In case you haven’t noticed, chatbots are becoming increasingly prevalent in the digital universe. From help desks to home automation, people from all walks of life are conversing with computer systems rather than typing, texting or clicking. And with the latest advances in speech recognition and simulation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a bot and a real person.
This has enormous implications for the enterprise. Functions ranging from infrastructure provisioning and deployment to social collaboration and workflow management will likely change radically through conversational user interfaces, to the point where the enterprise itself becomes a living member of the team.
According to Infiniti Research, the market for chatbots is set to grow more than 37 percent per year until 2021. This will be driven largely by social media platforms, which are quickly evolving from their initial application as a personal communication and information-sharing portal to an advanced ecosystem for marketing and brand engagement. With close to 2 billion active social media users around the world, the opportunity for chatbots to enable leading customer relations management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms to maintain personal contact with large numbers of users at once is significant.
But it doesn’t stop there. Developers like Aspect Software are bringing chatbots to popular enterprise collaboration platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. The company’s Aspect Mila is a personal assistant that takes on day-to-day administrative tasks like scheduling and file management. The system provides a highly conversational interface that enables even non-technical employees to make requests or otherwise engage with digital platforms using simple, spoken queries and commands. Mila is also available as an SMS or an IVR application, although deployment within a broader collaboration tool provides for much more thorough integration into legacy enterprise platforms.
Of course, collaborating with colleagues is one thing, but managing infrastructure is another. How long will it be before IT, or anyone else, can simply provision resources just by asking? Not long, apparently. Storage management firm Tintri is working on a chatbot module for its enterprise platform, providing an Alexa-like front end that is tied to the company’s web services API. As the UK Register’s Chris Mellor notes, this will give knowledge workers the ability to issue requests for storage and other services from virtually anywhere.
Chatbots are expected to have such a large effect on the enterprise that the channel is already seeing management systems designed to monitor and optimize their performance. An Israeli company called Imperson introduced its imperson.ai platform that streamlines the creation and governance of chatbots across environments like Facebook, Skype and Twitter. The system tracks a range of conversation metrics and other data points and employs advanced analytics and machine control to tweak both the chatbot software and the back-office systems it engages with. This enables continuous improvement for both customer and employee/partner interactions. As CEO Erez Baum explained to InformationWeek, it also allows bots to be created with personalities, relationship memories and other learning capabilities to provide a more natural user experience.
Some people may still feel uncomfortable with the idea of talking to their devices, but if designed properly, the chatbot removes one of the chief stumbling blocks in the modern digital world: complexity on the user interface. Whether it is complicated menus, the need for specialized navigational skills or simply worn or broken keypads, most problems in the digital process begin with poor communication between the user and the platform.
It will probably be a while before all the bugs are worked out, but with chatbots, the potential exists to make ordering a product online or setting up a complicated work environment no more difficult than asking for a cup of coffee.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.