Automation helps supercharge collaboration apps.

My colleagues and I spend a lot of our days using Cisco Spark. We send each other quick questions via instant message; we collaborate face-to-face in virtual video meetings; we call clients on the phone and we share documents via Box, all within Spark. As a technical lead at CDW, I need this technology to work simply and efficiently, so I can focus on my job.

Naturally, however, one application can’t meet all of its users’ needs. Or can it?

Using bots, I’ve been able to add custom features to Spark so that my colleagues can do even more of their work from within the application. A bot is a piece of software that automates a process using existing messaging platforms. For instance, I created a bot within Spark that gathers data about our services-and-products pipeline for the next quarter and presents it to the sales reps.

I also created bots to generate polls and compile the results in a chart. So, for instance, a manager can quickly and easily poll his team about anything from dinner options following a conference to who has submitted their quarterly reports.

We all know there’s an app for just about anything you can think of, but why use 10 of them when you could use one for all the same functions? That’s the concept behind bots: They supercharge applications by letting users create customized functions. So if you’re getting ready to board a plane, you can have a quick exchange with your boss, make edits to your conference presentation, and check the weather at your destination, all from a single pane.

Bots hold tremendous potential for IT departments. Administrators can use them to monitor back-end systems. While chatting with an end user, an admin can say, “Show me the status of this server,” and the bot will gather the information and report it back. The admin can instruct the bot to reboot the server and, as it does so, it can notify other users that the server is unavailable.

Messaging suites such as Spark are ideal front ends for bots, because users already spend so much of their time on them. Recognizing the synergy between bots and messaging suites, Facebook announced in April that it is opening its Messenger app so that organizations can create bots to interact with users. So, for instance, a user can chat with a bot to book a flight, shop for flowers or check the weather.

Considering Facebook’s reach, it’s only a matter of time before bots are as commonplace as apps, but they won’t take their place. Rather, bots will enhance apps. Users will get customized applications, and developers will have more powerful apps and more loyal users.

In the future, more bots will be integrated within messaging platforms. They’ll be popular in instances when users need quick, summarized information while logged into an existing platform. Some enterprises will turn to vendors to create bots and integrate them into their messaging applications, while others will create them on their own. A growing number of third-party companies are providing web-based drag-and-drop tools to create bots without writing a line of code.

As developers continue to make improvements to bots, it won’t be long before perhaps one application can meet all of its users’ needs.

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