Just Because Bots Are in Our Future, Doesn’t Mean They ARE the Future.

Glenn Gruber | September 28, 2016 | In the News

Here a bot, there a bot, everywhere a bot-bot. This could be the Old McDonald my daughter sings to her children 20 years from now. More importantly, it’s also reflective of the tech press today. But are bots the future…really?

A recent article heralding the coming chat-bot revolution got me thinking. Of course a lot of the attention around bots is because Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft made them the central focus of recent developer conference and OS releases. Which makes sense when you consider their collective master plan to keep us captive in their respective platform ecosystems as much as (non-)humanly possible.

One reason for the Bot gold rush is due to the popular conception that apps are dead. It’s definitely true apps are not downloaded as frequently as they used to be. Most likely because people have already accumulated dozens of apps over the years. We find the good ones and we keep using them and they stick around.

And we’re not shy about deleting bad apps, nor should we be.

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But when we find well-designed apps that really meet a need, we download them in droves. Look at the success of Pokemon Go–amazing and ridiculous at the same time. Or in the enterprise, look at the success of Slack. In just a few years the company has earned a $3.8B valuation and 3 million daily users, many of them (including our team at Propelics) accessing the app via mobile device.

And as the stats show, better apps boast way better retention rates.

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What May Be True for Consumers May Not Be True for Enterprise
At Propelics, our focus is less on consumer-facing apps and more on enterprise mobility. This makes an enormous difference, and these differences impact how you evaluate the adoption of bots.

For one thing: in the Enterprise, apps are not dead. Still-born, maybe, but not dead. Whereas millions of apps reside in the public app stores, the enterprise stores are more like ghost towns.

According to last year’s Good Technology Mobility Index Report (Q2 2015), three-fourths of enterprises have deployed fewer than 5 apps to their employees and 95% fewer than 10! There is so much that can be accomplished by going mobile that the “we’ve already got enough apps” narrative doesn’t hold water. We’ve barely scratched the surface! Plus, our ability to execute is still fairly limited which doesn’t put us in a great position to just “move on to the next thing.”

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One of the things Bots are particularly great for is scaling. Bots make it possible for millions of users to complete tasks via voice and text. Most enterprises—even the very largest—don’t have the same scale issue as when you’re dealing with a much wider pool of consumers.

Another large part of the appeal/value proposition of bots is they can be embedded into other apps/interfaces–primarily messaging platforms and intelligent assistants–where users are already spending a lot of their time. Being able to complete a task without having to exit and launch another app is a significant friction reducer.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and assume we’d rather our enterprise employees didn’t spend all their time in Facebook Messenger (or the like). We also don’t want them performing company business from channels outside of our security frameworks. Slack might be another story (there are already bots for Slack). God help those of you who are still on Lync or Skype for Business.

Many of the business processes we want to convert over to mobile are fairly complex. They require focus from employees. Generally speaking, the request-response interface available via bots falls short of what we’ll need.

Lastly, there is a not insignificant cost component–both in terms of time and cost–to going down the bot road with the platforms available today. It behooves us all to wait a cycle and let these platforms mature a bit before deciding which best fits your business needs.

Either way, bots are unlikely to be the panacea for your employee-facing technology strategies. Who knows? In a year or two, voice, VR/AR or wearables may join the mix. Do some research, maybe a Proof of Concept or two, but be wary of making big investments this early in the technology cycle.

If you’d like to discuss the rise of Bots (or any other emerging technology) with a Propelics strategist, please check out our Emerging Technologies Kickstart to get started. In the meantime, keep executing on your enterprise mobile strategies!

Glenn Gruber

Glenn Gruber is a Sr. Mobile Strategist at Propelics. He leads enterprise mobile strategy engagements to help companies determine the best way to integrate mobile into their business -- both from a consumer-facing perspective, but also how to leverage mobile to empower employees to be more productive and improve service delivery through the intelligent use of mobile devices and contextual intelligence. Glenn has helped a wide range of enterprises on how to leverage mobile within their business including Bank of Montreal, Dubai Airports, Carnival Cruise Line and Merck. He is a leading voice in the travel sector as a contributing Node to Tnooz where he writes about how mobile and other emerging technologies are impacting the travel sector and a frequent speaker at industry events.

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