Priya Vijayarajendran
Photo: Asapp

Why Asapp hired a Microsoft vet to run its customer-experience tech

Protocol Enterprise

Hello and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: Priya Vijayarajendran is moving on from Microsoft, Intel’s future is now further into the future, and sustainability startups are having a moment.

Spin up

When will cloud computing finally take over enterprise tech? Gartner predicted Thursday that 51% of IT spending will go to cloud services by 2025, compared to 41% this year.

Connecting the customer-data dots

Priya Vijayarajendran is ready for her next act.

After nearly 25 years at enterprise tech stalwarts like SAP, IBM and most recently Microsoft, Vijayarajendran has her sights set on the contact center. This week she announced she'll be leaving her role as vice president of AI and data at Microsoft to join contact center company Asapp as CTO on March 1, Protocol can reveal.

At her core, Vijayarajendran is a builder: “building scalable, modular, cloud serviceable end-to-end enterprise solutions has been my thing for quite some time,” she explained.

  • Vijayarajendran is also deeply passionate about using AI and data to enhance human capabilities and productivity, which she worked on at both SAP and IBM.
  • When the opportunity arose to jump into the red-hot consumer-experience-software market using AI and data, Vijayarajendran couldn’t resist the call.
  • “Asapp is trying to solve how you and I communicate, how human-to-human productivity and interaction can be made better,” she said.

The potential market for customer-service software is estimated at $600 billion according to Vijayarajendran, driven by the billions of interactions that occur on a daily basis. “This industry is going to explode and it is exploding. It's really an underserved market at this point in time,” she said.

  • Those numbers are astronomical, but not entirely surprising. If anything, the pandemic emphasized the critical role of good customer service.
  • “This pandemic has been unbelievable, because we all thought we could do online and self-serve ourselves,” she said. But many customers quickly discovered that they needed to talk to someone to explain their problems.
  • As Vijayarajendran put it, every CFO, CIO and CEO is trying to make their customers happy, and the contact center is at the heart of that.

Customers have higher expectations than ever when it comes to service, which is why technologies like natural-language processing and data analytics can provide an edge.

  • To Vijayarajendran, Asapp already has a number of strategic and competitive advantages in these areas.“Asapp [has] differentiated IP in NLP,” she said, pointing to the company’s research arm. The company’s models also have a higher level of accuracy than “typical models like BERT models and the GPT-3 models,” she claimed.
  • Advanced capabilities in data analytics are the other part of the equation. “In order to serve our customers, we need to bring and connect the dots of the data which are coming from all the systems about that particular customer,” said Vijayarajendran.
  • Together, these technologies interact to create new customer-service experiences: from transcribing customer service calls and providing recommended responses to agents to spotting trends in historical call data.

AI and data are the new CTO must-haves. That’s why Vijayarajendran’s deep experience in AI and data, coupled with her interest in the consumer experience space, made the move to Asapp a perfect fit in her mind.

“That space was speaking to me, it was really calling for me,” Vijayarajendran said. “And I liked the fact that we could go and shape something, and scale, and serve [it] to the market.”

— Aisha Counts (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM ENVOY

The concept of flex work isn’t new, but its widespread adoption is. Flex work helps all of us find some semblance of control in the middle of an uncontrollable pandemic. Giving options makes people happier and less stressed. This leads to a greater desire to participate, which helps us build our communities and culture.

Learn more

Pat Gelsinger’s annual “two years away” promise

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is often asked when the chip shortage will finally end. And Wednesday, Intel published an opinion piece penned by Gelsinger discussing how important chips will be as the world’s seemingly unlimited demand for computing power continues to grow. He’s not wrong.

But in Wednesday’s essay, Gelsinger offered a prediction on when the chip shortage will finally come to an end: “We anticipate supply tightness to remain at least through 2023,” he wrote. What’s curious is that “two years away” is the same answer he offered last year, shortly after Intel announced its turnaround strategy in March 2021.

Gelsinger didn’t spell out the assumptions that went into today’s projection, unfortunately. He did say that there would be older chips that would be harder to get in the near term, and that things would get better in the “second half of the decade.” We’ll see what he says in February 2023.

— Max A. Cherney (email | twitter)

A Watershed moment?

Tracking carbon emissions is a messy business, as Protocol reported last week. Watershed is one of many startups trying to simplify the process of tracking, analyzing and reporting environmental data. The startup already works with tech giants like ServiceNow, Airbnb, Twitter and Shopify, and was valued at $1 billion by Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and other investors.

What makes Watershed unique is the startup’s novel methodologies for calculating the carbon emissions of everything from remote work and cloud computing to notoriously energy-intensive cryptocurrencies. Watershed’s platform also lets companies project future emissions, and operates a marketplace where enterprises can invest in carbon removal and offset projects.

Watershed wants to be the go-to platform for climate programs. But the market is hot, so the company can expect stiff competition ahead.

— Aisha Counts (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

Over on our Workplace channel, Protocol’s Lizzy Lawrence reported on workers who are turning down job offers from companies using enterprise software tools they can’t stand working with.

Salesforce might be working on some type of NFT service, which, sure, fine, whatever.

Twilio announced revenue of $2.8 billion, up 61% year-over-year, and increased its revenue guidance despite widening losses.

“Zero-trust” security architectures are buzzy right now, especially after the Biden administration mandated that federal agencies move toward that posture, but Tailscale’s Maya Kaczorowski wrote a thoughtful blog post on why implementing zero-trust is a lot harder than it looks.

Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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