Microsoft’s AI chat bot fail shouldn't fool you. Don't ignore automated responses.

Lorna Garey

April 15, 2016

8 Min Read
5 Channel Ops: Cisco Vet Heads New Security Channel Program, Zadara Adds Object Storage as a Service

Lorna GareyNot naming any names, but some partners are less than stellar at marketing themselves (that’s one focus of our upcoming Channel Partners Evolution Business Success Symposium). For now, though, take a look at this 12-step plan to write compelling press releases, courtesy of Userlike, which offers live chat software for customer support centers. The tips start broad and work down to the nuts and bolts of proper formatting and getting your news noticed.

I read dozens of press releases every week – and delete hundreds more – and tips like tying your news to major trends, avoiding marketing-speak and using a bullet-point outline are practiced way too infrequently. Trust me.

Time to Get Chatty

You may have heard chatter this week about chat bots. At the F8 conference on Tuesday, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg pitched the idea of bots that would serve as robotic customer service reps on Messenger. The Messenger chat app has been open to businesses for about a year. What’s new is the ability to build AI bots tied to the service, and set them free to interact with Messenger users.

Zendesk, among others, quickly followed up with offerings. Zendesk Message, billed as “a dedicated application built for businesses to address the unique characteristics of messaging and the growing demand for customer interactions within this channel” can tie into the Facebook Messenger platform and supplement live support conversations — what’s being called “conversational commerce.”

“Messenger is more than just another support channel — it’s becoming the destination where customers can browse, buy and receive important information,” said Royston Tay, general manager of messaging at Zendesk, in a statement. “Today’s businesses must meet customers wherever they are and combine the personal touch of human interactions with the convenience of automated activities through bots.”

Right now, Zendesk Message is open to only select customers and partners; a general release won’t be available until later this year. Still, this is a trend that partners supporting retailers, and anyone with a call center, needs to pay attention to now. Staples, for example, has already has enabled Facebook Messenger users to interact on its mobile website; customers can chat with customer service reps and opt-in to receive updates, like order confirmation and shipment notifications, directly in Messenger.

Remember: By population, Facebook is the third-largest country in the world, behind China and India. It reports 1.23 billion active monthly users; 757 million are on the site daily. While AI chat bots still have some kinks to be worked out (ask Microsoft) retailers ignore Messenger at their peril.

Plus:new study from Ripen eCommerce analyzed more than 746,500 search results, 344,900 products and 16,900 keywords to determine which ranking factors influence Amazon search. The authors compare the effort to an Amazon version of SEO for Google. If you have customers that sell on Amazon and need a competitive edge, it’s worth a read.

Kaspersky Looks to Secure the Industrial IoT

Public-sector partners take note: Channel-focused security provider Kaspersky this week announced Industrial CyberSecurity, a specialized solution designed to protect critical infrastructure and industrial facilities, including power plants, refineries, airports and smart office buildings.

As we discuss in our new, in-depth IoT report, industrial control systems have unique security needs. The Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity package focuses on areas vulnerable to attack: ICS/SCADA servers, human-machine interface panels, engineering workstations, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and more. It bundles conventional security technologies adapted for these environments with technologies designed specifically for industrial controls, including integrity checks for PLC programs, monitoring of process-control commands and telemetry to detect cyberattacks targeting the physical plant. It can also keep an eye out for insider threats, help partners set up cybersecurity training for IT staff and general employees, and deliver cybersecurity assessments and penetration testing.

Leslie Bois, VP of channel sales for Kaspersky Lab North America, told me that this is part of the company’s effort to bring new and relevant solutions to market to address the ever-changing threat landscape.

“We offer robust cybersecurity solutions that meet customer needs and position our partners as true security experts,” said Bois.

Siraj Leads New Threat Alliance Program

ThreatQuotient's Faraz SirajFor less specialized security needs, take a look at ThreatQuotient. The company offers a vendor-agnostic threat intelligence platform, sells 100-percent through its channel, and this week announced the appointment of Faraz Siraj as director of channels for its newly launched Threat Alliance Program.

Siraj has deep security and channel expertise; he was most recently channel leader for all Cisco security products for the Americas, responsible for partner relations, sales and enablement. Before Cisco, he spent several years leading Sourcefire’s channel sales and partnership strategies.

“ThreatQuotient has done an excellent job distinguishing itself from the competition,” said Siraj in a statement. “I look forward to leading this initiative and ushering in a new way of partnering that will provide the alliances needed to support the phenomenal growth path the management team has established.”

ThreatQuotient’s channel program is multi-tiered and offers competitive margins, deal-registration protection, NFR programs, training and certification, and more. The ThreatQ technology is a nice way to tie together insights from security products from various vendors, key for customers that take a best-of-breed approach. The on-premises system uses APIs to pull data from multiple sources — and not just alerts, which differentiates it from a standard SIEM system.

Plus: Symantec this week released its 2016 Internet Security Threat Report. As always, the annual look at the state of online security had a few eye-opening stats: Nearly 75 percent of all legitimate websites have unpatched vulnerabilities. Spear-phishing campaigns targeting employees – a prime way ransomware is introduced – increased 55 percent in 2015. And there’s a new zero-day discovered each week. The report is worth a read, and on May 3 Symantec will hold a webinar to delve into results.

Storage as a Service on the Rise

Partner-focused storage-as-a-service vendor Zadara Storage this week added new services to its Zadara Storage Cloud. The aim is to capture the 53 percent of storage that IDC says will be external – and OpEx-driven – by 2019. You may remember me mentioning Zadara as an option for a new body-worn camera system, the Argus VP360, that combines hardware, software, support and either on-premises or cloud storage.

This week’s announcements include a new ZIOS Intelligent Object Store service, on dedicated hardware but with as-a-service pricing. Object storage systems store metadata about files separately from the data itself. The metadata takes up little space but contains a universal locator that can track down files, even from cold storage, and even if the file system structure has changed. Object storage goes with cloud like peanut butter goes with jelly — Amazon’s S3, and every major cloud data storage system, is object-based. And in fact, the ZIOS product is S3/Swift compatible and provides different levels of administrative access as well as charge-back billing.

In addition, Zadara introduced 16 Gb Fibre Channel host connectivity and large flash cache options, up to 3.2 TB, important for customers with FC installations and databases and applications with hefty performance needs. Zadara also added support for VMware SRM, larger-capacity 1.6 TB SSDs, and enhancements to its Docker-based Zadara Container Services service.

Bits & Bytes

  • Google Apps Get Direct: This week AppDirect announced the addition of Google Apps for Work to its catalog. That move eases the way for CSPs, solutions providers and others to sell Google’s productivity and collaboration software. The company also announced that Agosto, a Google for Work Tier 1 Premier Partner, will offer Google Apps for Work licenses through the AppDirect platform.

  • XP is in What Position? More than 10 percent of PCs are still using an outdated, insecure OS that just got even more unsupported. This week, with Chrome 50, Google followed through on its promise to end support for XP, as well as Windows Vista and OS X 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8. Yet as of March, Windows XP was running on more PCs than Windows 8.1. According to NetMarketShare, the top 5 OSes are: Windows 7, with 51.89 percent; Windows 10, at 14.15 percent; Windows XP, 10.9 percent; Windows 8.1, 9.56 percent; and Mac OS X 10.11, 4.05 percent.

  • Samsung Shows Bright Future: If you’re worried about the state of U.S. STEM education, take a look at the champs of Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest. Winning entries range from comfortable, cost-effective prosthetic enhancements for wounded veterans to a safety-alert system for hikers and cyclists on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, where cell reception is spotty.

Finally, time is running out to take part in our first Channel Compensation Survey. The project is underwritten by AT&T, and the report will be written by me, with data compilation help from our partners at the 451 Alliance.

All responses will be kept strictly confidential, and those taking part can enter to win a gift card. Everyone who completes the survey gets a copy of the resulting report. You can also leave your name and contact info to be interviewed on the overall results.

Our goal with this project is to benchmark channel salaries against the vendors and enterprises that are looking to hire away your top talent (there’s a real skills shortage in key tech areas). We’re also interested in whether there’s a gender gap. Please take 10 minutes to respond. Thanks in advance.

Follow executive editor @LornaGarey on Twitter.

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