The age of the bot
By Bennie van Rensburg, Senior Business Optimisation Manager, Altron Bytes Managed Solutions.
Everybody talks about the fourth industrial revolution; how the only way to 'keep up with the Joneses' is to digitise your business.
But what does that really mean? Merely replacing all your analogue devices with digital ones? More pointedly, how does the managed services sector get involved in this wave of change and make use of the technology that is currently at play?
The fourth industrial revolution is defined by disruptive technologies and trends, such as the Internet of things, virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence. Constant connectivity has changed the way we work, live and communicate; especially if, by communicate, you mean engage in a conversation with a robot, or more specifically, Botler, the chatbot offering at Altron Bytes MS.
Based loosely on the word 'butler' as a helpful assistant, Botler is the culmination of a collaborative exercise involving several vendors and technologies, mainly because gone are the days when you just flew solo with a project like this. Today you need collaborators and you have to keep an eye on the technology available in the market.
With Botler, we looked at the Watson question-answering computer system developed by IBM. It made sense as a platform to use because of its natural language capabilities and some of the other functions that would help enhance our chatbot functionality; to help make it a lot more reactive and user-friendly.
The goal with Botler was for our service engineers to be able to get an immediate response to a question while on a call-out at a customer. And it wouldn't matter if 20 people asked a question at once; they would all get an answer based on their request and need in real-time.
This is often the biggest issue with managed services: a lack of resources. It becomes a massive stumbling block when there are only so many product and industry experts in their fields, and then you have multiple engineers wanting immediate access to these people. They simply can't stretch that far and limited margins make it impossible to employ as many people as there are queries.
That's where today's technologies present opportunities to bridge the gap and get over these hurdles. We can essentially 'feed' a chatbot our collective IP and it can start to learn. Machine learning literally translates to a bot learning over time through all the answers and questions that get inputted. It will self-learn, it will self-train and start becoming almost self-sustainable. Furthermore, by having a chatbot as a backup assistant and enabler, our service engineers become solutions-focused consultants as opposed to traditional break-fix technicians.
Another significant advantage to using already-existing collaborators in the market, is that you don't necessarily need to create all-new applications either. We are able to use WhatsApp, for instance, to build chatbots. And this is significant, because who doesn't have WhatsApp nowadays. There's no training required from a user perspective because everybody already knows how to use it. Plus, WhatsApp is cost-effective from a data usage perspective too.
A bigger step would be taking Botler to market, allowing for direct customer support, where the customer is able to ask the questions and the chatbot can respond with limited first-line capabilities. This would theoretically result in fewer call-outs, while a further extension would be using the chatbot to log customer calls, again via the WhatsApp platform. The logged incident would then be pulled into our internal system for resolution and feedback.
Add another feature, such as virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities, and a technician or customer could simply take a picture via WhatsApp of whatever device they're battling with and the chatbot would employ object recognition to help resolve the issue, right down to supplying part numbers where needed.
A phased approach is always important when you're delving into the new and unknown though; you can't implement everything at once. You need to know what works, what doesn't and what can be optimised along the way.
It's actually simple stuff that we're trying to achieve here, albeit not so simple to build. Once in place, however, it will all make a huge difference in terms of time management, productivity and delivering an enhanced customer experience.
At Altron Bytes MS, we are always about delivering innovations that makes progress effortless. And as technology continues to change and grow, so we remain poised to implement more solutions that help support our customers as well as our inhouse teams.
We're not merely already a contender in the digitised world, we're already looking ahead to what's next. For us, the fourth industrial revolution is an extremely challenging and exciting time.