John Ward of IntelePeer: “Transformation of communications”

Transformation of communications: We at IntelePeer are highly focused on customer experience. As conversational AI becomes better and better, it is so much easier for companies to manage customer care through AI driven customer interaction. Companies can roll out chatbots and virtual assistants to manage customer facing transactions with more reliability and a higher level […]

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Transformation of communications: We at IntelePeer are highly focused on customer experience. As conversational AI becomes better and better, it is so much easier for companies to manage customer care through AI driven customer interaction. Companies can roll out chatbots and virtual assistants to manage customer facing transactions with more reliability and a higher level of customer satisfaction, and a cost-effective price. Also, the addition of new communications channels and the blending of business and social platforms means that businesses will be able to extend the reach of their customer care.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview John Ward.

John serves as Chief Technology Officer and leads his team in delivering advanced and innovative solutions for IntelePeer’s infrastructure and its partners and customers. He has authored many of IntelePeer’s patents. John brings 25 years of telecommunications and systems experience holding architecture and engineering positions at Level 3, Hewlett Packard, and MCI. John holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Colorado State University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I started my career in the early 90s at MCI telecommunications, and was fortunate to work with a group of real innovators, particularly in the area of soft switches and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Some of us moved on together and joined a startup, Level 3 Communications where we built early softswitches and softswitch based networks. At the time, that was pretty rare. I was a computer science major and had a strong engineering ethic, so all the systems we dealt with were high-volume, high-transactional and highly reliable. When I joined IntelePeer, it was just a small start-up company, and our job was to build essentially a voice network and all the systems around it. That was 14 years ago. Now, we have evolved from being a voice provider into a Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) leader. And all the same principles of my early engineering days still apply: good clean software design that highly functional. The simpler, the better, because it’s got to be reliable. It’s got to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years?

I think the biggest disrupter is going to be in the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI). We’re seeing that on a day-to-day basis… the influence of AI. That’s going to continue to grow not only in conversational AI and customer experience which we are focused on, but in all aspects of business. Every area or sector will experience change as a result of AI. I see so many opportunities around AI to both optimize the workplace and automate as much as possible.

How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

If you look at the area IntelePeer focuses on — communications — employers should adapt their business models and look at where they can offload to AI. They must determine what AI can easily accomplish, then gradually implement in those areas. I don’t think it’s a hard pivot. It’s going to be a gradual progression, and you start by picking the low-hanging fruit, so to speak, and move on from there.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high-profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

It depends on what you want to do. There are some things that are really hard to learn on your own. For example, my daughter is in college studying physics, which is something that most individuals likely cannot learn on their own. So, in this case, I would say that college is incredibly valuable. If you look at the programming world, however, programming languages have evolved over the last 30 years to a point where you can teach yourself how to code. Drawing from my own experience, I went to college, graduated, and I had some skills, but I knew nothing. I learned on the job better approaches to problem solving, and of course, domain specific knowledge. You’re going to learn from mentors. My view is that if you can obtain a specific skill yourself, that’s great. If not, college may be the right choice. Either way, most people will spend the first five to 10 years of their career really learning on the job.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

I don’t know that there’s a one-size-fits-all answer for this. At IntelePeer, we want the most talented software developers and engineers, and they are in high demand, so it’s very competitive. Most of our applicants come to us through all of the typical employment-seeking channels and platforms like LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, etc. It makes recruiting more challenging. But, there’s really no substitute for knowing somebody that works at the company who can help a candidate assess whether or not it’s a good fit. There’s an excellent study from Firstbird about the benefits of hiring from a referral, which is why so many companies prefer it.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

I would guess there was just as much fear about jobs being taken away by machines in the first industrial revolution. The key is be an expert and a problem solver in whatever you do. Really learn about AI, because the folks that understand it will always find a niche, whether that means training others or working to improve AI in ways other people haven’t managed to think or solving new problems with AI. If you are on the problem-solving side of the equation, I don’t think there’s a need for concern about AI replacing us — at least not in my lifetime.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

Remote and hybrid work models are definitely here to stay, and not necessarily because of the pandemic. Of course, it really tested these models, as well as communications and collaboration software and platforms, which in the last decade alone have dramatically improved. I think we have all experienced some that really rose to the occasion while others failed, just like people adopting to the new work models. Some can manage quite well, even better at home than in an office, while some need that office structure. There are lots of studies that show productivity and general employee wellbeing have increased in certain sectors with remote and hybrid models. Some industries, like hospitality, however, depend on people being in a specific location. And that has been really tough for restaurants, hotels, events and travel.

Before the pandemic, my team members worked hybrid because we were located in different places. Sometimes, it made sense to meet in person, which averaged out to about once or twice a week. Other times, email, text and talk over the phone was more productive.

Having spent many months during the pandemic working solely remote, I think companies have been able to determine whether or not it is more beneficial to continue all remote, go back to fully in person or somewhere in the middle. Personally, I need some face-to-face not only for the social and bonding aspects of it but also the immediate back-and-forth that results from everyone in a room working from a whiteboard, for example. It is so conducive to solving problems and brainstorming on new ideas. On the other hand, I don’t think anybody misses their long commutes, traffic, or the time some people need to spend preparing for a day in the office. In my organization, we’re moving into a hybrid environment, which is kind of where we were before. People can work from home and then get together for important sessions, either in the office or at a location convenient to the team.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

I think the biggest societal change necessary is how we look at work now with people remote or in hybrid situations. In many companies, there is this expectation that because you are at home, you are always available. The lines between work and home have become blurred. Texts come at all hours of the day and night because everybody is always reachable. We as a society need to recognize that at some point it is important to hit the off switch for those who don’t want work to be their entire lives. Of course, some people love working all the time, and that’s great for them but I would say the majority would like to spend more time with family, on their hobbies, or just recharging. It’s an individual choice. But, when it comes down to it, organizations and businesses need to understand that there’s a hard line between who we are and what we do.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

I think from an employer’s side, there is a feeling of loss of control that happens when employees work remotely, and they will have to develop more trust in their employees . There’s always going to be that trial period, though, where the employer sees an employee either excelling, maintaining or falling short. From an employee perspective, there’s suddenly lots of room for taking advantage of the situation. So, people need to exercise caution and discipline and respect the employer. At the end of the day, this is an equitable and simple transaction between two parties. Employees get paid to further the goals of the company. It is in the best interest for both to develop mutual respect and trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

The pandemic was devastating to large segments of our population. Of course, while there was some help for these people, it wasn’t adequate. The problem will become magnified when you look at the disruption of industries by AI & automation. That will have a more permanent impact. It does need to be addressed. The question becomes how? My view is that you have to look ahead to what society will look like 20 years from now and plan accordingly. This means we need a way to foster the unique talents of individuals early on. There isn’t a Band-Aid solution to solving the problem. At the end of the day, there isn’t enough safety net to protect the world. So, look forward, anticipate where the world is going and prepare the next generations as best as possible. It requires all of us to have a plan and a vision.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

It goes back to a point made earlier about trust. I’ve seen a great amount of trust, particularly with working from home, and that gives me great optimism we may be headed down a path toward a better work-life balance. On a personal level, for the first time in 30 or 40 years, I’ve actually had time to do some things that I’ve always wanted to do. And that has brought me such as sense of self fulfillment, to go and do those things that are so satisfying and totally independent of my career. It has been awesome. I have a great hope that finding a better work-life balance will actually drive more productivity and innovation as well as personal growth.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

I think we have less problem solvers as a result of dependency on technology. There has been a lot written about children losing their creativity as a result of growing up with screens and social media platforms. I believe the same holds true for adults. When you rely on something external to do your computing, your thinking, even your navigating, you are bound to become less creative in how you approach a problem. As this dependency increase, society becomes more fragile. In past industrial revolutions, people had to think for themselves. But now, with AI getting smarter and smarter, there is a tendency to rely on it to do the thinking for us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The human mind is more powerful that any AI, and we need to remember that we still must take the lead in creating solutions. AI is there to assist us, not to take over. And I think that is important for everyone to recognize.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

AI: AI is the technology trend to watch. It is used in so many different aspects of our lives: Genetic Science, Medical Diagnosis, Logistics, Robotics, etc. The applications are endless. As you will see by my other picks of areas to watch, AI is the catalyst for change in all of them.

Automation: Automation has been happening for years, but with AI and IoT device connectivity, the sky is the limit. Think about self-driving cars. How long will it be before over the road trucking, shipping, and transportation are fully automated? The benefits are almost immeasurable. Of course, it will come with disruption that society will need to be prepared for. Additionally, AI being able to predict what needs to be where will eventually optimize and completely automate the supply chain.

Transformation of communications: We at IntelePeer are highly focused on customer experience. As conversational AI becomes better and better, it is so much easier for companies to manage customer care through AI driven customer interaction. Companies can roll out chatbots and virtual assistants to manage customer facing transactions with more reliability and a higher level of customer satisfaction, and a cost-effective price. Also, the addition of new communications channels and the blending of business and social platforms means that businesses will be able to extend the reach of their customer care.

Healthcare: The use of AI in diagnosis, prevention, prediction, etc., will revolutionize healthcare. In addition, nanotechnology, gene research, and robotics can completely overhaul how healthcare is looked at. This may seem farfetched, but I think it is a real possibility in my lifetime that there will be nanobots running through our bodies, killing cancer and virus cells before they ever become a problem, or detecting diseases in their early stages.

The future of how we work: This is about societal transformation. We have seen more and more people working from home, or far away remote locations. Tim Ferriss in some ways had this ideal early on in his book “The 4-Hour Work Week”. We as a society can become more productive in fewer hours of the week. Automation in all industries will dramatically change the mix of jobs available. However, technology will give us more flexibility in how we manage our lives. I can imagine that at some point, the emphasis will be placed on human creativity in a way that it never has been before. At that point, we become valued for our unique contributions, not necessarily how long it took provide those contributions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

“You can’t always get what you want.” I have watched truly talented individuals fail for a variety of reasons, some internal and some external. But there is this concept that if you’re driven, you can achieve every goal that you set out for yourself. Sometimes those goals may not be realistic, though. Sometimes luck and chance play a big part. So I think it is important to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. And maybe that’s the better quote. You’re likely not going to achieve everything that you want, but you can learn from every experience and keep driving forward.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

As a child, I paid attention to the eight years that Ronald Reagan was president — coming out of the Middle East oil crisis, moving us through the Cold War, the war on drugs, etc. In some sense, it feels parallel to where we are now. But what I found amazing about Ronald Reagan was not only the way he negotiated policies and chose his advisors but also how he chose to relate to the American people during those times. He was almost fatherly, and was a calming influence in what was really turbulent time. I consider that pretty extraordinary. I think it’d be interesting to hear how he was able to present such a strong front while remaining likeable while dealing with everything going on at the time.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

I am a generally private person. As such, I’ve stayed off most of the social platforms. That said, IntelePeer is often posting on most platforms. You can see what we are up to by following Intelepeer on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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