Follow that bot!

Posted on: March 2, 2017 by Mischa van Oijen

Software robots, or bots in short have been around for decades. They come in many different shape and forms. Bots are everywhere and they are here to stay! We all use bots every day, sometimes without even knowing it. Every website, app or services you use have some bots executing repetitive tasks for you in the background much faster and more efficient than any human can. Although bots are very powerful to execute repetitive tasks, they are limited by the scheduler, events or buttons that trigger them and limited to simple pre-scripted tasks without interaction.

Alan Turing designed the initial concepts that underlie modern computers and Artificial Intelligence. The possibility of human to machine interaction was one of Turing’s most durable imaginations. The Turing test, a criterion of intelligence, depends on the ability of a computer program to pass as a human in written conversation. ELIZA, an early natural language processing program, simulates a human conversation using pattern matching in 1966. It was the first program the pas the Turing test. The same methods are still part of many modern variants today.

Consumers are using bots, often without knowing it

Ok, so we have task oriented bots, there are patterns which can emulate human reactions, why are they so popular at this moment?

Firstly, the technology that is needed to drive artificial intelligence is improving dramatically. Driven by Silicon Valley powers like Facebook and Google, the rest of the industry is quickly to follow and with millions of users exposed to these services, investors see bots as a new lucrative market. Bots are created by start-ups with amazing speeds and for a wide range of use cases. From bot-driven flower ordering services to popstars answering to their fan base. Bots are taking the consumer messaging services by storm. And we like it. We get the answers we need fast and are often not even aware that we are working with a bot, passing our individual Turing tests, in text on Facebook messenger or in speech on Apple’s Siri. Asking questions in normal human language and getting a reaction like a human.

Enterprise bots, the next frontier

In Enterprise applications the use of bots is not yet mainstream. We see the occasional task oriented bots appear, but the possibilities are endless. Putting real-time conversation platforms like Circuit in place as central aggregation engine of the workforce, we now have a central place where bots can be added to any conversation on any topic. We identify three bots which can help business users to be more effective in their daily work activities:

  • The conversational bot
  • The task bot
  • The meta bot

The conversational bot, is a bot that you can have a discussion with about questions you have on business topics, ranging from “How do I call myself in sick?”, to “What are the latest sales figures of managed services in Italy?”. The difference between a search engine and a bot, is the ability to state question in human language. And a reaction as you were asking it to a fellow employee. The bots can ask return questions to fine-tune the outcome. Employees do not have to remember where to find things, but just ask the question.

The task bot is a bot that can execute tasks for you. For example, “Create an appointment with John of Sales” or “Show me all open expense requests”. The bot will trigger the needed action for you. You do not have to remember where to do things, just what to tell the bot. The advantage is that all actions supported by the bots can be done from one place in one format on any device.

The meta bot is a bot that can combine tasks in the conversation. Imagine the bot asking you to complete a task as part of a conversation.

All of these conversations can easily take place on the real-time communication platforms, where you interact with bots as you would with a human, by using text based interaction.

Automated workflow thrown in the mix

Making bots works sound like a lot of work, but in reality a bot platform takes away the tedious tasks of complex integrations. Normally actions triggered from one application to another take place by executing a command through the Application Program Interface (API). As the API’s are open and documented, platforms like IFTTT, Zapier and MS flow map all API commands in a database and allow users to create combinations for example; “When I receive a mail from John, with subject Sales, create a new opportunity in Salesforce”. These services grow rapidly in capabilities, with daily API calls added for a wide range of applications. Robots can benefit equally from these services. The robot platform listens to the conversation, which is analysed by an Artificial Intelligence engine and triggers a task through an automated workflow tool.

What’s next

Robots will gain momentum in business eco systems in the coming 2 years. It will revolutionise the way employees can interact with data and tasks that need to be completed. Real-time communication tools will drive adoption in a frictionless way within the company, customers and partners. It will provide an answer to the information overload, where bots help us make sense of what matters and what’s not. Learning from individual and team behaviour every day, tailoring the experience for every individual user.

Don’t be afraid of bots. Embrace them, and have your staff focus on what really matters. “Get stuff done!”

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About Mischa van Oijen
Head of User Experience, Unify Product Owner Circuit, Chief Operating Officer and member of the Scientific Community
Mischa van Oijen, one of the visionaries behind Atos’ Zero Email™ project. He joined blueKiwi in 2012, where he started with the development and growth of the blueKiwi connectors, mobile and product portfolio. Mischa also drove demanding ISO 27001 and 9001 projects to turn start-ups into structured business while keeping the agility. Mischa joined Unify early 2017, to lead the User Experience and contribute to the next evolution of Circuit. Mischa teaches team dynamics and Agile software development at Cambridge University, as part of the Atos gold for Experts programme. With more than 19 years of experience in IT, a good understanding of the customer requirements and a profound business knowledge, his goal is to deliver a product that answers to real client needs and use cases. As part of the Atos Scientific Community, Mischa contributes to challenging future innovation topics.

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