During the course of any given workday, people repeat tasks — lots of them. But what if those repetitive tasks could be automated? Certainly many could, which would free workers to focus more of their time on creative, innovative projects.
Now, think about this. What if there was a way to automate 10 things from your daily workflow into a single step by typing a command to activate that workflow? That would lead to boosts in both productivity and time savings. And, as the old adage goes, time is money.
Bring on the Bots
To save both time and money, organizations increasingly are turning to bots, or software code designed to automate time-consuming tasks. Automated tasks such as scheduling appointments, adding things to purchase orders, even fetching and displaying information on websites can all be performed using little bots.
Bots are often disguised as tools in consumer messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Kik, and Facebook Messenger. In the digital consumer world, a common one is the chat bot, designed to appear as if you are having a live conversation with someone while you transact an activity online. Even apps like Siri on IOS devices and Cortana on Windows phones are just fancy chat bots with voice-over capabilities.
My experience with bots is extensive; I like to build them at work and I have written several to help my coworkers at CDW save time. One simpler tool is the vendor bot. We partner with hundreds of manufacturers to provide literally thousands of products and services. So imagine how tricky it can be to find contact information (an email address, a phone number or a location) for a certain product specialist at one of those partners. Initially to ease our collective pain, we populated information ad hoc in an Excel spreadsheet that we stored in a shared Box folder that all engineers could access.
Even with the spreadsheet, it was still a hassle: You had to go to the Box website, log on, find the folder, look up the Excel spreadsheet and search through it for the info. That’s about five steps. I decided to build a vendor bot that would leapfrog a user directly to the information search.
A Spark of Inspiration
To build bots, it helps to use a bot platform. For the vendor bot, I used a feature of Cisco Spark, a next-generation collaboration platform that weds messaging, meetings, voice and video calls under one communications umbrella. By using Spark for team collaboration, developers can build bots that integrate into a person’s day-to-day applications and enhance productivity tenfold. (Read more about Cisco Spark in this blog post by CDW Collaboration Solutions Director Nathan Coutinho.)
Spark has an open application programming interface that helps you to create bot code, which pull or push data to and from other business applications such as databases, ticketing systems and accounting apps as long as these systems also have open APIs. Each bot resides in the Cisco Spark room, a shared space for you and any group of people to work together on projects, have video calls, and share files. What that means is that you never have to leave the Spark room to find information that you otherwise would need to access in another application.
Automate or Dissipate
For the CDW vendor bot then, all the information formerly stowed on the spreadsheet now resides in the Spark room. When an engineer enters any related data, the bot retrieves the top three vendors along with all of their contact information. That’s one step, one command in the Cisco Spark room, compared to five.
The beauty of an open API tool for bots is that it makes creating them fairly easy. With only a small amount of custom development any organization can use bots to enhance day-to-day productivity.
Bots have been around for more than 50 years. But the ease of creating them now means they will also be a big part of our future; enhancing the end-user experience and connecting multiple applications within enterprise environments.
With the advent of smart phones, bots used in business messaging apps such as Slack and Cisco Spark are becoming increasingly relevant. They add value and your workers don’t have to leave an application to find information that they need to do their job.
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