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10 Ways Bots Can Improve Your Business Processes

 

 

Businesses use bots to engage with customers, online and via social media, because they’re a cost-effective way to respond instantly to simple queries. As bot technology improves, they’re finding their way into more use cases where human judgment and effort have traditionally been required. Are bots right for your business? Here are 10 examples to help you decide. PreviousNext

(Image: geralt via Pixabay)

(Image: geralt via Pixabay)

 

The bot ecosystem is changing, and so are the use cases. Fueled by the development work of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and others, bots are becoming more intelligent and therefore capable of performing tasks previously done by humans.

Not to be confused with robots, a bot is a software program designed to imitate the behavior of humans. Most bots are designed to do a specific task, whether that’s crawling the web to index sites, making robocalls, serving up a weather report, or responding to a simple customer query. However, orchestration layers are required to enable seamless, transparent, rich services.

“Business bots for the enterprise are a huge opportunity. Intelligent action bots can replace processes, workflows and interfaces across everything from supply chain and inventory to sales and marketing,” said Chris Eben, a managing partner at software and app development company TWG, in an interview.

[ Are you ready for the bot invasion? Read The Rise Of The Bots: 11 Ways Your Business Can Prepare. ]

While bots are typically considered tools for consumer-facing web experiences, there are many business applications for them, particularly to perform rote, repetitive tasks. However, with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), bots are expected to eventually take on sophisticated tasks.

For example, enterprise software company Unit4 is building bots to improve the efficiency of travel requests, expenses, absences, time recording, and purchasing, for its employees and managers. The company is also building bots to handle workflows and approvals. In the near future, Unit4 will also build bots to assist managers with financial and operational decision making. Unit4 is also building a digital assistant called Wanda which will orchestrate bots and run the processes.

“We need a broad set of use cases and digital assistants that can orchestrate bots covering complex and broad use cases. If a bot offers only a very simple use case or ‘can only go so far’ and the user has to switch to another way of completing the [task], users might give up on the bots and select a traditional UI in the first place,” said Thomas Staven, global head of presales and product strategist at Unit4, in an interview.

All of this may sound easy, but building an effective bot requires a clear understanding of its capabilities, not only by the developers building its functionality, but by the marketers touting those capabilities, and the users who expect the bot to perform as advertised. For example, there are now 11,000 Facebook Messenger bots. Not surprisingly, their functionality, sophistication, and value differ significantly.

From an enterprise perspective, developers, IT, and business executives need to consider more than the “benefits” a bot provides. They must also consider important software issues such as privacy, security, scalability, interoperability, the effect of human skills displacement, and customer acceptance.

Join us as we look at 10 ways bots can be used to replace existing products, services, and processes in the enterprise. Once you’ve reviewed these ideas, tell us what you think in the comments section below. Are you working with bots in your enterprise? Is your organization exploring bots as tools to improve future products or processes?

Replace Websites And Apps

Bots are often used as messaging platform add-ons, but ultimately some people see them as the new, natural language interface to websites and apps. After all, speaking comes naturally to humans; typing a query on a keyboard does not.

“Next-gen bots will be more personal, intelligent, autonomous and bot-friendly. They’ll be able to personalize user experiences, and they’ll be much more intelligent with advanced language and inference capabilities,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO of cross-platform bot builder Gupshup, in an interview. “[Because] they will be autonomous in many respects, humans will start delegating an increasing variety of tasks to them. Bots will also be able to interact with other bots in interesting ways to enable new services.”

Of course, how much responsibility bots get will be a matter of trust on both the individual and organizational levels. Some issues potentially undermining trust could include poor security and privacy safeguards, errant behavior, and the inability to complete a task. Sheth said cultural sensitivity is also necessary, including the ability to speak the local language, the ability to handle local currency, and the ability to communicate in a way that’s contextually appropriate.

Enhance, Simplify Research

It’s possible for bots to perform some manual research tasks more efficiently than humans. Their ultimate usefulness in this regard, though, will depend on their ability to understand context.

“Information can be anywhere, but a lot of it is noisy, of dubious origin, and without great context, making it very much a human task to sift through this content,” said Dan Adamson, founder and CEO of AI and Big Data company, OutsideIQ, in an interview. “It’s the context of how to interpret the data where bots have been weak.”

Since the advent of the web, researchers have been using search engines — and the search capabilities provided by commercial databases — to understand individuals, organizations, and events. Because the search results are often overwhelming, the researchers may try long-tail searches to fine-tune the relevance of their results. That only works sometimes. Similarly, survey results can become daunting when hundreds of people respond to complex, multi-level questions and the survey output is a .csv file, the content and structure of which are not designed for in-depth analysis. Bots can navigate through such digital haystacks more quickly and efficiently than humans.

Improve Compliance

Bots can either improve or undermine compliance. It all depends on how they’re designed, built, and managed.

Global banks, asset managers, investment firms, and insurance carriers necessarily perform extremely careful vetting. They are among the types of organizations using bots for compliance.

“The way corporate or financial compliance is done today has real problems. A lot of information is missed. Current processes are hard to audit, costly, and take a lot of time,” said Dan Adamson of OutsideIQ, in our interview. “Bots can return relevant, accurate, and actionable information and present companies with a full picture of potential risk before it becomes material risk.”

Supplement HR Practices

As HR becomes increasingly data-intensive, technological assistance is needed to keep up with the deluge. Resume postings and submissions are only the beginning. HR departments now consider social media profiles and other digital footprints which can be easily tracked by bots. Likewise, talent acquisition professionals might be able to use bots to find potential candidates who aren’t actively searching for a job.

“Bots can help us see beyond what’s written in a resume, which only tells part of the story. [They] could also be used to find passive candidates across multiple sites, multiple apps, even unstructured web data,” said Webster, in our interview. “While these bots are getting smarter and more natural as the algorithms and technology evolve, [recruiters] still need to work alongside these new technologies to make sure that they’re asking the right questions, gathering the right data, and interpreting it the right way.”

Simplify Software Help

Learning a new piece of functionality or an app is frustrating when every second of a workday matters. Instead of reading through online customer support forums or online help tutorials, users could get exactly the help they need via a bot.

“Tasks like doing your taxes, getting legal advice, or learning how to use a complicated piece of software could soon be made much simpler thanks to your friendly robo-advisors,” said Chris Eben of TWG, in our interview. “As software builders, we have a responsibility to design these products in a way that encourages respectful, thoughtful interactions. The more anthropomorphic these bots are, the more important this consideration becomes.”

Address Complex Issues

Right now, some bots are being used as a first response mechanism for customer service, customer support, and technical support. As bots are made more intelligent, better able to understand natural language, and able to understand context — including emotion — they’ll be capable of complex interactions currently performed by humans. In short, customers will find themselves literally talking with a bot, instead of a human, to resolve a wide range of issues.

“Future bots will be doing processes and transactions that today require human understanding. It may be checking for that payment issue on your credit card [or] contacting the helpdesk in your company to fix a problem on your laptop,” said Anant Kale, CEO of expense report auditing and fraud detection vendor AppZen, in an interview. “Bots in the future will have true conversational capability that will allow them to perform multi-step processes that require natural language understanding and response.”

Replace Multiple Interfaces And Apps

A digital assistant is an uber-bot which orchestrates other, more specific types of bots. Instead of having a user log in and out of different apps and shift between the web and an Interactive Voice Recognition System, a digital assistant or other orchestration bot could handle the cross-channel complexities using a single, natural-language interface.

“Some processes might span a number of similar bots, or different types of bots, in order to complete, and it should not be left to the user to know which bots to activate,” said Thomas Staven of Unit4, in an interview. “The digital assistant should be able to understand and learn which bots are needed in order to complete a business process and invoke [it] at the correct point in time. The next-generation bots will also be better at multitasking or managing multiple threads at the same time.” This means multitasking humans won’t have to remember the point at which they left a task.

Staven also thinks bots will bridge our work lives and home lives in a single interface. That way, a user could simultaneously plan a holiday, submit a vacation request, and perhaps calculate holiday spending based on anticipated income, such as a paycheck or a bonus.

Replace Search Strings

Online search makes it relatively easy to quickly browse volumes of information, but the results can sometimes be very disappointing. One of the limitations of search is its dependence on keywords and key phrases which attempt to translate individual, human thought into something a machine can understand – an endeavor that has proven to be less than perfect. Intelligent bots with natural language capabilities may help overcome such limits.

“In the near future, bots will replace information retrieval interfaces and text-based search,” said Julie Choi, director of product marketing at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, in an interview. “They’ll be more intelligent and able to answer user queries with increased depth based on advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the ability to apply those technologies at scale to large datasets.”

Replace IVR Systems

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are one of the banes of human existence. Companies rely on them to reduce operating costs and to triage calls. The options they provide don’t always align with how customers think, nor do these systems adjust to the emotional cues customers tend to exhibit. Improving IVR systems requires machine learning, AI, and natural language processing.

“Bots will have custom personification, voices, and training so they can be integrated more naturally into human interaction scenarios, with bot characters that are more relatable and appropriate for the people they are interfacing with and ultimately supporting,” said Sean Hughes, senior manager, developer relations at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, in an interview. “In the short-term, the target audience is mostly the first-time investor into modern systems or the organization working on IT modernization looking to future-proof their investment.”

Supplement Medical Diagnoses

Some people think a doctor’s medical opinion could never be replaced by a bot. Yet, in the future, bots may be able to take over entire medical specialties such as radiology, anesthesiology, and dermatology using pattern recognition capabilities, according to Darren Schulte, CEO of cognitive computing platform vendor Apixio.

“Reading a CT scan, examining a picture of the skin, or looking at an X-ray to diagnose disease is essentially visual pattern recognition,” said Schulte, in an interview. “Eventually, bots will replace some of the most costly roles in the medical field. These intelligent machines will be capable of learning over time as they are fed more data, to make increasingly better diagnostic decisions.”

Doctors won’t be completely replaced anytime soon, but – as with other professions — their responsibilities will likely evolve as a result of machine assistance.

 

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