that might be difficult for humans to make on their own.

While it’s easy to get lost in AI marketing hype — and calling their AI layer by the name “Einstein” certainly doesn’t help in that regard — the company is trying to take advantage of the technology to help customers drive more sales faster, which is the goal of any sales team. It will be up to Salesforce’s customers to decide how well it works.

Forethought looks to reshape enterprise search with AI

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Forethought, a 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participant, has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise.

The startup takes a bit of an unusual approach to search. Instead of a keyword-driven experience we are used to with Google, Forethought uses an information retrieval model driven by artificial intelligence underpinnings that they then embed directly into the workflow, company co-founder and CEO Deon Nicholas told TechCrunch. They have dubbed their answer engine ‘Agatha.’

Much like any search product, it begins by indexing relevant content. Nicholas says they built the search engine to be able to index millions of documents at scale very quickly. It then uses natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to read the documents as a human would.

“We don’t work on keywords. You can ask questions without keywords and using synonyms to help understand what you actually mean, we can actually pull out the correct answer [from the content] and deliver it to you,” he said.

One of first use cases where they are seeing traction in is customer support. “Our AI, Agatha for Support, integrates into a company’s help desk software, either Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud, and then we [read] tickets and suggest answers and relevant knowledge base articles to help close tickets more efficiently,” Nicholas explained. He claims their approach has increased agent efficiency by 20-30 percent.

Forethought at work in Salesforce Service Cloud. Screenshot: Forethought

The plan is to eventually expand beyond the initial customer service use case into other areas of the enterprise and follow a similar path of indexing documents and embedding the solution into the tools that people are using to do their jobs.

When they reach Beta or general release, they will operate as a cloud service where customers sign up, enter their Zendesk or Salesforce credentials (or whatever other products happen to be supported at that point) and the product begins indexing the content.

Forethought in Zendesk. Screenshot: Forethought

The founding team, all in their mid-20s, have had a passion for artificial intelligence since high school. In fact, Nicholas built an AI program to read his notes and quiz him on history while still in high school. Later at the University of Waterloo he published a paper on machine learning and had internships at Palantir, Facebook and Dropbox. His first job out of school was at Pure Storage. All these positions had a common thread of working with data and AI.

The company launched last year and they debuted Agatha in private Beta 4 months ago. They currently have six companies participating, the first of which has been converted to a paying customer.

They have closed a pre-seed round of funding too, and although they weren’t prepared to share the amount, the investment was led by K9 Ventures. While Village Global, Original Capital and other unnamed investors also participated.

McCarthyFinch AI services platform automates tedious legal tasks

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

McCarthyFinch sounds a bit like a law firm — and with good reason. The startup has developed an AI as a Service platform aimed at the legal profession. This week, it’s competing in the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in San Francisco.

The company began life as a project at a leading New Zealand law firm, MinterEllisonRuddWatts. They wanted to look at how they could take advantage of AI to automate legal processes to make them more efficient, cost-effective and faster, according to company president Richard DeFrancisco.

“They were working on leveraging technology to become the law firm of the future, and they realized there were some pretty tremendous gaps,” he explained. They found a bunch of Ph.Ds working on artificial intelligence who worked with more than 30 lawyers over time to address those gaps by leveraging AI technology.

 

That internal project was spun out as a startup last year, emerging as an AI platform with 18 services. MinterEllison, along with New Zealand VC Goat Ventures, gave the fledgling company US$2.5 million in pre-seed money to get started.

The company looked at automating a lot of labor-intensive tasks related to legal document review and discovery such as document tagging. “Lawyers spend a lot of time tagging things with regards to what’s relevant and not relevant, and it’s not a good use of their time. We can go through millions of documents very quickly,” DeFrancisco said. He claims they can lower the time it takes to tag a set of documents in a lawsuit from weeks to minutes.

He says that one of their key differentiators is their use of natural language processing (NLP), which he says allows the company to understand language and nuance to interpret documents with a high level of accuracy, even when there are small data sets. Instead of requiring thousands of documents to train their models, which he says law firms don’t have time to do, they can begin to understand the gist of a case in as little as two or three documents with 90 percent accuracy, based on their tests.

They don’t actually want to sell their platform directly to law firms. Instead, they hope to market their artificial intelligence skills as a service to other software vendors with a legal bent who are looking to get smarter without building their own AI from scratch.

“What we are doing is going to technology service providers and talking to them about using our solution. We have restful APIs to integrate into their technology and do a Powered By-model,” DeFrancisco explained.

The startup currently has 10 trials going on. While he couldn’t name them, he did say that they include the largest law firm in Europe, largest global provider of legal information and the fastest growing SaaS company in history. They are also working on agreements with large systems integrators including Deloitte and Accenture to act as resellers of their solution.

While they are based in New Zealand, they plan to open a U.S. office in the Los Angeles area shortly after Disrupt. The engineering team will remain in New Zealand, and DeFrancisco will build the rest of the company in the U.S as it seeks to expand its reach. They also plan to start raising their next round of funding.

PoLTE lets you track devices using LTE signal

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Meet PoLTE, a Dallas-based startup that wants to make location-tracking more efficient. Thanks to PoLTE’s software solution, logistics and shipment companies can much more easily track packages and goods. The startup is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF.

If you want to use a connected device to track a package, you currently need a couple of things — a way to determine the location of the package, and a way to transmit this information over the air. The most straightforward way of doing it is by using a GPS chipset combined with a cellular chipset.

Systems-on-chip have made this easier as they usually integrate multiple modules. You can get a GPS signal and wireless capabilities in the same chip. While GPS is insanely accurate, it also requires a ton of battery just to position a device on a map. That’s why devices often triangulate your position using Wi-Fi combined with a database of Wi-Fi networks and their positions.

And yet, using GPS or Wi-Fi as well as an LTE modem doesn’t work if you want to track a container over multiple weeks or months. At some point, your device will run out of battery. Or you’ll have to spend a small fortune to buy a ton of trackers with big batteries.

PoLTE has developed a software solution that lets you turn data from the cell modem into location information. It works with existing modems and only requires a software update. The company has been working with Riot Micro for instance.

Behind the scene PoLTE’s magic happens on their servers. IoT devices don’t need to do any of the computing. They just need to send a tiny sample of LTE signals and PoLTE can figure out the location from their servers. Customers can then get this data using an API.

It only takes 300 bytes of data to get location information with precision of less than a few meters. You don’t need a powerful CPU, Wi-Fi, GPS or Bluetooth.

“We offer 80 percent cost reduction on IoT devices together with longer battery life,” CEO Ed Chao told me.

On the business side, PoLTE is using a software-as-a-service model. You can get started for free if you don’t need a lot of API calls. You then start paying depending on the size of your fleet of devices and the number of location requests.

It doesn’t really matter if the company finds a good business opportunity. PoLTE is a low-level technology company at heart. Its solution is interesting by itself and could help bigger companies that are looking for an efficient location-tracking solution.


Elastic’s IPO filing is here

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Elastic, the provider of subscription-based data search software used by Dell, Netflix, The New York Times and others, has unveiled its IPO filing after confidentially submitting paperwork to the SEC in June. The company will be the latest in a line of enterprise SaaS businesses to hit the public markets in 2018.

Headquartered in Mountain View, Elastic plans to raise $100 million in its NYSE listing, though that’s likely a placeholder amount. The timing of the filing suggests the company will transition to the public markets this fall; we’ve reached out to the company for more details. 

Elastic will trade under the symbol ESTC.

The business is known for its core product, an open source search tool called ElasticSearch. It also offers a range of analytics and visualization tools meant to help businesses organize large datasets, competing directly with companies like Splunk and even Amazon — a name it mentions 14 times in the filing.

Amazon offers some of our open source features as part of its Amazon Web Services offering. As such, Amazon competes with us for potential customers, and while Amazon cannot provide our proprietary software, the pricing of Amazon’s offerings may limit our ability to adjust,” the company wrote in the filing, which also lists Endeca, FAST, Autonomy and several others as key competitors.

This is our first look at the Elastic’s financials. The company brought in $159.9 million in revenue in the 12 months ended July 30, 2018, up roughly 100% from $88.1 million the year prior. Losses are growing at about the same rate. Elastic reported a net loss of $18.5 million in the second quarter of 2018. That’s an increase from $9.9 million in the same period in 2017.

Founded in 2012, the company has raised about $100 million in venture capital funding, garnering a $700 million the last time it raised VC, which was all the way back in 2014. Its investors include Benchmark, NEA and Future Fund, which each retain a 17.8%, 10.2% and 8.2% pre-IPO stake, respectively.

A flurry of business software companies have opted to go public this year. Domo, a business analytics company based in Utah, went public in June raising $193 million in the process. On top of that, subscription biller Zuora had a positive debut in April in what was a “clear sign post on the road to SaaS maturation,” according to TechCrunch’s Ron Miller. DocuSign and Smartsheet are also recent examples of both high-profile and successful SaaS IPOs.

 

Google adds a bunch of rugged devices to its Android Enterprise Recommended program

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Rugged smartphones, the kind of devices that business can give to their employees who work in harsh environments, are a bit of a specialty market. Few consumers, after all, choose their smartphones based on how well they survive six-foot drops. But there is definitely a market there, and IDC currently expects that the market for Android -based rugged devices will grow at 23 percent annually over the next five years.

It’s maybe no surprise that Google is now expanding its Android Enterprise Recommended program to include rugged devices, too. Chances are you’ve never heard of many of the manufacturers in this first batch (or thought of them as smartphone manufacturers): Zebra, Honeywell, Sonim, Point Mobile, Datalogic. Panasonic, which has a long history of building rugged devices, will also soon become part of this program.

The minimum requirements for these devices are pretty straightforward: they have to support Android 7+, offer security updates within 90 days of release from Google and, because they are rugged devices, after all, be certified for ingress protection and rated for drop testing. They’ll also have to support at least one more major OS release.

Today’s launch continues our commitment to improving the enterprise experience for customers,” Google writes in today’s announcement. “We hope these devices will serve existing use cases and also enable companies to pursue new mobility use cases to help them realize their goals.

Vital Software comes out of stealth to make ER visits less terrible

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

After two years operating in stealth, Mint .com founder Aaron Patzer’s new startup Vital Software is open for business.

Patzer made the announcement Wednesday while on the Next Stage at Disrupt SF.

Patzer’s company, which he co-founded with Dr. Justin Schrager of Emory University, is an enterprise software business that aims to make emergency rooms visits easier and more efficient for patients and doctors. The company is tackling the ER experience first and sees opportunity for the software in a hospital or health care facility, Patzer said.

“It’s a terrible experience, and not just because of the emergency,” Patzer said while on stage.

The software features an easy patient check-in system and uses AI natural language processing to find out more from the incoming patient. The system is dynamic, meaning it can ask follow up questions to the incoming patient to gather more information. By the time nurses see the patient, they’re already equipped with the information they need. The software also provides updates to the patient, such as possible wait times.

The idea is to give doctors and nurses software that is useable, Patzer said, noting that software found in hospitals is outdated. “It’s literally Windows 98 software.”

The company is self-funded, although Patzer noted off stage that they plan to raise funds next year. The company has one customer, a large hospital system he couldn’t name, that is now trialing the software.

In his view, software is constant need for disruption. His timeline: about every 10 years. That just happens to put Mint.com, he said, in a spot ripe disruption.

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