Google Assistant – Bye Bye Bloatware

Having unveiled Google Assistant at its I/O conference in May 2016 this week Google announced that the Google Assistant will be baked into its new Google Pixel smartphone. Mobile phone vendors have been working on personal assistants since almost the development of the first app. Your smartphone comes preinstalled with apps, such as a calendar, reminder, notes, password manager, family location and account status services. Sometimes referred to as bloatware, many of these apps are seldom used. Let’s face it if we could get rid of these apps we would. In addition mobile app downloads are declining. Unless you are a dedicated gamer most of us seldom download mobile apps. If you are a business trying to get customers to download your app good luck.

Today, four of the largest global IT organizations – Apple (Siri), Google (Google Now and Assistant), Amazon (Alexa) and Microsoft (Cortana) — offer speech recognition software. Long term, voice will become the dominant UI for interaction with mobile devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), for internet search and for triggering processes such as ordering a pizza, booking a flight or paying a bill. It won’t be necessary to download an airline or pizza company app. Initially chatbots will provide an interface for these services. Eventually it will be a fully featured personal assistant that replaces the need for mobile apps entirely. We are moving to a post app economy.

In future purchasing a mobile won’t be a decision on whether to choose Android or IoS or which app store you prefer. It’ll be a decision on what type of personal assistant you prefer from Google, Amazon or Apple and what services the assistants provide. For businesses the decision whether to deploy apps for Android or IoS will be replaced by providing customer engagement services that can be integrated to the personal assistant market.

The mobile app market started in July 2008, when Apple introduced the App Store. Now it is coming to an end.

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Chatbots: A New Customer Service Channel

In bricks and mortar retail we have the concept of footfall, which is the number of people entering a shop or shopping area over a given time frame. Businesses pay higher rents for higher footfall locations. In order for organizations to engage with customers they have to locate themselves where customers are likely to hang out. This was the main reason why businesses across all industries rushed to build business apps. If customers are using apps we must build an app. As I discussed in my previous post, for a variety of reasons mobile business apps have failed big time. Customers aren’t downloading business apps. If mobile apps are part of your customer engagement mix they aren’t getting any footfall.

In addition customer service via mobile apps is for the most part pitiful. Most of today’s business apps are deigned to sell not serve. Many business apps throw the user out of the native app into a browser if you want to reach customer service. As for self-service, case management and notifications via a mobile app, forget about it. No wonder few people download business apps.

The emergence of chatbots however provides an opportunity for organizations to engage with customers that overcome many of the limitations of the business app. A chatbot is a type of conversational agent, a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods. Chatbots are integrated within the apps that customers actually want to use. They are integrated within messaging apps such as WeChat, Kik and Messenger which act as the operating systems for the chatbots. Chatbots thus solve the business app problem, enabling customers to engage with a business without downloading an app or going to a website.

Perhaps most importantly, chatbots also reflect the robot 5emergence of artificial intelligence or speech recognition as a customer service user interface.  Artificial intelligence is slowly creeping into our everyday lives. Today, four of the largest global IT organizations – Apple (Siri), Google (Google Now), Amazon (Alexa) and Microsoft (Cortana) — offer speech recognition software. Customers will be able to interact with the chatbot using either text or voice recognition software. Long term, voice recognition software will become the dominant UI for customer engagement and well as for interaction with the Internet of Things (IoT).

Chatbots represent a new customer engagement channel that will soon co-exist with today’s other multichannel options of voice, chat, email, social and self-service. Chatbots will initially act as a self-service interface with simple escalation options. Eventually chatbots could replace 1-800 numbers and Facebook (for Messenger) is currently providing developers with API tools to build chatbots and Live Chat web plug-ins for business clients.

In April 2016 Facebook announced, at its annual F8 Developer conference, that its Messenger app was to become a platform that allows businesses to communicate with users via chatbots.  Customer service is firmly in Facebook’s sights with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stating “We think you should be able to text message a business like you would send to a friend and get a quick response,” The chatbot strategy has also been endorsed by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who stated, “bots are the new apps.”

Mobile customer service is terrible. Customers aren’t downloading business apps. Chatbots provide a new opportunity to address both of these issues.

Are You Sure You Want to Build that Business App?

Most smartphone users download 0 apps per month. That’s right zero, zip, zilch, nada. Sixty five percent of US smart phone users download no apps per month. Yet the time we spend using apps continues to rise. The problem for many businesses is the vast majority of time spent in apps is on social media, messaging and entertainment applications, not engaging with companies. My local supermarket has an app, so has my insurance company, my optician and some of my favorite clothes retailers. I would never think of downloading them though.

apps

Have Business Apps Failed?

The logic behind building business apps was understandable. Business want to engage with their customers, customers are using apps, therefore we need to build an app. We need to hang out where our customers are hanging out. There were however a number of problems with this logic:

It’s Personal – Smartphone and Mobile devices are for the most part personal devices. A private space away from the work environment, for communicating with close friends and families, for participating in hobbies, music, TV and movies. For the things we are passionate about. For the most part people aren’t passionate about businesses. Do we want businesses invading this personal private space?

Storage Issues – I seem to get a message from Apple every day telling me I’ve exceeded my storage limit.  Do you want to waste storage on business apps? If you need to free up storage the business apps are the first to go.

Most Business Apps are Useless – Let’s face it most business apps are useless. They are deigned to sell not serve. After all this time most business apps can’t do customer service right, throwing the user out of the native app into a browser if you want to reach customer service.

Security – what information are you sharing with businesses? – We are more paranoid than ever about sharing personal information. Do we want to share location and contact details with companies? How much personal information do we want to share with businesses?

Inconvenient – This might be a first world problem but apps are just a little bit inconvenient. It’s time consuming to have to download an app and to create another user ID and password that will be forgotten in minutes. Interstitials encouraging users to download a mobile app are also frustrating for web users and can result in huge abandonment rates.

Ultimately customers aren’t using business apps. So if you are thinking of building a business app you are probably 2 or 3 years too late. You are merely copying rather than trying to leapfrog the competition. So what’s the solution? To get a potential answer lets go back to the start of this post and to the logic behind business apps, businesses want to engage with customers and customers are mobile, so let’s build an app. But if they aren’t downloading apps how do you engage with mobile customers? The solution is that we engage with customers inside the apps they are actually using, for example messaging apps. And a potential solution has emerged in the form of chatbots.

In my next posts I’ll take a look at chatbots and their role as a next generation customer service portal and their wider impact on mobile devices.

Netflix customer service? Almost, but not quite.

For a few days I’ve been struggling to cast Netflix from my iPad to the Chromecast device attached to my TV. Being reasonably techie I made sure I was running the latest SW releases on both Netflix and Chromecast. I also tried using an iPhone and a different iPad but with no success. Last night I had enough (I’m in the middle of a “Making a Murderer” binge) so I decided to contact customer service.

To my pleasant surprise I found out that it was possible to call the Netflix help centre directly from their app using a VoIP call. The response time by the agent was quick as netflixwell, less than 30 seconds. So far, so good. However as I had made some initial attempts to correct the problem myself the tier one agent was unable to provide a fix and said that she would have to escalate the issue. This however is where the customer service journey fell apart. Instead of transitioning me to another service representative online she provided be with a landline number. A US based landline number. The problem is I’m located in the UK.

In the multichannel or omnichannel business environment of today organizations must consider the end to end customer service journey and the transitions or escalations between channels that are sometimes necessary in order to resolve a problem. These transitions should be as frictionless or effortless for the customer as possible. In my case Netflix dropped the ball. Their sterling efforts to make it easy for customers to contact them, their in-app customer service channel and their excellent customer response times were in vain because they hadn’t considered or optimized how they handle customer escalations.

So when it comes to Netflix customer service it’s almost, but not quite. I still haven’t made that call and I’m still having Chromecast problems.

The Future of Self-Service; Virtual Assistants, Speech Recognition and the Internet of Things

Introduction
When is the last time you visited a bank or even talked to a bank representative? When is the last time you contacted a travel agent? Where previously we’d have used a travel agent many of us now prefer to research and book the individual components of our holiday ourselves. The history of the internet has been a story of personal empowerment. Empowered customers, especially younger demographics, are today more than happy to resolve problems for themselves valuing the convenience, speed and anonymity offered by frictionless self-service experiences.

In 2015 leading analysts indicated that web self-service interactions overtook all other channels and that survey respondents reported using the FAQ pages on a company’s website more than speaking with an agent over the phone. The future of customer service is thus quite clearly self-service. However what is the future for self-service itself?

Intelligent Virtual Assistants
Intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) use is seeing rapid adoption across multiple industry sectors. IVAs attempt to humanize web self-service by delivering knowledge and information to customers via a human like interface. The attraction for businesses is obvious. Unlike a customer service representative IVAs can serve thousands of customers at once, they are available 24/7, across all channels and the experience is consistent.

However the predominant IVA experience today of typing in questions and receiving spoken answers via a computer generated assistant is unsatisfactory, unrealistic and, in my opinion, slightly creepy. Having a computer designed, cartoonish image acting as the face of your organization is also a risk. As a result many organizations, particularly in the retail sector are using IVAs as an opportunity for differentiation and a visual extension of their basic web self-service technologies rather than as a key customer engagement channel.

We are still at the nascent state of IVA development. The next step in its development will be to make the customer experience more realistic. This means replacing the requirement for users to type questions with speech recognition.

Speech Recognition
Today, four of the largest global IT organizations — Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon— offer speech recognition software. Apple was the first mover with Siri. Google followed with its own natural language user interface, Google Now, Microsoft came to market with Cortana and most recently Amazon has released its voice-controlled personal assistant, Alexa. So why do we have this sudden interest in voice recognition? The answer lies in both self-service and the internet of things (IoT).

Speech recognition has the potential to transform the self-service user experience, making it a more natural experience and most importantly hands free. Speech recognition can deliver service to users anywhere and in any situation or context. Initially we will see IVA vendors augmenting their solutions with speech recognition capabilities to offer voice driven information search and retrieval such as video on demand. Already retailers have begun to explore the potential of voice driven self-service with for example Domino’s Pizza introducing Dom their virtual voice ordering assistant.

future iot
WSS and the Internet of Things
Self-service will move beyond voice driven information search and retrieval to deliver the ability to trigger and interact with processes using speech.

Mistakenly many view the IoT in terms of smart devices; in terms of smart thermostats, kettles, fridges and wearables. However the real power in IoT is in the data created by the sensors themselves. Organizations that can utilize this data and deliver services based on this data will dominate the IoT market. Already some of the most successful commercial IoT solutions are providing services rather than simply devices to consumers. In-car telematics is now widely used in the insurance industry today to monitor driver performance and to adjust insurance premiums accordingly. In medicine, heart implants are being used that send data to physicians that can be analyzed to identify any slowing of heart rhythm or rapid heartbeats. In the public realm, IoT will be used within Smart Cities to provide services to constituents that will, for example, reduce congestion, optimize energy use and support public safety. The common theme in all of these examples is that the IoT is being used to provide services with little or no input required by the individual. The IoT and the devices themselves are for the most part invisible.

As humans we do not have the capacity to engage with huge numbers of IoT devices. Do we really want to be alerted and prompted on a regular basis by multiple frivolous IoT devices all competing for our attention? As a result the IoT will be almost invisible, delivering services for us in the background to our lives and interrupting us only when a decision is required or a result has been achieved. Successful IoT solutions will remove complexity from our lives rather than add to it.

The trigger and interaction method for all of these IoT services will be speech. With so many potential IoT devices and services, voice control provides a simpler, quicker and more convenient method of interaction rather than an app and a UI.

The Personal Virtual Assistant
Self-service will eventually break free of the enterprise and become a key part of our personal lives. Mobile phone vendors have been working on personal assistants since almost the development of the first app. Your iPhone comes preinstalled with apps such as Apple pay, calendar, reminder, notes and a ticket and boarding pass wallet. In addition Android devices arrive with a password manager, family location services and account status apps. Despite the fact that there are millions of apps available the majority of us use only a few apps daily. It appears that app fatigue is starting to set in. Siri, Google Now and Cortana will be the catalyst for turning these apps, many seldom used and sometimes referred to derogatively as bloatwear, into something more useful and easier to use.

The personal virtual assistant will be the ultimate self-service technology that brings together multiple technologies including speech recognition, knowledge management, wearables, IoT, complex event processing and artificial intelligence. This is imminent. Today for example Microsoft Cortana, if approved by the user, can scan your email to see if you have a flight coming up, then use the information to alert you when it’s time to leave for the airport.

Service scheduling, booking a restaurant or flight, insurance renewals, ensuring your finance products are on the best rate of interest, price comparisons, personal security and health monitoring — all of these are important yet mundane processes we perform on a daily basis that most of us would be happy to outsource to a personal assistant. In effect the personal assistant starts to act as an airbag for our lives, ready to step in when we need it, not constantly competing for our attention.

Conclusion
Self-service is the future of customer service and its evolution is inextricably linked to developments in speech analytics and the IoT. In the IoT world speech will be the most convenient gateway to access information and services. Self-service will go beyond the simple search and delivery of information to the delivery of more complex customer service processes.

Ultimately we are looking at a post app world where information and data from multiple sources including devices is combined to deliver services. Then when you need information or a service you’ll just ask for it.

If This Then What is the Future of Workflow and BPM?

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a service that lets users connect multiple different mobile apps based on a simple rule. “This” is the process trigger, “That” is the process action. Today the tool lets users rapidly create connections between 71 applications or what IFTTT calls “channels”. The simple workflows created between channels using the IFTTT rule are called recipes and can be shared within an IFTTT community.

If This Then That

If This Then That

So what’s the big deal?

In the BPMS suite we’ve been executing simple and complex business rules like If This Then That for years. The emergence of IFTTT is important because it does two things that BPMS does not do well; integration and simplicity.

Many business processes cut horizontally across organizations and as a result touch multiple business applications. There is thus an ongoing drive among BPM and Case Management vendors to continuously enhance their integration capabilities. This is however a continuously moving target and integration remains one of the greatest obstacles for the successful deployment of both cloud and on premise BPM solutions, often adding considerable cost and time to projects.

When it comes to the integration of cloud and mobile applications into business processes the difficulty multiplies. We are only just seeing the emergence of smart process applications and on demand business processes. Mobile BPM applications have emerged with integration to back end systems but is any BPM vendor doing mobile app to mobile app integration?

Mobile and cloud app integration is a key IT battleground. As business software users we regularly use mobile apps and on demand software to address business problems. This consumerization of the business IT landscape however sits uncomfortably with IT heavy BPM projects.

IFTTT radically simplifies the process of stitching together and automating web services and as such throws down the gauntlet to other business applications that are heavily reliant on application integration.

Consistent with consumerization IFTTT empowers users to integrate and develop their own workflows. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to expect this simple IFTTT rule to be extended to support more complex rules and events and ultimately encroach into the market for workflow and BPM applications.

IFTTT Channels

IFTTT Channels

Intelligent Process Applications

Peter Whibley
14.00

Intelligent Process Applications

Intelligent Process Applications

This blog will be about the future of business process, what I refer to as Intelligent Process Applications.

Both Gartner and Forrester have different opinions about the future of BPM and Case Management. Gartner have proposed iBPMS (intelligent Business Process Management Suites) while Forrester have proposed Smart Process Applications. So who’s right? Well in my opinion both are half right. It’s obviously true, as Gartner propose that future business processes will be deployed with more intelligence built-in. It’s also true however that as a consequence of mobility and the consumerization of IT we are moving businesses to an era of on demand business process applications as envisaged by Forrester.

However, as you would expect, both Gartner and Forrester have played a bit to their customer base and in my opinion have given emphasis to features and functionality that while important are really only a subset of greater industry themes. Rather than iBPMS or Smart Process Applications I think the term Intelligent Process Applications is a better description of where the business process management and case management market is headed.

Future Intelligent Process Applications will have four key components (I’ll discuss these in more detail in future posts):

1.    BPM and Case Management

They’ll be underpinned by a BPM and Case Management applications that act as the engine for process automation and employee empowerment. While some business process apps will be rigid and inflexible others will exhibit flexibility with more case management like characteristics and empower participants to adjust processes rapidly in response to changing business and market demands.

2.    Intelligence and Awareness

They’ll possess intelligence. By intelligence however we are really talking about awareness.  Using business intelligence, data, content, social and predictive analytics as well as integration with smart devices intelligence and awareness functionality will be used to alert businesses and employees to key changes in their environment.

3.     Customer Experience

Yes mobility is a crucial capability but it is only a subset of a more important theme, customer experience.  Our personal technology experience has changed our business IT expectations. The app. internet model we have become familiar with in our personal lives is starting to take hold in business, changing not only how enterprises acquire business applications but also how they design and execute their business processes. Mobile capabilities will be crucial to the success of future process apps but only if they are designed with customer experience in mind.

4.    Cloud

The delivery vehicle for intelligent process applications will be via a multi-tenant cloud architecture. The greatest challenge for process app vendors will be to bring the speed and simplicity of the app experience to multi-application process solutions. 

Is this too simplistic? Have I missed something? Will social play a bigger role? I’d love to get your opinion.