Chapter II

Full transparency

Meet the team and tech that built Aura

Today, people have more power at their fingertips than entire generations that came before.

But technology is just a tool. Intelligent technology requires human ingenuity to build something useful.

“Telefónica decided to use our cognitive services for Aura, their new service for interacting with customers,” says Pablo Benito, Global Business Director of Microsoft. “Because of its language understanding, Aura is much more conversational than other AI.”

We were able to make the complexities of our company invisible, so customers could enjoy our services in a fast and easy way. — Chema Alonso, Chief Data Officer

Telefónica leveraged Microsoft’s full ecosystem of technology — including its AI services, tools and infrastructure, as well as the support and expertise of Microsoft’s technical team — to become the first company in the industry to create this natural interaction with customers using

“We were able to make the complexities of our company invisible, so customers could enjoy our services in a fast and easy way,” says Chema Alonso, Telefónica’s Chief Data Officer.

The company tapped Azure Cognitive Services, including Language Understanding and QnA Maker, to help customers interact simply and naturally with technology. Telefónica also employed Azure Bot Service, which allows developers to build, connect, deploy and manage intelligent bots quickly and efficiently.

“We want to deliver more than new technology,” says Irene Gomez, Aura Global Director at Telefónica. “We strive to surprise people by transforming data into things that make their lives easier. We built Aura to create an entirely new relationship with our customers.”

Building this intuitive voice interface took teams of scientists, engineers, designers, researchers and linguists working with state-of-the-art technology.

The Scientist: Julia Llano.
Julia deals in data. As Aura’s Strategic Insights Director, she and her team use Microsoft’s toolkit to analyze information and make Aura smarter.
“I am proud of the objectives of Aura and Microsoft because we are giving huge possibilities to users to make life easier. This is something that seemed impossible and we are doing it.”
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The Builder: Javier “Jamaa” Martinez Alvarez.
Alvarez builds bots. The Innovation Director heads the technical development of Aura and Telefónica’s intelligent platform.
“That Aura understands the customer and gives the right answer—that’s the most technical challenge,” he says. “Microsoft’s LUIS is the cornerstone of Aura because it gives Aura the ability to understand what the user wants.”
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The Artist: Iréne Gomez.
Iréne Gomez crafts data into art. As Aura Global Director at Telefónica, she uses big data, cognitive services and edge technologies to bring user-centric products to life.
“Microsoft is our strategic partner; we use their framework to build our experiences,” she says. “Through this collaboration, I can incorporate creativity into technology—sometimes, I feel like an artist.”
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The Daredevil: Chema Alonso.
Chema Alonso likes to take risks. As Telefónica’s chief data officer, he heads the company’s big data strategy and the fourth platform, as well as global cybersecurity products and services.
“We were working side-by-side with top-level engineers and developers, and creating something new with very new technology,” he says of Microsoft. “It was like working in a startup with more than 120,000 employees…it was wonderful.”
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“At Microsoft, our goal is to offer all the innovation in state-of-the-art AI as a platform, including cloud services, tools and infrastructure,” says David Carmona, Microsoft’s General Manager for AI Marketing. “We were thrilled at the opportunity to partner with Telefónica and help leverage this platform to transform their business and the experiences of their customers.”

One-stop bot

 
 
 

Telefónica required exceptional speed and scale to create and launch AI that was able to easily interact with millions of people.

“We used Microsoft’s AI technologies to help cope with the complexity of launching Aura in six countries on four separate channels — and do it all seamlessly,” explains Alonso.

“Microsoft is the ideal strategic partner,” adds says Irene Gómez, Aura global director at Telefónica. “We are using pieces of their framework to build our AI experiences.”

With Microsoft’s tools, it was easy for Telefónica to quickly develop intelligent technology.

“We started building on a Friday, and by Monday, we were able to implement a basic version of Aura and use it in a few ways,” says Javier “Jamaa” Martinez, Telefónica’s Innovation Director.

To quickly grow Aura’s functionality, Telefónica used Microsoft’s bot technology to continually apply new use-cases. “We were working fast to send a lot of feedback to increase the powers of Aura,” says Alonso. “Because the best thing you can hear from your customer is, ‘Okay, I like it, but I want more.’”

Since Aura was launching simultaneously across multiple countries in Europe and Latin America, Telefónica needed to store vast amounts of data around the world.

“Microsoft Azure, our set of cloud services and data centers, gave Telefónica the freedom and flexibility to build, manage and deploy Aura on global scale,” explains David Cervigón Luna, Cloud Solution Architect for Microsoft Iberica. “With the help of our services, Telefónica’s AI was also able to speak six different languages so it can interact with customers around the world.”

Starting a conversation

 
 
 

A key component in the vision of Telefónica’s artificial intelligence was the biggest challenge for software developers. Aura needed to understand customers and respond quickly, correctly and conversationally.

“Microsoft’s LUIS is crucial for us,” says Martinez. “It’s the cornerstone of Aura and our intelligent platform.”

LUIS (Language Understanding) is a machine learning-based service that builds natural language understanding into apps, bots and other devices.

“It masters the magic of understanding how customers express themselves, and the different alternatives to expressing the same intention to be able to decipher what they want to say,” says Julia Llanos, Aura’s Data Science Manager.

The same question can be asked in several ways, and Aura needed to recognize what the customer wanted and respond.

Even what seems like a simple scenario to a consumer requires powerful, cognitive technology on the back end. For instance, Aura being able to pinpoint if and when a consumer will run out of data on their plan.

“The idea is to examine customers’ usage and to be able to say on which day of the billing cycle it will run out,” says Llanos. “To do that, we need LUIS to be able to understand when the customer is asking these questions.”

The same question can be asked in several ways, and Aura needed to recognize what the customer wanted and respond.

“‘When am I going to run out of data? Am I going to run out of data? How much data will I have left by the end of the month?’ explains Llanos. “This use-case was very demanding work, and I believe it is very powerful.”

By utilizing Microsoft’s services, including Azure, LUIS and QnA Maker, Telefónica was able to build artificial intelligence that could answer a range of questions. And through its partnership with Microsoft, Aura could soon do much more.

Using Microsoft AI, Telefónica prepared to take a leading role in creating AI with personality. And not just a single persona, but a personality that’s culturally in tune to each country and market where Aura is available.

“Our tools made it easy for Telefónica to put an advanced, conversational experience in the hands of customers very fast, but it doesn’t stop there,” says Cervigón Luna. “Aura has the ability to continue to evolve and personalize the customer experience. I believe this is the future of how customers will demand to interact with technology.”

Chapter III

AI today and tomorrow

A conversational AI with personality