The world of 1997 may not initially present itself as a radically different place from today, but a stroll down memory lane quickly proves otherwise. Amazon was a three-year-old online bookstore that had recently launched its IPO with a stock price of around $20. The internet was dial-up nearly everywhere, with high-speed offerings largely limited to college campuses. Though cell phones were picking up traction, there were only about 55 million in the U.S., with early adopters willing to pay high rates per minute to use a mobile device.
It wasn’t until a few years into the 21st century that many people thought about mobile as the great disruption to the market. However, Kaleyra Founder and CEO Dario Calogero told Karen Webster in a recent conversation that he had an unusual point of view on the market 34 years ago when he began in the industry — working on paid interactive digital cable services when the idea of delivering services on a platform other than the PC occurred to him.
That led to the company developing services around things like messaging, and “basically providing the consumer, the cloud owner and the current account owner with all the necessary information collected together so that payments and money transfers could happen,” he said.
“But then, the real transformation of the industry came — and it was the advent of the smartphone and the mobile telephone,” Calogero added, explaining that this is what allowed the firm, under its original name Ubiquity, to fully expand into enabling digital banking services via a single app touchpoint.
After quickly becoming one of the biggest providers in Italy, its home nation (with some 90 percent market share), by 2018, it had expanded into Europe, the U.S., the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions. By 2019, the company was listed publicly on the U.S. stock exchange.
Calogero noted that the change hasn’t just been to the firm’s size, but its reach. Currently, about 45 percent of its revenue comes from its banking and FinTech operations, while one-third comes from the “enterprise market” — where it partners with tech giants like Uber, Flipkart and Amazon. These kinds of companies can offer messaging services on transactions, such as tracking or moving notifications between the passenger and driver of a transportation company.
However, as interesting as things are now, he said, the interesting part of this story is yet to come. That’s because only the earliest rounds of changes that mobile is bringing to the global commerce ecosystem have been seen, buttressed by emerging technology like voice and 5G — much more is left to come.
The Moving Mobile Picture
Take a simple example — for the first 15 years or so, Kaleyra connected transactions and messaging via mobile, with its focus wholly on SMS texting. In 2015, that opened up to include push notifications, voice calls and instant messages. The platform pivoted toward becoming omnichannel, providing API support to be integrated into the information and legacy systems of all kinds of firms — in banking, insurance and Big Tech — to make those messages move in a variety of form factors.
Overall, the company has discovered that whichever specific path these firms choose, as of now, it is going to be mobile-based. While once wholly dominated by texting, though, that is now shifting.
“Texting is not the best way to interact because there are a number of use cases where you really can’t text — when you’re driving a car, when you’re walking in the street,” Calogero said. That is what’s driving one of the next major trends shaping that mobile-dominated transactional path: voice.
The Expansion And Improvement Of Voice
There are many things to be said for voice as a platform, he noted, but the reality of the cost is high when one is talking about it as a fully manned experience, with a human being at one end connecting to another human on the other. It’s expensive and inefficient.
However, there are many things that can and should be automated, he noted. That doesn’t necessarily mean removing all human interaction from the process, because customers have actually reported that as a value. Yet, simple interactions early in a call between a human and an automated voice — embedded with a powerful natural-language processing ability — can improve the experience and efficacy of the entire connection.
Voice is growing faster and more powerfully than anything else Calogero’s seen in digital services — for the first time, he is seeing consistent double-digit growth where the first digit is three. Consumers are pushing to do more in transacting and navigating the commerce journey, and the technology is keeping up. In fact, he said, it is about to get a major boost from the looming 5G upgrade and the rush of bandwidth coming into the mobile ecosystem, “bringing in an incredible reach in terms of networking capabilities and [unlocking] the Internet of Things [IoT] — [which, until] now, has been very much constrained by the network capability.”
Voice, and what will be opened up from incorporating it into mobile flows, will be a major game-changer. Customer service aided by automated voice could save thousands of hours driven to service calls, he noted.
The enabling tech alone won’t do it, though, and the changes coming in the world of mobile and IoT, particularly in the era of unlocked 5G, won’t be observable overnight. Enabling tech doesn’t provide services any more than building a highway provides transportation — or a reason to go somewhere. However, the capabilities and other things being unlocked imply a layer of services built on top of that technology.
None of it is quite rocket science, Calogero said, but it is complicated and challenging because the market is moving faster now than ever before.
“I think we are seeing the start of an incredible evolution of the services and the interactions and mobility,” he said, “and 10 years from now, this is all going to look very different, and a lot more advanced.”