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September 4, 2018

Chatbots: Trendy gadget, or the future of how we interact with business applications and e-procurement?

Chatbots: Trendy gadget, or the future of how we interact with business applications and e-procurement?

Everyone has heard about chatbots, or intelligent assistants. The battle between Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana is raging: They are embedded in our smartphones and are mainly driven by voice, augmenting our ability to access information and do things; these assistants are also in many homes, and have become mainstream in consumer smart objects and IoT devices. Now we’re wondering how soon they will be just as common on our desks at work.

PayStream 2018 Procurement Insight Report

Today we are in the very early age of chatbots, but everything is evolving fast. Chatbots are leveraging the progress being made everyday in artificial intelligence — especially natural language processing, deep learning and big-data — enabling the manipulation and search of very large amounts of data in real time. True, they are still based on a set of predefined skills and are not yet smart enough to continuously learn and adapt to any situation. But for our enterprise world, chatbots already have more than we need.

All you have to do is ask.

Consider chatbots super-assisted search engines, providing access to almost unlimited knowledge. They behave conversationally, maintaining context and refining questions until we finally get the information we need – and even taking action on it. In fact, chatbots completely redefine the way we interact with machines. As we use them more and more in everyday life, we expect our enterprise applications to implement them as well.

As cloud application designers, our business platforms are becoming bigger and bigger. While this is a major benefit in terms of enterprise capability, with so many functions it can become a challenge for any one user to understand how to navigate across screens, menus, and buttons, and ultimately execute exactly the set of actions they need. Most Determine Cloud Platform users access a very small subset of all available functionality for that very reason.

Wonder what a conversation-based user interface would be like in our enterprise world? Think of a combined Google homepage and Facebook messenger as your main page, and the only one you would need. When you consider that current business applications are very nice looking but still designed with the same logic as the ERP we inherited from last century, this is huge progress.

The language of efficiency.

With chatbots, the entire user interaction logic is part of the conversation, making the design of an enterprise solution completely different. Users no longer have to go to the right screen, find the search criteria and click on a series of buttons to find information or complete an action. In terms of software development, replacing a full web front-end — and all the complexity attached to it — with a simple user interface is way easier technically. But it forces us to focus on the user’s experience, and how to help them get what they need as quickly as possible.

Associating a conversation-based user interface with a clean display of data, including graphics, is likely the best combination to replace the user experience around source-to-pay software we have today.

The use of artificial intelligence, to not only understand natural language but to learn from all platform users, is critical. This enables continuous improvement in how best to assist users with complex business processes, and becomes really powerful when the system is plugged into the massive amount of information beyond a company’s own limits. The flexibility of chatbots to interpret commands will also allow our applications to be interconnected, and dynamically add services provided by any cloud applications without the need to change the user interface or ask for integrations.

In e-procurement specifically, data is becoming the center of everything, and even creating a shopping cart is now mainly a search experience. The fact that our users now want to have access not only to internal catalogs, but also to online catalogs from any supplier makes the chatbot the perfect solution to replace what looks like the ultimate “Amazon experience.”

We are still at the very beginning of this “artificial intelligence” revolution, but chatbots will play quite an interesting part, radically changing our business application world for the better.

If you’d like to chat about the future of your procurement, or better yet, schedule a webinar, we’d love to show you the possibilities waiting for you on the Determine Cloud Platform.

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Madison Logic