The Unsung Application Heroes Of AWS Come Through During COVID-19 Crisis

By Patrick Moorhead - April 30, 2020
AWS Smile

Amazon’s AWS is the most popular enterprise cloud infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering in the world, boasting millions of cloud customers. While it’s known all over for its IaaS and PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) solutions, less of a spotlight is dedicated to its applications which it has been adding over the past few years.  

Three of its popular apps, which I consider the unsung heroes of AWS, are helping businesses and schools navigate the current COVID-19 crisis that has swept the nation over the last two months, resulting in widespread closures. Today I wanted to attempt to give these three apps their proper due. Let’s take a closer look.

Amazon Connect

First, let’s look at Amazon Connect. For those of you unfamiliar with Connect, I want to spend some time explaining what it is. Amazon Connect wants to enable businesses to have a fully operational contact center that can be operated virtually anywhere and can easily and cost-effectively scale to support unexpected call volume. You can set up an Amazon Connect contact center in minutes, which I verified, and all you need is an internet connection and a headset to start providing customer service.  

AWS has added some AI features to the app, which it leverages to help organizations automate customer service interactions, perform text-to-speech/speech-to-text operations, transcribe calls, show customer sentiment in real-time, and analyze caller interactions for insights and trends. AWS does more commercial AI than any other cloud provider so while I have not used it myself, I have to give AWS the benefit of the doubt on the AI-quality.

Scalable up to what the company describes as “millions of customers”, the solution is capable of supporting the largest enterprises. It’s also an open API platform, so it can integrate with organizations’ many different existing customer service technologies, whether we’re talking CRM (customer relationship management), WFO (workforce optimization), or WFM (workforce management) systems.

Amazon recently shared several examples of how Amazon Connect is being utilized by organizations—those on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis and those that are being affected by the corresponding school and business closures.

A plastic fabrication company recently added acrylic aerosol boxes to its production line after recognizing the critical need for the products to protect doctors on the frontlines while performing intubations. After running an ad campaign, the small business said they were overwhelmed by the amount of responses it was fielding from doctors, doctors’ families, churches, businesses, and more. The company utilized Amazon Connect to set up a call queue, and says it took only a matter of minutes to get it fully functioning—routing orders for the lifesaving devices in one direction and all other orders in another.

Another example is from an energy company. It migrated to Amazon Connect and the company said some complementary and insightful things: “We immediately found value in enabling our agents to handle inbound calls remotely. The power of the AWS cloud and easy to use softphone feature of Amazon Connect provided the highest call quality and connectivity even when our agents weren’t in the contact center. Since then, we’ve been able migrate over 650 of our agents to a remote environment and they’re able to handle inbound calls seamlessly. Right off the bat, we’ve been able to handle large amounts of calls amounting to an average of 18,000 total contacts and 600 concurrently, all while improving our mean opinion score (MOS) score to 4.35.” The MOS score increase is the most impressive thing about this.

Another good example is in education, where many institutions are struggling to adapt to the challenges presented by school closures and having to adapt to remote learning. A private school program with several schools in several states, employed Amazon Connect to help prepare for an expected influx of calls and questions from students needing IT support while they’re adjusting to the online learning environment. After getting a contact center up and running within two hours, the IT director of the academy called the app “a lifesaver.”

Amazon Chime 

Amazon Chime

Next is Chime, Amazon’s communication service which is used by customers more than you might imagine. Chime enables customers to meet, chat, and make audio and video business calls through a single unified application.

Like Connect, Chime is pay-as-you-go. This is great, because different organizations utilize different communication mediums, and with Chime, you only have to choose (and pay for) the ones that suit your business needs. To reiterate—businesses only pay for the features they use, and only on the days they are used. Additionally, businesses can toggle between the free-of-charge Basic features and the Pro features (not free) as needed. This is different from Cisco Webex, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.  AWS is offering free use of all Amazon Chime Pro features for online meetings and video conferencing from March 4, 2020 to June 30, 2020 for all customers that start using Amazon Chime for the first time during this period from their AWS account.

Chime is also available to developers in the form of an SDK here that allows customers to build real-time communication capabilities to their apps. This is very important for application developers who want to integrate video, telephony to their own apps. For example, if an ISV creating a telemedicine app doesn’t want to create their own video and telephone solution, so they can use the Amazon Chime SDK to integrate the capability into their telemedicine app. This is a big differentiator for Chime.  

Security, as you can imagine, is vital to trust to integrate another company’s service into your company’s. Amazon Chime offers a robust security framework as it leverages AWS best practices and provides security features to enable customers to control who can join meetings. I have a lot of confidence in AWS’s security as evidenced by the 100s of published compliance programs and the incredible detail shared. Have you heard of AWS getting hacked? Me either. Chime supports AES 256-bit encryption for message, and “content.”

AWS U.S. Compliance Programs

Amazon shared several Chime success stories as well. The City of Port St. Lucie is led by a five-member elected council, which sets policy and determines the long-term vision for the city. Due to the rise in remote work for our employees, it decided to use Amazon Chime across several departments. They said they were also able to integrate Amazon Chime with their Active Directory, enabling their employees to instantly message each other. They offered thanks to Amazon Chime, saying they “can continue to communicate and serve our city while keeping our employees safe.”

Amazon also cited several county and city councils who utilize the platform to hold their council meetings. A virtual science fair, the Synopsis Championship, was even held in California March 12, with over 1,000 students presenting their projects to 525 judges in 1,900 sessions via video conferencing for a total of 70,000 meeting minutes. To give an idea of the app’s scalability, over 800 of these meetings were being held concurrently at the peak of the event.

The company also shared stories from some of the organizations who are leveraging the Amazon Chime SDK within their own apps. In Italy, one of the hardest hit countries as of yet, bSmart Labs CEO Emanuele Putignano says the SDK enabled it to add to its virtual classroom app with multi-party video conferencing, and get it up and running in less than 8 days for students in the country.

Amazon WorkSpaces

The last of the trifecta is Amazon WorkSpaces, the company’s DaaS solution (Desktop as a Service). The offering seeks to provide an appealing, cost-friendly alternative to on-prem VDI solutions and traditional desktop PCs, allowing for the speedy provisioning of Windows and Linux desktops in “mere minutes”.

Amazon touts the solution’s scalability—it can scale up to thousands of workers across the world which I believe is conservative given AWS’s scale. Also, the company emphasizes the solution’s security, which is true for all of these types of solutions, and the fact that no user data is kept on their local device. Instead, the service is deployed inside of Amazon’s Virtual Private Network, and provides users access to encrypted, persistent storage on the AWS Cloud.  Altogether, WorkSpaces eliminates the hassle of managing hardware inventory, OS versions and patches, and complicated VDI deployments.

I have personally used Workspaces as part of a VDI research project a few years back and I was shocked that it only took me 10 minutes to create an AWS account, “swipe” my credit card, and provision a Windows and Office session. After setting it up, it’s instantaneous and the cool thing is that I was only charged for the minutes I used the service.

Amazon WorkSpaces has been put to the test by several organizations during the current crisis. Amazon’s IT department itself utilizes WorkSpaces to securely enable its employees to work remotely, recently scaling up its instances by hundreds and thousands in less than two weeks. Additionally, in an effort to avoid supply and transport chain disruptions, all of Amazon’s new hires are given access to WorkSpaces on their personal devices so they can immediately get to work from home.

The list goes on. AWS says an online research university is employing the solution to enable its 180 staff members to work from home for the first time. A large-scale energy provider is leveraging WorkSpaces to do the same for its employees, so that its customers continue to receive energy in these trying times. A major online real estate marketplace says WorkSpaces enabled it to set up 500 remote workstations for its employees, in just 3 days. 

Wrapping up

The interesting thing is that all of these applications seem like they were tailor made for this new world we now find ourselves living in. Between Chime’s what I consider reliable, secure communication service and the Amazon WorkSpaces DaaS offering, Amazon has crucial tools to support those who are suddenly having to learn to work and go to school remotely. And for the influx of tech support and customer service inquiries resulting from these seismic changes (can you blame people for having a lot of questions?), Amazon has businesses covered with Connect.

A lot of people don’t realize how crucial these solutions, and others like them, are for helping to mitigate the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. We at Moor Insights see you, AWS, and we applaud the work you are doing right now.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article. 

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.