Ashley Unitt wants to get contact centres in the cloud – and then get to grips with the Big Data this produces
What is NewVoiceMedia all about?
Our aim is to democratise the technology for contact centres, making it easy to use and available to everyone and, in the process, helping companies give excellent levels of customer service. One of the most exciting things about the area we are in, is the breadth of technologies we need to master; telephony, web, cloud, database, analytics, all the time making sure everything is highly reliable and secure. Quite a challenge.
What has been your favourite project in your career so far?
This would be creating our original VoiceXML interpreter for NewVoiceMedia many years ago. This was very technically challenging and a large undertaking that laid the foundation for everything we have done at NewVoiceMedia since.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago we were implementing the first generation of technology for NewVoiceMedia and building a really scalable telephony system. It was an exciting time as we were working with the emerging VoiceXML and CCXML standards, allowing us to build an open architecture and really bring the power of the web to the staid old world of telephony. We also had to be very creative to make sure we did everything on a shoestring budget, this meant we had sound foundations for the future.
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
I believe that analytics and Big Data are going to be more and more important to us all. We’ll no longer need to make crude estimates based on sampling data; increasing computing power and storage will enable us to make much better data driven decisions than we can today, apply the scientific method rather than guess work. Google is already the master of this in many areas – of particular interest is its use of large data sets to drive better speech recognition and text to speech technologies.
There is a concern that this could drive massive network effects, entrenching the power of the incumbents such as Google and Facebook, who already have access to massive data sets and massive computing power, making it difficult for startups. However I am an eternal optimist and believe there is still a place for the small and nimble.
Who’s your tech hero?
Eben Upton for the creation of the Raspberry Pi. I was a product of the microcomputer boom of 1980s, buying my first computer, a ZX81, with my paper round money. I feel it’s so important to change today’s children from being passive consumers of technology to active creators. We need to give them the tools to tinker and to break stuff, to feed the fire of creativity in them. I want others to share the passion I have for creating cool stuff that works.
Who’s your tech villain?
This is a hard question. I think there are very few true villains. It would be easy to pick Steve Jobs for giving us so many closed, proprietary devices, or Bill Gates for his ruthless business practises. However, Jobs gave so many people simple to use devices that they love and Bill has given us the Gates Foundation which does so much good in the world.
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
Probably my favourite gadget is a toss-up between the Apple Newton, which showed such promise but unfortunately was too far ahead of its time, or my current Raspberry Pi for giving me the opportunity to branch out from playing with software and grabbing a soldering iron and going out and playing with electronics.
What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
Definitely growing. We have doubled in size over the last year and are attracting some really smart people. We have big plans for the future.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
The online clothes shop Zappos. I find Tony Hsieh a great inspiration for showing me the importance of culture within a business. Zappos is also a prime example of how to do customer service right, a great beacon for the contact centre industry.
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
I believe the biggest challenge is finding, developing and motivating the best people. Having the right people can make a tremendous difference, a good engineer can be ten times as productive as an average engineer and they are in heavy demand. You need to create the right environment and culture so that you can attract the best people and help them grow, learn and develop.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
This is an odd question for me. Twelve years ago I felt it was just so self-evident that the Cloud was a better model for the majority of technology that we use, that there is no other sensible way.
What else should we have asked you about?
What are you passionate about? People only truly come to life when you discover their passions. It can be anything, their kids, Doctor Who figurines, it doesn’t matter what it is, just understanding it is important. My passion is creating things, many years ago it was writing short stories, now it’s creating great software.
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