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Chatbots are Here, and it is Just the Beginning

Chatbots are the next big thing, but there’s always another big thing coming. Prepare for the future with a flexible architecture that’s ready for everything.

Chatbots are growing rapidly in popularity and adoption, but while more and more organizations are beginning to see the potential, far fewer have developed a concrete strategy for them. Major companies are experimenting with the AI behind chatbots though (with varying degrees of success, such as Microsoft’s Tay.ai and Facebook’s recent conversing bots), and it’s easy to find coverage about the promising future of chatbots and enthusiastic statistics such as how 80% of businesses want to use chatbots by 2020. Clearly, it’s an important technology that business leaders need to plan for.

However, there’s a bigger story here, and that’s that the application of the future is fundamentally changing. The screen-based user experience that has been in use for decades will be augmented by experiences that may not even have a graphical interface, something Todd Anglin, our Chief Evangelist, refers to as a NUI, or a Natural User Interface. So how do you prepare for that? Current industry trends towards optimizing for web and mobile are great for now, but you need to extend your definition of multi-channel to include future channels that are on the horizon.

Web and Mobile Are Not Enough

Chatbots are already here, living on Slack and Facebook Messenger, not to mention answering customer service inquiries for many businesses. Our own Darvin.ai chatbot, a product of Progress Labs, is today helping a major hospital automate appointment booking and trim 30% off their contact center’s workload. Even as chatbots grow, AR/VR is being rapidly adopted as well. Today it is largely known for its presence in gaming, but it won’t be long before field service employees are analyzing machinery through goggles rather than by consulting a PDF on a tablet, and when doctors are calling up a 3d rendering of an x-ray on their glasses instead of holding a flat image.

There will be more innovations to come as well. None of this is to say it’s wrong to optimize for web and mobile today, because that remains essential—but don’t think you can stop there and pat yourself on the back. It’s critical to take a long view here by making sure you’re as prepared for tomorrow as you are for today.

Design Your Architecture to Support this Future

Your architecture needs to be ready for anything. Rather than investing in yet another monolithic platform, it’s important to design an architecture that is flexible enough to let you easily plug in the technology you need for a given business initiative. Whether it’s your backend or frontend or something in between, it needs to be easy to update your tech to meet needs that are constantly changing.

For example, you should consider serverless and API-based characteristics for your architecture, allowing you to decouple your developers working on chatbots from your backend team, so each can focus on their area of expertise. And if you need to change technology on one side, or the other, or both, it should all be just as effortless.

Abstraction to Keep Things Simple

We’re in an incredibly distributed era in terms of technology systems in use today. Mobile platforms, AR/VR, voice recognition and more operate across a variety of operating systems and devices. It’s massively costly, if not an impossible task outright, to try and provide a great experience across every existing and emerging channel. Even just within the realm of chatbots, you must design for specific users. Facebook, Kik, WeChat, Line and other platforms all have different audiences and will need to be intelligently customized to be effective.

This architecture principle—abstracting developers from the myriad platforms they must support—is a key part of how we design our technology at Progress. Just like you can use NativeScript to code in JavaScript and develop natively for both iOS and Android, and just like you can use our DataDirect drivers to connect to virtually every database out there, the overall effect is one of simplicity. Your developers should be freed from the complexity of keeping up with individual platforms and allowed to concentrate on addressing the business needs and adding the new features that make your application successful.

Be Ready for the Next Big Thing

Whether chatbots are barely a conversation in your organization or you’ve got a cutting-edge bot out there serving customers, the key is to make sure you’re always prepared for what’s coming next. The transition from an emphasis on today’s multi-channel experience to a virtual one will be transformational for many businesses, and how prepared you are to make this leap will have a huge impact on your operational and business success. In a technology environment that is always changing, working with a partner you can trust and investing in an architecture that lets you compete today and innovate for the future is critical to ensuring long-lasting success.

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