The Chime SDK and Real-Time Communication with John Hathaway


In this episode of the Augusto Digital Insights podcast, Brain Anderson sat down for a conversation with John Hathaway, Senior Specialist for AWS’ Amazon Chime SDK, to discuss his career journey and the implications of real-time communications for business.

Even as technology has changed and evolved, there is one thing that remains constant: our need to communicate. In this episode of the Augusto Digital Insights podcast, Brain Anderson sits down for a conversation with John Hathaway, Senior Specialist for AWS’ Amazon Chime SDK, to discuss his career journey and the implications of real-time communications for business.

John says telecommunications run in the family. He started his career, after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Computer Telephony Integration, by selling hardware for AT&T.

From there, he held positions at Lucent, Avaya, Plantronics, and Sennheiser, where he developed the knowledge and connections that led him to the team at Amazon Chime SDK. Chime SDK allows companies to build communication primitives into their own platforms and applications for a seamless end-user experience.

As Brian and John discuss the business uses of Chime SDK and the quickly-expanding landscape of Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) and sentiment analysis, John explains the widespread implications of AIML.

AIML’s ability to analyze, report on, and make real-time decisions based on things like tone and body language is filling the gap in virtual communication and allowing businesses to enhance customer interactions and experiences like never before.

This integrated technology became especially important during COVID. John indicates that, while the fastest growing vertical for AWS Chime SDK over the last year and a half has been telehealth, they’ve also seen immense growth in the realms of distance learning, virtual events, and wellness and fitness. It’s clear that the sky is the limit on where this technology will take us in the future.

Thanks for tuning into this conversation on the Augusto Digital Insights podcast. For more information on AWS’ Amazon Chime SDK, visit their website.

And to learn more about how our custom software design and development can help create integrated solutions for your business goals, contact us here.

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Brian: This is the Augusto Digital Insights podcast. And I’m your host, Brian Anderson. Here, we talk to industry leaders about how they’re using digital technology to transform their businesses. There’s a lot to cover here. So let’s get started. Welcome to the Augusto Digital Insights podcast. This episode is part of our focus on AWS. This episode’s guest is John Hathaway. He’s a senior specialist for AWS’ Amazon Chime SDK. The Amazon Chime SDK is a developer tool that offers real-time communication like audio, video, chat, messaging, and screen-sharing capabilities to be built into your own applications. This can provide a seamless communication experience for your end users and raise the bar on security and privacy over third-party applications.I’m looking forward to this conversation. Welcome to the show, John.

John: Thank you, Brian.

Brian: Hey John. I think it would be really interesting if we start with your history. You have a long history that led you to AWS, Amazon, and Chime SDK. Maybe you could just kind of tell us a little bit about yourself and the history you have in telecommunications.

John: I guess where I’ll start is with my family history. My great, great grandfather spliced cable for Western Electric. My grandfather retired from Michigan Bell. My father retired from AT&T. So not that it was destiny, but I fell into it myself. It all started in 1984 when I graduated from high school and it was the de-monopolization of the bell system. And at that time, Michigan State University (I lived in East Lansing at the time) was one of four colleges that offered a computer telephony program within their telecommunications program. And so I took great interest in that. Maybe it was because my family was a big part of that whole industry for a period of time, but it was exciting for me. And so from there, I ended up working for AT&T in their hardware division, selling to small businesses, small phone systems. That’s when voicemail first came out: auto attendant, those types of technologies.So it was starting to advance rather quickly with the de-monopolization and having competition and more innovation in the industry. And then from there, AT&T spun off the hardware division into Lucent Technologies, which a lot of people might remember or be familiar with. I took that route and I started selling hardware through Lucent, who started to get more into the software business as well. Computer telephony integration, which fit right into the degree I got from Michigan State. And then from there, once Lucent dissolved, Avaya was created, and I moved into an Avaya role handling part of the automotive division. And at the time, I handled Daimler Chrysler and Delphi under Avaya. And that’s where I really started to learn more about voiceover IP, contact center technology, software, et cetera. From there, I moved into the reseller environment. So I moved from a manufacturer sales into more of the channel, selling for Avaya partners. And actually I got a Microsoft Lync certification. So I was selling Microsoft Lync through a reseller at the time, as well. And then from there I made a total change. I stayed in collaboration and contact center, but I made a change and pivoted into two device companies. So I landed at Plantronics (I was there for about 10 years doing global accounts), but I was still focused on collaboration and contact center, really pitching how voice quality is important and virtual communications. And then from there, I took my knowledge from Plantronics and I worked for Sennheiser for three years. And through Sennheiser, I helped them build their business focused on enterprise, their devices. And again, really focusing on the importance of audio quality and collaboration and contact center. Those roles for me though, primarily have revolved around sales. And as a sales guy, you start out with SMB to large multinational. And at the end of my careers at Plantronics and Sennheiser, I was more focused on sales enablement for those companies and doing more alliance management. And that’s where I met and learned more about Amazon.

Brian: Yeah, it seems interesting. All that background shows how important telecommunications are. And I mean, there’s lots and lots of businesses that totally depend on this. And also lots and lots of jobs—a big ecosystem of vendors and solution providers. And so it’s natural to see that this is evolving so much. Right. I mean, it’s turned from hardware into software, right? It’s an application now to do great contact center and collaboration and communications.

John: Yeah. I mean, as much as the technology has changed over time, and I was selling things that were analog then to digital, then voiceover IP. I mean, as much as that technology has changed, maybe in the back closet, there’s still a need to communicate. We’re humans. And real-time communication still plays an important part in doing business and building relationships and maintaining relationships. It’ll never go away regardless of the technology, right?

Brian: Yeah, I totally agree. And I would say like, in our business, I mean, when we started using all of this kind of technology and took it to heart, we built more of a remote first company because we had video technology. And without video and being able to see facial expressions and people, you just don’t develop the same level of relationship.

John: Right.

Brian: And this technology has accelerated over the last decade. And then the COVID pandemic has really kind of brought it to the mainstream, where these technologies really enable you to do business differently and more efficiently.

John: I think the increase in video—and certainly the pandemic—has really accelerated the need and the usage of video.

But I think another part that plays into the growing use of video is how easy it is to use. Remember when it first came out and you went into your first office that had a meeting room, and you’re going to do video. The meeting would typically start like 15 minutes later because no one knew how to start it. Or if they did, it didn’t work or how do we present at the same time. It was difficult. Now you can make a video call right from your iPhone.

Brian: Yeah, I totally agree. So, with that backdrop, you started getting introduced to Amazon and the solutions they were providing in this kind of telecommunication space. Talk us through that journey.

John: When I was at Sennheiser I was the alliance manager for Amazon. So when I was at Sennheiser, I was responsible for all of our Amazon business—from a retail standpoint—working with their vendor central system. I had responsibility for selling into Amazon. I was also responsible for selling through Amazon and their partners. But where I met the Chime team was because I was responsible also for making sure devices were compatible and certified with Amazon Chime and Amazon Connect. And so that’s where I met the Chime team. And I got to understand a little bit more about the cloud—how collaboration and communication were delivered through the cloud. And I got to learn more about the Amazon culture. And so a lot of the folks on the Chime team became personal friends over the course of a year, and I worked really closely with them. And so I got to really understand what Amazon was all about.

Brian: Maybe just highlight a little bit more about Chime. What’s the Chime SDK and what’s AWS Connect?

John: Let me start with Connect. AWS Connect is Amazon’s ACD solution—their contacts center solution. It’s been around longer than Chime has been, then Chime SDK certainly. It’s becoming more mature in the industry. It came about internally. It was built to handle the actual Amazon contact centers in support of—our retail business online. So the thought was, we built this internal ACD called Connect. Why don’t we leverage it and use our experience and knowledge in this technology and offer it in the industry? So that’s how Connect came about.Amazon Chime SDK was introduced in 2019 at our reinvent show in December. And the premise around it was organizations were looking for more services to be included in their applications, not necessarily more applications. And so the Chime SDK, as you mentioned, supports real-time audio, video, chat messaging, and screen-sharing. And that developer tool—known as the Chime SDK—allows companies to build those communication primitives into their own services, their own platforms, and their own applications, without relying on a third party application. As you mentioned already, the benefit is that it can create a seamless experience for an end-user. And most organizations today are really focused on that customer outcome, that client experience, that patient experience. So it’s a way to incorporate communications into an organization and offer that type of communication within their own application.

Brian: Yeah, that’s what got us really excited too. We’ve been working on a solution that includes the Chime SDK, and we’re also an AWS partner. And so we’re working to try to understand more about how we can take advantage of these technologies. And that’s ultimately how we got introduced to you along the way. And the interesting part is we’re working on this product—it’s called the Augusto Engage—and it’s all about helping improve some engagement scenarios in healthcare with patients and customers and other people in the healthcare organizations. And that’s what’s so exciting about it, is that it accelerates the development of our solution. It enables us to plug in a very tightly integrated video, chat, audio, screen sharing type of solution. And then it also allows us to take advantage of other services on the AWS platform that enable us to do enrichment of that feed that we’re getting. So we can analyze that information with AI and ML solutions that enable us to transcribe, enable us to get insights and sentiment. And maybe what are you seeing? What are we missing?

John: You’re not missing anything. I mean, the value of offering AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) above the actual communication adds tremendous value to your point transcribed, for example, in a patient, doctor visit. If you’re able to transcribe that visit and add actual sentiment analysis to it, you’ve actually built some efficiencies for that provider. And if you’re building efficiency for the doctor, the clinician, or overall the provider, then they can spend more time giving care to patients. So when you talk about AIML as a higher level of intelligence above the communication, there are a lot of opportunities there today.

Brian: There’s a big opportunity there.

John: There is.

Brian: And what’s cool is that, this is just one of those services, right? So the smarter you get on this AWS kind of platform and ecosystem, the more services you can take advantage of and tie together to build out your solutions faster.

John: Correct. Yes.

Brian: And it’s interesting as we continue to grow our expertise, we are constantly asking the questions: How do we develop faster? How do we deliver solutions faster for our clients? And these are really interesting options. Hey, tell us a little bit more about what are some of the other customer scenarios that you’re seeing with AWS Chime? How are people using it?

John: Well, over the last year and a half, the fastest growing vertical has been in telehealth. So the need to have a virtual visit between yourself and your doctor or a clinician is growing. And the providers are experiencing cost savings. As we talked about already, they’re seeing efficiencies on their side. The challenge that they have there is making it easy and seamless for the patient or the end user. So when we talk about integrated communication solutions, that’s where the Chime SDK fits in. Another vertical is distance learning. We’re in numerous products around school systems or educational institutions that want to offer more virtual learning. We have virtual events. We’ve all experienced in the last year—events that we used to go to and have fun and see our coworkers and peers and friends. And more events are being done virtually: concerts, company events, you name it. Companies are looking to see how they can do business more virtually. And then you have wellness and fitness. I myself have done some remote fitness with my personal trainer over video. And then as companies have moved out of this situation in the last year and a half, they’ve understood the benefit of doing some remote business. It’s either capturing new customer segments, it could be cost savings or it could be, most importantly, interacting with their clients or customers and their patients in a healthcare scenario—more efficiently and maintaining relationships with who they do business with. And so just the whole fact of offering a good customer experience in a virtual environment, a lot of organizations are seeing the benefits of that.

Brian: Yeah. It’s interesting. How do you contrast what you’re seeing now with these cloud services, these applications? And then what people can do with user experiences and stuff with software applications versus where you came from? You’ve got the whole history. Is this a huge jump or a natural evolution of where things have been going for years?

John: Well, it’s interesting because we use a term here “anytime, anywhere, with any device,” which is a great collaboration saying, but we actually said that at Lucent Technologies in 1999. And so I guess the point I’m making is, as much as technology is changing, some things haven’t changed. And we talked about that: the need to communicate. Where I see the big opportunity and the game changer in the industry is the AIML opportunities. The ability to not only support the communication and our ability to capture the communication, but from there, what are we able to do with it? And so with AIML, we can do analytics that can help track behaviors that are great information, depending on the company and how they’re looking at their business. It could create automation; it can create actual decision-making. So as companies communicate, we’re offering the ability to not only support it and capture it, but also leverage AIML services through AWS to put a layer of intelligence there that can really make a differentiator for different organizations.

Brian: Yeah. And it’s actionable intelligence. I mean, I think an example would be a suicide case or something like that. Right. And a behavioral health scenario.

John: Yeah.

Brian: You’re getting the sentiment that something is happening. The system can maybe even trigger things based upon its analysis of the conversation. Right. And you can automate processes that used to be stuck in one person’s head or on a piece of paper somewhere, or a procedure. And now you can kind of systemize that and make that process even more efficient and make a difference in people’s lives faster.

John: You certainly can. And a lot of it can be real time. So you can use AIML in real-time communications. It could be a customer assist scenario where an agent is getting fed real-time information around the conversation and helping that agent better service that customer in real time. What’s intriguing for me is sentiment analysis. So let’s say you’re in a remote therapy session with your therapist and you’re on video. And the therapist is using sentiment analysis, which is detecting facial expressions. So AIML can actually pick up things in a virtual environment that normally can’t be detected unless you’re sitting in front of each other. And so not that we want to replace being in front of each other, but we’re developing technology that will help you in a virtual environment—as if you’re together.

Brian: Yeah. Yeah. I agree. And it’s interesting because when you start to systemize that you start to make that real time. We’re having a conversation right now, I can read your facial expressions and video is helpful for that, helpful for relationship development. But I’m not always tracking every emotion every second. Right. And you can trend that. You can actually turn that into analytics. Half of that conversation, the person was in a good mood; half of it, they were depressed or some other sentiment. And you can even start to measure that over time. We have multiple interactions with people. You can trend their sentiment and you can then make that even more actionable. And you can pull the transcript of that particular area where they were struggling. Right. And then you could pull that out and you can just continue to peel it apart and use it in more granular ways.

John: I don’t know how many sales trainings you’ve been through, but if you have, there’s always that section on how important body language is. Right. And without video, how would you see that? And that’s an important part of communication in the human world. You have the message itself, you have body language, you’ve got your tone of voice. There’s so much that can be missed virtually that technology and AIML services can fill in.

Brian: Yeah, I agree. That’s definitely an area we’re continuing to see opportunity in, and it’s exciting. And we’re looking forward to doing more work in that area and working with you along the way, John. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you better. How do people learn more about the Chime SDK and the world that you’re living in and connect with you?

John: If you Google Amazon Chime SDK, it’ll be the first thing that pops up. It gives you great information around customer references, how to use the SDK, resources, how you can build with it. It’s got pricing information, everything you would possibly need there. If you scroll to the bottom, there’s the ability to reach out, which will go to our Chime SDK team and get you aligned with the appropriate resource.

Brian: So John, it’s been a pleasure and we look forward to working with you and Amazon and using these technologies in our solutions here, going forward. Really appreciate it. And I just want to say, thanks again.

John: Well, thank you, Brian. We appreciate it too. We appreciate the partnership with Augusto. You’ve been a great partner. It’s been great working with you guys. I look forward to what we can do together, moving forward.

Brian: Hey, thanks for listening to the Augusto Digital Insights Podcast. Augusto is a custom software design and development company. If we can help you on your next project, or you just want to say hello, contact me today by calling (616) 427-1914 or visit Remember, you can always find this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and YouTube.

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