The Era of the Conversational Office
This weekend we took the kids to the Computer History Museum, and the volunteer, a nice man that showed us around, talked about the “first computerized offices”. He mentioned that not too long ago computers were not a part of our work life - computers were used by big banks and universities, but rarely by small, medium, and even most of the large companies. Today, you can not imagine an office without computers (followed by talks about the printer/conference-system is not working).
The Mobile Office Era
After the computerized office era came the mobile office era — companies found it useful to let workers, sales reps, field personnel use company-owned, and later personal-owned mobile devices to facilitate day to day tasks. In many cases today our office is a mobile phone, sometimes coupled together with a laptop. Your office is blurred between the office, a coffee shop and home. This trend becomes even more dominant when we work on a global team in different timezones.
The Conversational Office Era
It seems that the next step of this evolution is here — let’s call it the conversational office era. Today’s offices are highly distributed, highly productive, with a major focus on online communication and knowledge sharing. The modern office communication medium is text-based, rather than face-to-face interaction or phone calls. This communication becomes the office knowledge-base, it facilitates collaboration, makes cross group work more productive and makes the on-boarding of new workers easier.
A place where humans and systems meet to talk
The real breakthrough in the conversational office era, is that office workers (AKA people) are not the only ones joining the conversation - it seems that office computerized systems and services are making themselves available through this conversational interface as well. Our bug system sends a status report over this interface, our CRM happily sends us a message when a lead is closed, our servers ask for help and send error logs in the same way a human would do.
Why is this so exciting? Why is it so great that we converse with our systems? Why should a computer communicate with us through this chat-based user experience? The answer to that lays in the fact that most current systems provide a sucky (hard and unproductive) user interface. We hate our vacation system because it is hard to navigate, we shy away from our expense system because it is cumbersome, our CRM is a nightmare of checkboxes and data fields we do not understand, our bug and production system is a shrine that only the IT managers and developers can step into. Basically, most of the office computerized systems make us feel like this:
The era of the conversational office promises to change this! For the first time in history, systems will communicate with us in a medium we are used to. Systems will adjust to us, not us to them and it is about time! These systems that talk to us like humans are called bots, and they are awesome :)
How will it work in real life?
Here is an example of how a conversation with your vacation system might look like in a year:
Me: Hi Vacation-bot, I want to take a vacation next Wednesday.
Vacation-bot to me: Hello Amir, let me check with April and get back to you ASAP.
Vacation-bot to April: Hi April, Amir Shevat would like to take a vacation next Wednesday (he has a surplus of 15 vacation days)
Vacation-bot to me: Yaay! your vacation is approved. You have 14 more vacation days after this vacation.
As you can see, this is a very different interaction than most of us have with our current vacation system. The bot can be friendly, it can interact with us like a human (and a nice one at it) and facilitate complex business processes in an easy and productive way. Note that the bot isn’t just relaying the messages, it is removing the approval process cumbersome UX, updates the backend systems, and streamlines the process that usually sits between vacation request and approval.
And it is by no means limited to this use case. Here is a short list of high value integrations that are waiting to hit the market this year:
- CRM bot
- Hiring bot
- Expense bot
- Todo/Task bot
- Commerce bots (as my friend Chris Messina envisions in his post)
- PO management bot
To paraphrase Space Odyssey — OMG it is full of bots!
I will have my bots talk to your bots
Coming back to the Computer History Museum, lets move from the past to the future — Imagine a world in which enterprise systems act as bots that talk to us in a friendly and productive way, using our preferred way of communication, providing us valuable services without making us learn complex user experiences. Imagine a world where the system understands when we are stressed and leaves us alone, facilitates complex processes without aggravation, helps us when we ask for it, or even before we asked it.
Imagine tomorrow, it is already here.
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