If you attended Microsoft Ignite this year, you probably met ZED – the twelve-foot robot at the LiveTiles booth. With all this talk about bots, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ll need to have a giant purple robot in your office to implement a bot in your business.
But when people talk about bots in a business, they’re usually referring to chatbots — valuable workplace communication tools that capable of helping with customer service, HR workloads, and more.
As with any new and emerging technology, it can be difficult to visualize how it would fit into your operations, and how it would add value to your business.
So, what is a bot?
In simple terms, a bot is a piece of software that is designed to automate certain tasks. Over time, bots have evolved to include complex pieces of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Their purpose is clear though—they can take your simple, repeatable, time-consuming digital tasks and do them for you with minimal human intervention.
While bots have only really become ubiquitous in the last decade, they have quite a long history.
A Brief History of Bots
1950 – Alan Turing, widely known as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, posed the question ‘Can machines think?’ in his article “Computer Machinery and Intelligence”. He put forward an examination of this inquiry—essentially a blind test in which a human and a machine both try to convince a third party that they are human—called The Imitation Game, also known as the Turing Test. So far, no AI has convincingly passed the Turing Test in a peer-reviewed environment, but they are getting closer.
1966 – ELIZA was created at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab by Joseph Weizenbaum and is often considered to be one of the first chatbots.
1972 – Psychiatrist Kenneth Colby created PARRY, a bot suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. PARRY was able to convince many of the psychiatrists that took part in its testing that it was human.
1995 – A.L.I.C.E. (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) was created by Richard Wallace, and was considered the most robust AI bot of its time.
2000 – SmarterChild, created by ActiveBuddy, was the first bot used to simulate conversation in AOL’s IM platform, paving the way for more comfortable human/bot interactions.
2010 – Apple released Siri, a natural language chatbot that was to be an integral part of its iPhone offering. Other major players in the tech industry followed suit, including Google Now in 2012, Amazon’s Alexa in 2015, and Microsoft’s Cortana in 2015.
How can a bot help you?
A lot of the focus around bots has been around the consumer-facing bots, like Siri and Cortana.
However, business bots have started proliferating throughout the enterprise software landscapes – for example, in Salesforce and Intercom.
In an enterprise, there is a wide variety of applications for bots – including scheduling and updating meetings, onboarding new employees, or acting as highly interactive extensions of company knowledge bases.
But the potential is far-reaching; almost any repeatable, automatable task you have can be taken on by a bot.
The benefits of Bots for your business
Obviously from the enterprise perspective, it’s extremely important that new tech brings significant and measurable benefits to your business.
Thankfully, the benefits of bots are so apparent that it is almost a no-brainer to bring bots on board. They include:
- Raising productivity: When your valuable employees are no longer bogged down in menial tasks, they’re able to concentrate on the highly specialized, creative work that provides incredible value to your business.
For example: Configure a bot to act as an HR self-service assistant, so that your HR team isn’t buried in answering basic onboarding and routine questions – leaving more time to analyze and strategically improve the overall employee experience.
- Driving Technology Adoption: With a bot, your employees don’t need additional training on how to interact with the enterprise technology at their fingertips. Getting answers and resources is as simple as typing out the question itself.
For example: That HR self-service bot? Empowering your employees to request leave through the bot enables you to avoid potentially time- and resource-draining training for staff.
- Uniting scattered business information: A bot is the ideal abstraction layer connecting users with information with a common theme, housed in different parts of the enterprise tech ecosystem, without wasting time searching for it all manually.
For example: That HR self-service bot could be enabling users to not only access their vacation day balance and request time off, but also reference the benefits and vacation policies the HR team maintains. Instead of separately locating and opening each, the bot seamlessly ties the two related activities into one.
There’s no question about whether bots can help your business, nor about if they will help. The only question is when. And being an early adopter of bot technology will give you a definite advantage over the competition.