Artificial Intelligence

Chatbots for business

This is a contributed article by Ian Massingham, Lead Technical Evangelist, Amazon Web Services


AI-powered voice assistants are now a standard feature in smartphones and in many peoples’ homes, delivering information and performing tasks such as playing music and audiobooks, ordering shopping, and controlling heating and lighting. The impact AI is having on consumers is clear, but it is in the enterprise and business operations space where AI is starting to really transform our lives. One of the most exciting areas is in the development of conversational interfaces, also referred to as “chatbots.” However, this terminology does not do justice to what the technology can do and enable.

Key to chatbot technology is conversational interface services, such as Amazon Lex. These technologies combine advanced deep learning functionalities of automatic speech recognition and natural language processing and enable businesses to create intelligent services across any device, serving customers, boosting productivity, and opening up employee time to more innovative pursuits. These technologies are now available because computer science has advanced enough to cope with the complexities of high-quality language recognition, a task that is dependent on three developments – sophisticated algorithms; access to large data sets; and access to huge amounts of infrastructure. Furthermore, businesses can take advantage of conversational interfaces without the expertise, data, and infrastructure resourcing requirements previously needed, because of the cloud. With cloud-based conversational interfaces, these types of deep learning technologies have been democratized and it is now possible for developers of a range of skill levels to deploy AI solutions quickly, at low cost, and without having to train complex AI algorithms.

For example, chatbot technology can be used to create virtual call center assistants for the handling of routine administrative tasks such as checking an account balance or recent transactions, or for scheduling an appointment. The automation of these simple administration tasks allows for time to be better spent on services that have a higher value to customers. For example in doctors’ surgeries, virtual call centers can be used to book appointments, freeing up the receptionist’s time to deliver more complex tasks such as processing referrals or helping patients in the surgery. Financial services organizations, such as Capital One, are already using chatbot technology to serve customers. Capital One has integrated support for Amazon Alexa into its retail banking application which has automated simple services such as helping customers find out their account balance, pay bills, find out the value of scheduled payments, or check recent transactions.

These are just some of the applications for conversational interface technology that are helping organizations serve their customers, but there are also interesting applications being created to support employees within organizations as well. Enterprises are integrating intelligent chatbots into their organizations to increase productivity and streamline everyday work activities, including deployment to popular social networks and chat/collaboration systems like Slack.

The Payroll Innovation (PI) Bot, developed by payroll processor ADP, helps employees manage payroll more easily, by letting them review their own payroll details and compare different payroll data by simply asking the bot. The PI Bot also provides issues reporting for employees to report payroll problems and aids HR managers in quickly receiving and prioritizing these. Infor is another company using a chatbot to help employees by giving them access to sales data, marketing performance, and customer service status. Employees simply ask the chatbot a question either verbally or through a typed interface.  

Infor’s AI assistant, called Infor Coleman, is designed specifically for business customers. It is architected to respond to both text and speech commands and can perform a wide variety of simple and complex tasks, from sourcing employee or customer contact information to inventory management or predictive maintenance. Infor suggests that the average worker spends nearly 20% of their time looking for information. Using an AI assistant reduces the time spent searching for information and means employees can stay focused on activities that have a greater impact on business performance.

Infor Coleman is built on a vast repository of data that it continuously learns from. This means the assistant’s intelligence and skills only increase because business operational data is constantly being added.  By analyzing the data and previous work processes, the assistant can answer complex questions such as “what is the next best offer for this customer?” Thus, the assistant can not only streamline working processes, saving employees time and energy on administrative tasks, it can also provide advice on the best course of action to take when an employee faces a problem.  It means more decisions are being made based on business intelligence, ultimately increasing the effectiveness of each decision.

Great strides have been taken in the conversational interface space in a relatively short time and, while the capabilities of this technology are impressive, it is still in its infancy in terms of what it is capable of. For example, developments are taking place whereby conversational AI can be used to translate language, in near real time. Imagine a conference call where everyone can speak in their native tongue and understand each other? Similarly, as we graduate from Natural Language Processing to Natural Language Understanding technologies, we will be able to interact with machines in more natural ways that are tailored to a user’s own personal language preferences and colloquialisms.

When we think of chatbots and AI assistants, we often think of consumer devices, but it is in business where today it is having a positive impact on our lives. Exploring how this technology can benefit you and your customers is certainly a conversation worth having.


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