Interviews and Reviews

Segra Implements Google CCAI Platform: Interview with Kevin T. Hart CEO of Segra

Segra Implements Google CCAI Platform

Segra is the first commercial customer to deploy the complete, end-to-end Google Cloud Contact Center AI (CCAI) Platform. And according to Google’s Vice President, Global Telecom Industry, Google Cloud, George Nazi, “Google Cloud is committed to helping telecommunication companies not only transform, but accelerate their growth, competitiveness, and digital journeys. We are thrilled to work with Segra, an innovative leader in fiber infrastructure, to reimagine their customer experience with Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI Platform.” In this Interview with TechBullion, Segra CEO Kevin T. Hart will guide us through this cloud deployment and how it works at Segra.

Please tell us more about yourself.

I am Kevin T. Hart, the CEO of Segra, one of the largest independent fiber infrastructure bandwidth companies in the Eastern U.S. With more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, I was the CTO at Cox Communications leading multiple functions including Product Development and Management, Enterprise IT Development & Operations, Security, Network Operations, and more. Under my leadership, Cox successfully launched several innovative new products and services across its markets and a portfolio of other leading commercial products. I’ve also served as CIO for Clearwire, the first national 4G wireless carrier in the U.S; CIO at Level 3, one of the world’s largest internet protocol communications providers; and as vice president and global practice leader at Capgemini Consulting, formerly Ernst & Young.  

Currently, at Segra, I focus on driving revenue growth for the company through innovation and strategic investment. 2022 was a great year for us. We staffed our entire executive team and hired more than 200 team members with new capabilities throughout the year. It was an exciting year for expanding our portfolio of products and services, growing our workforce, and elevating our customer service. Segra was recently the first to implement the complete Google Cloud Contact Center AI (CCAI) Platform, enabling a more powerful customer journey.

What is Segra and what unique services do you provide?

Segra owns and operates an advanced fiber optic network that connects more than 10,000 locations and nine data centers throughout nine Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states. Segra provides Ethernet, MPLS, dark fiber, advanced data center services, IP and managed services, and voice and cloud solutions, all backed by its industry-leading service and reliability. Segra offers a full suite of enterprise services, providing connectivity, cybersecurity, collaboration, and cloud solutions for its customers, which include, carriers, enterprises, governments, and healthcare organizations.

Connectivity – With 30,000 route miles of advanced fiber infrastructure network throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, Segra provides a broad and dense service footprint to customers. The reliability and speed of their fiber network are unparalleled in the marketplace. High-performance fiber connectivity from Segra differs from many other sources of broadband internet, which often deliver congested, unpredictable, or patchy access and services. On these networks, users share bandwidth with other subscribers. The result is inconsistent service which can slow down one’s business. Connectivity solutions include Segra’s SD-WAN which securely supports application growth, and intelligently steers traffic for consistent performance over multiple connection types including MPLS, LTE, and broadband. Segra’s DIA provides a dedicated, secure, reliable connection to the Internet that has guaranteed bandwidth, as well as Segra’s Long-Term Evolution services which keep out-of-office employees and remote sites securely connected to customers’ networks.

Cloud – Segra’s cloud-based services allow businesses to replace costly hardware investments with a robust suite of services and solutions, providing a one-stop shop for all your virtual infrastructure needs. Because Segra owns its carrier-grade connectivity network – unlike most cloud service providers – it can offer its customers multiple advantages and benefits, including the ability to customize and package services, while improving efficiency and reducing costs. Cloud solutions include Segra’s IaaS platform, which takes the data center headache out of customer-managed server environments, connections via private fiber network into a 24/7/365 staffed, highly available data centers, leveraging all the compute and storage resources needed to run the most critical applications. Segra’s BaaS solution provides end-to-end security and reliability, supporting both physical and virtual servers with a flexible protection plan that allows our clients to create a protection plan that aligns with the business value of their data.

Cybersecurity – Segra’s robust suite of managed services – which includes Hosted Firewall, SOCaaS, and DDoS protection – keeps businesses connected and secure while guarding against cyberattacks and unplanned network outages. With a wide range of data and cybersecurity solutions and fully compliant services, they offer peace of mind – and a foundation for long-term success. Segra provides organizations with immediate analysis of security alerts generated by applications and network hardware, but without the need for capital investment. The service is hosted in a secure and compliant cloud so that it can manage and monitor an organization’s critical systems regardless of where they are. Segra’s security team – consisting of tier 1 analysts, advanced security engineers, threat hunters, and threat intelligence managers – is responsible for ongoing monitoring and analysis of an organization’s cybersecurity.

Collaboration – The demands of organizations today require fast, flexible, cost-effective, and easy-to-use communication solutions. Voice and data traffic travels securely over Segra’s private network, ensuring that you stay connected and protected even when accessed by remote employees. Customers have the flexibility to expand as technology changes and when their business grows. Combining state-of-the-art voice solutions with no-nonsense packages, we offer the flexibility and service you need to keep your competitive edge.

Segra’s converged voice service combines data and voices into a single infrastructure that offers an integration platform for legacy devices such as analog phones, PBX, and fax machines with one’s IP network. Segra’s IP Fax allows customers to easily migrate fax machines from analog phone lines, using a supplied Analog Telephone Adapter device, bypassing the need for dedicated analog phone lines, expensive fax board hardware, or dedicated fax servers. Segra’s SIP Flex solution delivers the benefits of VoIP with the customer’s existing phone system, and functions on cable, DSL, Internet access, and wireless transports while maintaining all the features of one’s PBX/IP BX phone system.

Who is Segra for, could you give us a walkthrough of this Segra ecosystem and how it is modernizing the cloud experience?

Our customers want to focus on their core businesses, and they are looking at a technology provider such as Segra to take care of all of their technology needs. This would be the best-in-class fiber optic connectivity, data center, and cloud capabilities, collaboration tools, and cybersecurity. Segra combines a few different environments that have traditionally been operated independently and tie them together in some quite interesting ways. We’re modernizing the cloud experience by focusing on the core benefits of some specific technologies and solving challenges with creative operational practices. Our goal is simply to do what hasn’t been done at this scale before. Segra’s experience as a leading connectivity provider lets us connect geographically separated customer LANs across diverse-path private WANs, each with or without independent internet access. Couple this with our Hosted or Premise Firewall, and SD-WAN solutions and we’re delivering an incredibly resilient connectivity suite with complete end-to-end control and visibility. Now consider Segra’s multiple Tier 3 data centers across the heart of that footprint. They’re on that same network. When a customer co-locates with us or subscribes to our hosted cloud services, that site is more of a “new branch” location than mere services across the web somewhere. We understand the wisdom of leveraging public cloud resources when costs can be controlled to get that projected ROI, so we offer those same private, diverse-path WAN options to cross-connect into their networks, as well. Segra is for anyone that can benefit from that unique posture.

Tell us more about the cloud market, the level of demand for cloud solutions, and the trends reshaping the industry. What should we look out for?

The cloud markets have been going in a few diverging directions since work-from-home (WFH) demands erupted in March 2020 and that has caused a lot of customer fatigue. Remember that many businesses were already disillusioned from their first attempts to lift and shift or refactor legacy apps. That work was typically much more complicated than they expected and, in many cases, remains partially complete. Organizations that didn’t have strong technical leadership at the helm pre-Covid have found themselves moving much more cautiously into 2023. And let’s not forget that much technical staff has moved to other organizations in that same time frame.

Lots of legacy business processes are still tied to the office and won’t be fully addressed until the Internet of Things and edge computing models move from adolescence to maturity. That will be led by industrial controls at first, but the benefits of that development won’t trickle down to most businesses for several years. A huge market remains for traditional virtualization, containerization, and infrastructure and will for the foreseeable future.

The larger part of the cloud industry reacted to WFH by offering SaaS for everything, much like when smartphones appeared, and everyone joked “there’s an app for that.” There is going to be a lot of consolidation of SaaS functionality in the coming years as competition heats up. SaaS vendors will shift their focus toward their competition rather than mining those “harder to solve” business needs. That will lead to a lot of SaaS-Partnerships or mergers “in name only” to stave off acquisition. Expect SaaS-Vendor aggregator sites or interface redesign as a result. Once the Internet of Things and edge computing catch up, SaaS will be reinvigorated and will start displacing the more firmly entrenched business processes running in-OS legacy code. But if that doesn’t happen quickly enough, will the SaaS platforms exhibit the same code-bloat issues that lead to their inception in the first place?

What problems were telecommunication companies facing before now, that Google Cloud is committed to alleviating, could you give us more insights into this?

Connecting with customers in their channel of choice is key to a superior Customer Experience and, frankly, an expectation, not a differentiator. What can be a differentiator is the intimacy of that connection. Customers want more personal ways of connecting with brands and Conversational AI offers that critical interaction medium. Research demonstrates that customers switch brands regularly based on poor customer experience, so quality matters. Having a solution you can quickly implement and integrate is the key to unlocking the value of AI and digital transformations. Google’s Cloud Contact Center AI (CCAI) offers the ability to leverage these capabilities as a service, which greatly accelerates time to implementation.

What is an end-to-end Google Cloud Contact Center AI (CCAI) Platform and how does it work?

Google created a contact center as a service called Contact Center AI Platform, which enables faster deployment and allows businesses to handle omnichannel queuing, routing, and reporting of customer interactions across agent resource pools with ease all through more predictive and graceful conversational intelligence.

This service takes advantage of AI-powered intelligence for contact deflection, predictive routing, and overall agent productivity. We can provide real-time intelligent call routing without arbitrary latency or inaccurate caching by leveraging our CRM, APIs to back-end systems, and a variety of agent statistics. 

How is Segra reimagining its customer experience with Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI Platform and what impact is this making?

The CCAI platform is helping us transition to more predictive flows for our common experiences and greatly expanding our channels for interacting with us. Plus, we’re able to easily learn from our data and interactions to inform our workflows and processes to drive continuous improvements. We’re also adding virtual agent capabilities to give our customers quick responses to their simple requests, which is improving productivity for the rest of our agents. These capabilities help our customers get the answers they need more seamlessly and completely.  The adoption of the platform has been fairly simple, allowing us to quickly release new capabilities without overwhelming or confusing our agents.

As one of the largest independent fiber network companies, tell us more about other industries you work in and what other technology and infrastructural solutions are you bringing to the communities.

Segra’s customer portfolio is diverse. The Raleigh-Durham area, for example, is indexed on high technology that leverages our infrastructure, cloud services, and best-in-class network. Some of the other segments we work with are health and medical, tech innovation, and education, where we help bridge the digital divide both locally, connecting underserved areas, and extending beyond the region for remote students. We want to expand fiber optics throughout the region and make it easier for our customers to connect to a high-bandwidth, low latency, high-security, and high-reliability network. We are also very active with federal and state funding to bridge the divide to connect rural communities so they can have the same great resource of Internet connectivity as others. Sports and entertainment are also a priority. We connect the PNC Arena and other Segra sporting venues in addition to being the Business Communications Partner of the Carolina Hurricanes. It’s all about going to where the communities are and connecting them so that they can achieve their goals.

What are you currently working on and what is next on your list of plans? Are any available opportunities for investors or partnerships at Segra?

Over the next few years, we are going to invest in our connectivity, collaboration, cybersecurity, and our cloud enablement. We want to be the provider that CIOs, CTOs, and technology leaders can look at as trusted partners.

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